Beyond Green Products: Systems and Strategies That Reduce Energy, Water and Resource Conception—and Can Save You Money!

By Stephen Ashkin

Today, more and more facility managers are familiar with Green Cleaning as it is quickly being thought of as the “low hanging fruit” when it comes to greening a building. Converting to green and certified products is a very good thing in our efforts to reduce the health and environmental impacts associated with cleaning. However, we now are learning that there are additional opportunities to reduce the environmental impact associated with cleaning, above and beyond the selection of the individual product.

We are realizing that in addition to the environmental benefits of reducing waste and using resources more efficiently, we can reduce costs and save money. And especially in this current economic climate, this is the kind of green we can all agree with!

The following are some opportunities for facility managers to consider. Most of these opportunities are readily available from cleaning service providers and product manufacturers. It does require some thinking outside the box and a little work on their behalf to implement, but it will benefit both the environment and your bottom line.

  • Switch to Cold Water: Switch to products and systems that clean with cold or cool water instead of using hot water, which can significantly reduce environmental impact. These opportunities may be found in carpet extraction cleaning along with laundry operations and ware washing (food service operations). Believe it or not, the largest environmental impact from these activities are not from extracting raw materials, manufacturing the cleaning chemicals or their ultimate disposal after use—rather, the most significant environmental impact actually come from the use of hot water and the energy necessary to heat it. And just out of curiosity, why do linens, cloth napkins, towels, etc., have to be white? Switching to attractive colors can have environmental advantages such as reducing the need for bleach and extending the life of the materials.
  • Maintain Equipment: Focus on equipment maintenance especially related to laundry and ware washing. Insuring that washing machines are working properly to spin-dry laundry will reduce the energy used by the driers. Driers also need appropriate maintenance as do ware washing equipment to make sure they are not wasting water, energy or chemicals. And of course make sure equipment is full of either laundry or dishes before operating—or appropriately adjusting the amount of water, chemicals and cleaning time to match the load. And don’t forget to maintain vacuum cleaners and other janitorial equipment. If they’re not working correctly, you are wasting energy and time, which means you’re unnecessarily impacting the environment and wasting money.
  • Use Concentrated Products: Go beyond just “green” or even “certified” cleaning chemicals by converting ready-to-use products and aerosols to concentrated chemicals dispensed through dilution control equipment will reduce the environmental impact associated with packaging and shipping, and save money.
  • Clean with Electrolyzed Water: Go beyond the use of chemicals altogether for certain cleaning applications and utilize new technologies that use electrolyzed water and eliminate cleaning chemicals altogether. This advancement totally eliminates the impact from the extraction of the chemical raw materials, along with the impact associated with their manufacturer, packaging and shipping. This is a real breakthrough!
  • Change Paper Towels: Go beyond the use of recycled paper for hand towels by replacing multi-fold towels with large rolls (preferably dispensed from “hands-free” dispensers) or energy efficient electric driers to reduce overall consumption. This reduces impact on forests and landfills, and saves money.
  • Change Toilet Tissue: Go beyond recycled paper for toilet tissue by replacing small, single roll toilet tissue with large rolls or multi-roll dispensers to reduce overall consumption, which reduces impact on forests and landfills, and saves money.
  • Consider Forestry Management: Go beyond the simplistic issue of recycled content for paper products and look at how the forests themselves are managed (for example, are they being sustainably managed or are they being clear-cut?). Also, consider using fibers derived from rapidly renewable sources (plantation grown trees that mature in under 10 years), agricultural products such as switch grass and agricultural waste, as compared to trees that may take hundreds of years to mature. This can reduce environmental impact and in the end may prove to be more sustainable.
  • Eliminate Plastic Can Liners: Reduce the number of plastic trash can liners through a variety of approaches such as standardizing the size of garbage cans and separating wet from dry trash—only receptacles for wet trash such as food waste need plastic liners. This reduces the environmental impact associated with making plastic bags (they are typically derived from petroleum which is a valuable, but limited and non-renewable natural resource). And it will save money.
  • Try Composting: Implementing a composting program, especially for facilities with large food service operations, can reduce environmental impact associated with landfilling, and it can reduce the cost of solid waste disposal and landscaping.
  • Reduce Frequencies (How often do floors need to be stripped and recoated?): Change cleaning processes/systems to reduce the frequency of major cleaning events such as floor stripping and carpet extraction through better daily and interim maintenance procedures and the use of entryway matting. This can reduce the environmental impact associated with these activities, and save money.
  • Rethink Cleaning (Does it Really Need to Be Cleaned?): Too many cleaning programs are based on historical cleaning processes, tasks and frequencies. Rethinking cleaning requirements such as, “Does a hospital-grade disinfectant need to be used everywhere, everyday or can it be used only where and when necessary with the rest of the cleaning using a ‘green’ detergent? And how shiny do those floors really need to be?” Redesigning cleaning requirements can protect occupant health, reduce environmental impacts and save money.

  • Use Microfiber Mopping Systems: Replacing traditional cotton string mops with microfiber flat mopping systems will not only reduce the amount of water and chemicals being used, but they also clean better. This has direct environmental benefits and better cleaning contributes to better occupant health and performance.
  • Use Low-Moisture Cleaning: Carpet cleaning, especially deep extraction cleaning is typically very water intensive. Augmenting extracting cleaning with interim steps using low-moisture cleaning (also know as dry/powder cleaning) can reduce the frequency of extraction cleaning and as a result reduce overall water use.
  • Turning Off the Lights: Conducting more cleaning activities when the building is occupied (day time cleaning) as opposed to cleaning at night will reduce the energy consumption associated with keeping lights on and with heating/cooling/ventilating an otherwise unoccupied building. This reduces environmental impact and can save lots of money.

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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