With the rapid growth of green cleaning, it seems that every manufacturer, janitorial supply distributor, trade association, buying group, facility service provider, and carpet cleaner has its own definition of green cleaning.
And, of course, the issue is even further complicated as our customers have their own definitions, as do governments, policy makers, and environmental and other advocacy groups.
Plus, we will soon see the major consumer household products companies promoting their definition of green cleaning and green products during commercials on Desperate Housewives and Oprah.
It’s no wonder we’re confused about green cleaning, and the confusion may actually grow in the short term.
Defining green cleaning
Generally, these definitions are relatively similar and typically address two basic components:
- Reducing negative impacts on human health, which includes both building occupants and cleaning personnel.
- Reducing negative impacts on the environment, either from the extraction of raw materials and manufacturing of the products that are used in the cleaning process, its packaging, as well as the environmental impacts during the product’s use and after it is disposed either down the drain or as solid waste, which collectively are “life-cycle” considerations.
What is also important to point out is that green cleaning extends beyond what products are used, and seeks to reduce impacts from the cleaning process itself.
Examples include using different application techniques to reduce product use, using different cleaning systems to reduce energy such as using more efficient equipment or cleaning at a time when the building is occupied to reduce the energy required to light work areas and condition the air in an otherwise empty building.
Another key environmental issue that is growing in importance is water consumption. Therefore a green carpet care strategy could focus on reducing the amount of water used to maintain healthy carpet compared to traditional cleaning methods.
All of this leads to another important issue.
Green cleaning is a “comparison” seeking to drive product and process innovations and improvements where the benefits are to health and the environment.
There are many different strategies that offer real benefits for customers that couple “cleaning to protect health” with performance, efficiency, cost reductions, customer service, etc.
Green cleaning simply sets reducing environmental impacts as the second part of the cleaning to protect health equation.
Thus, a new product or process that legitimately improves performance or reduces costs is a good thing, but unless it has reduced environmental impacts compared to the current product or system, it shouldn’t be defined as “green.”
Green versus clean
Before we get to our recommendations on more specifics on green cleaning, I would like to briefly discuss the difference between “green” and “clean.”
Periodically, there is criticism that green cleaning isn’t about cleaning. Rather, the detractors say that green cleaning is only about environmental protection.
So allow me to clarify.
Green cleaning is all about cleaning.
Nobody in their right mind would put public health at risk to replace the toilet paper made from virgin-tree fiber with a recycled product.
The accusations from the critics that supporters of green cleaning don’t understand the importance of cleaning, the science behind it, or the need for effective systems are completely without merit.
It is a serious problem when unhealthy conditions result from poor cleaning. But I submit that it is not unique to green cleaning and happens due to issues like the lack of a cleaning system, lack of training, lack of time to do the job that needs to get done, etc., and not because the program is “green.”
You simply cannot be doing green cleaning if you are not cleaning and creating healthy environments.
Finding honest and helpful information
Because there is no “official” definition of green cleaning, my recommendation is to adopt your definition based on how customers define it. That’s right, customers, and you know the old adage about who is always right!
The household marketplace is still very confused, and there is little evidence that a single or small handful of leaders on this issue have yet to emerge.
However, for those who provide residential, commercial or institutional carpet cleaning, the marketplace is much more developed.
In some of these markets, there have emerged a small handful of organizations which represent large segments of the market who have defined green cleaning for their members (our customers).
These organizations included the U.S. Green Building Council and their LEED for Existing Buildings Rating System, Healthy Schools Campaign and their Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools, and Hospitals for a Healthy Environment and their 10 Steps to Implementing Green Cleaning.
Each of these organizations has a program which their members (our customers) follow, and I recommend that you use these as your guide or “roadmap” to define the details of your green cleaning program.
And for those who do residential carpet cleaning, I recommend that you follow these “roadmaps” as well.
Then, when a customer asks why you selected a product or system, you can simply refer to one of these nationally recognized programs.
And when product manufacturers, distributors, and others try to “sell” you on their definition of green cleaning, you can also use the nationally recognized program to see how their claims and assertions fit.
Green cleaning is a concept
Just remember, in the end, green cleaning isn’t a product or even a “certification” system.
Rather, it is an overall concept focused on creating healthy, high-performing indoor environments with a cleaning system that continually strives to reduce negative health and environmental impacts associated with every decision made, from what type of truckmounted or portable extractor was selected, to the chemicals used, to the process used, to other strategies that can have impacts on building occupants and workers, energy usage, water usage, product disposal and more.
Stephen Ashkin is founder and president of The Ashkin Group, LLC and is often thought of as “the father of green cleaning”. His consulting firm works internationally with facility managers to implement green cleaning practices. For more information, call (812)332-7950 or visit www.AshkinGroup.com.