On the road to green cleaning

by FM Media
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Initiatives facilitating the development of a green cleaning standard for Australia are currently underway. A broader definition of green cleaning and a standard that is outcome-focused are vital, according to BRIDGET GARDNER from Fresh Green Clean.

In the October/November 2011 edition of Facility Management magazine, cleaning industry leaders were asked to comment on the need for green cleaning standards. A strong desire for clarity and consensus was articulated. The good news is that a number of initiatives are in the pipeline that will provide much needed guidance around this hotly debated topic.

The first step toward an industry standard for green cleaning is an agreed definition and scope. A commonly used definition from the US is “cleaning to protect health and the environment”. This motherhood statement was useful as an initial introduction to the concept, but in essence demands no more than compliance with current work safety and environmental protection regulations.
We at Fresh Green Clean (FGC) go a step further by defining green cleaning as “cleaning products and processes that achieve hygienic outcomes, while demonstrating a substantially reduced risk to health and impact on the environment”. Green cleaning claims must offer measurable, quantifiable proof. This leads us to ask two key questions:
1. What are these risks to health and impacts on the environment that traditional cleaning products and processes have been responsible for?
2. What are the key attributes, or characteristics, of cleaning products and processes that will mitigate such risks and impacts?

Although it’s tempting to want a ‘silver bullet’ answer – the holy grail of an ‘approved list of green cleaning methods’ – any attempts to do so could be a step in the wrong direction. First, which body would have the authority and political will to develop such a list? Gaining consensus from industry associations would be next to impossible, and our state and national governments are very reluctant to wade into potentially anti-competitive waters, preferring to leave eco-labelling standards to NGOs (non-governmental organisations).
Although being prescriptive would push compliance, it could also stifle innovation and provoke disputes and legal challenges in such an emerging area of science (carbon tax anyone?). Green cleaning standards and guidelines should perhaps focus instead on defining the desired outcomes for reduced health and environmental impacts, as well as improved cleanliness and hygiene.

There are at least three important initiatives under development that should build a cohesive framework for defining and promoting best practices in green cleaning in Australia. These include the Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star Performance (GSP) rating tool, the Cleaning and Hygiene Council of Australia (CHCA) and Fresh Green Clean’s (FGC’s) Green SASH (Safe and Sustainable Hygiene).
GSP is an extension of the Green Star environmental building rating system. It will rate the operations and holistic performance of existing buildings, which will include the procurement and delivery of cleaning services and products. The GSP rating credits, which will be based on local experience and international benchmarks, such as the US Green Building Council’s LEED EB:OM, will evaluate the same aspects of holistic environmental performance as other Green Star rating tools: management, indoor environment quality, energy, transport, water, materials, land use and ecology, as well as innovation.
Green Star has been influential in defining and promoting sustainable building design, so there is reason to believe that GSP won’t establish the benchmark for processes required to operate and maintain a green building.
The CHCA has been formed to represent the supply, services and training sectors and to establish a code of best practices for cleaning operators. With members involved in GSP development, CHCA is well-placed to promote resultant green cleaning policies and guidelines to all participating industry associations.
Green SASH will be a behaviour-change program that facilitates partnerships between facility managers and building services contractors. It will reward participating buildings for meeting six key goals: low harm, indoor air quality, high hygiene, sustainable resource use, and reduced energy and waste. It may also assist facility managers to engage contractors to achieve a GSP rating once the rating tool is released by the GBCA.
Together, these three programs will be able to establish best practices in green cleaning while promoting and facilitating their adoption. In the process the industry will be provided with the guidelines and standards it is currently seeking.

Bridget Gardner is the director of Fresh Green Clean, convener of the Sustainable Cleaning Sub-Committee of the CHCA and a technical expert to the GBCA’s Green Star Performance rating tool.

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