4 ways cleaning personnel can contribute to organizational sustainability

by Stephen Ashkin — As the Green Cleaning Movement has matured, resulting in certified products becoming widely available for cleaning chemicals, sanitary paper products, plastic can liners and powered equipment, facilities managers are now looking to see how their cleaning department and/or service providers can contribute to their broader sustainability initiatives.

While cleaning can directly affect the purchasing of cleaning supplies and their impact on the environment, there are specific activities that cleaning personnel can do that can contribute to energy and water reductions, waste management (which is especially important in health care), and even in Scope 3 emissions tied to employee transportation.

While cleaning processes and personnel may have only a minor impact on some of the issues, nonetheless the following are some ways cleaning personnel can do within their normal operations.  And they all add up:

Waste stream management

Have cleaning personnel conduct a waste stream audit.  Not only should this be done at the dumpster and other collection sites, but personnel should consider issues throughout the entire building since it is cleaning personnel who are typically moving the materials from the offices to the dumpsters.

For example, through an upstream waste stream audit, cleaning personnel can identify which offices, departments and individuals are improperly contaminating the waste stream or not recycling correctly or at all.  While it is not the job of a janitor to discuss this with the occupant, they can provide information to the FMs so they can decide what corrective action is necessary.  In this case, encourage cleaning personnel to take a few photos as this will help enormously with the ultimate discussion.

In addition, a final audit or “dumpster dive” can reveal all kinds of valuable information as it will identify things being thrown away that FMs may want to address.  Many audits find the waste stream full of packaging materials which could be addressed with the purchasing department or the disposal of electronics. Some of these finds may benefit from education across the board.

Energy conservation

Climate change is a pressing issue among sustainability practitioners and has huge cost implications.  While cleaning personnel are not responsible for boilers, chillers, lighting, etc., they can serve as the “eyes and ears” of FMs to identify issues that should be addressed.

For example, there may be some things that cleaning personnel can do such as using cold water to dilute chemicals, mopping and laundering their cloths and mops.  Today, modern chemicals work well in cold water and thus it is unnecessary to use energy to make the water hot.  They can also turn off lights in conference rooms and offices that are not in-use, make sure breakroom refrigerators and freezer doors are closed (especially over weekends and holidays), and periodically clean the coils on refrigerators and vending machines so they operate more efficiently.

Cleaning personnel also can report back to FMs the issues they find throughout the building such as monitors, printers and other electronic devices that are left on, as well as occupants who use space heaters, coffee pots, fans, desk lights and other personal items that may consume electricity that the FM may want to address.

Water conservation

Water is the next “big” issue beyond climate change and is already a pressing issue in some parts of the US.  There are plenty of things cleaning personnel can do on a daily basis to reduce water consumption such as using dual compartment mop buckets, and microfiber floor mops and wiping cloths which clean effectively using less water compared to traditional mops and cloths.  And there are new pieces of cleaning equipment on the market for both floor and carpet care that recycle water resulting in reduced overall consumption.

Ideally cleaning personnel should audit their entire use of water to determine where they are really using it.  For example, if most of their water use is due to cleaning and stripping floors or carpet cleaning then they can develop cleaning and ongoing maintenance programs that reduce or extend these cleaning activities that will then lead to reduced water consumption.

Finally, cleaning personnel should report back to the FM when they find leaking, dripping or otherwise malfunctioning faucets, toilets, shower heads, etc.  While it is typically not the job for cleaning personnel to fix these things, the sooner they are reported and fixed, the less water that will be wasted.


This is a growing part of many sustainability programs.  Cleaning personnel and their managers can identify current commuting practices among their coworkers and identify opportunities for improvement such as encouraging and facilitating ride sharing and public transportation.  Not only does this have real environmental implications, it can be very helpful to cleaning personnel as this can help them save money on their commutes to and from work.

Stephen P. Ashkin is Executive Director of the Green Cleaning Network a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating building owners and suppliers about Green Cleaning, and president of The Ashkin Group a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry. He is considered the “father of Green Cleaning” and is coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies.

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