Cleaning is often the most difficult service to manage. Too many customers select their cleaning contractors on price alone and then express surprise that the required service levels are neither achievable nor sustainable. ‘Green’ cleaning professional Robert Krastic calls for a cleaner, greener future.
It’s quite common today for cleaning specifications to be written by accounting and financial departments with the sole objective of reducing costs.
As a result, we’re seeing more and more reverse-auction job bidding, focused on driving down prices and the emergence of ‘performance-based’ contracting, where cleaners are often forced to provide a nominal-cost level of cleaning that involves little more than removing visible soils.
It’s not, however, just the fault of corporations and building managers. It’s my belief that the cleaning industry in general has let itself down in recent years by focusing on offering clients the cheapest prices, which in time has devalued the industry as contractors have been unable to deliver on what they had promised.
Both customers and suppliers would do better to focus on value for money: that is, combining an appropriate level of quality with an acceptable level of risk, at a suitable cost. Choosing the lowest cost inevitably means reduced service quality, increased risk of service failure – or both.
All too often, cleaning is simply thought of as a grudging expense – one that makes little if any real contribution to the success of an organisation. As stated by Steve Ashkin, one of the leading experts in the green cleaning field in the US: “Cleaning is not merely an expense used to keep floors looking shiny and to minimise the number of complaints relating to the lack of toilet paper in the restroom. Rather, cleaning plays in incredibly important role in supporting the work of an organisation’s most important asset – its people”1
At the same time, there is also the emergence of green cleaning from niche to mainstream.
What is green cleaning?
The aim of green cleaning is to protect the health of building occupants and cleaners while minimising the environmental impacts associated with the cleaning process.
Some traditional cleaning chemicals are high in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which, when evaporated, circulate through a building’s ventilation system. VOCs can cause respiratory irritation and trigger asthmatic attacks. These chemicals can also leave residues that cause eye and skin irritation, and the spreading of bacteria from one surface to another by flawed cleaning processes is the main reason for staff absenteeism through sickness. Sick staff means less productivity.
The manner in which cleaning products such as chemicals, bin liners and washroom consumables are manufactured, packaged and distributed determines how ‘green’ they are. The ‘Why Should We Clean Green?’ panel discussion held at the recent Building Services and Maintenance Expo (incorporating Ausclean) illuminated what ‘green’ actually means. During the forum, Nick Capobianco from Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) said, “Every manufactured product has some degree of impact on the environment; the questions is: how much good and how much harm do they create?”2
With green products, packaging and processes readily available, it is time for all responsible building managers and cleaning companies to look at cleaning through the lens of the triple bottom line: people, profit, planet. People working in a hygienically cleaned space are more productive, which improves everyone’s bottom line while minimising environmental impact.
Green(ish) star rating
Green Star covers a number of categories that assess the environmental impact of a building, specifically the direct consequences of a project’s site selection, design, construction and maintenance. These categories are divided into credits, each of which addresses an initiative that improves or has the potential to improve environmental performance. Points are awarded in each credit for actions that demonstrate that the project has met the overall objectives of Green Star.3
The Green Star rating tool, however, “does not apply to tenants or relate to anything other than the landlord. Indeed, the only controls on tenant practices are individual metering for water and power usage and a suggested green check-list for fitout”. 4
As Simon Cox, national director of real estate management for Colliers International points out, however, “You can’t green a building without tenant support. The key to successfully greening an existing building is taking a partnership approach across owners, occupiers and building management.”5
This begs the question: why does the cleaning industry not have a voice, given its value as part of a building’s sustainability practices? Green cleaning represents an outstanding return on investment through the economic benefits of reducing absenteeism, thus improving worker productivity.
Three green points
Recycling paper is the most common environmental move in commercial office buildings. This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding ways that companies can make a difference. As Stephen Ashkin says, “Green is not static. There is no ‘bar’ that, once you cross it, you’re green. Rather, it’s a process of continual improvement.”6
This implies that everyone can get ‘on the road’ by carrying out the following three distinct components that constitute green:
Green cleaning looks at all products including chemicals, consumables, vacuums and other equipment, entry mats and microfibre technology. For a green cleaning program to achieve success, it’s imperative that all of these products be used and used correctly.
Use caution against products with common packaging terms like ‘biodegradable’, ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘natural’ – these terms are meaningless. Look for what’s not in a cleaner instead. Always check Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and ensure products are free from chlorine, bleach, petroleum, synthetic fragrances and dyes.
Suppliers are now actively reducing their consumption of virgin plastic in their packaging. This plastic reduction also translates into reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the energy productions of plastics. Green cleaning super-concentrates also pose a significant reduction, as their dilution rate is half that of a traditional chemical. These products last twice as long, resulting in half the packaging required on a site over a nominated period.
For a program to be truly sustainable, it must go as far as to examine how cleaners are trained. If predetermined green standard operating procedures are not adhered to, then the standards may not be met and the green benefits can easily be compromised.
Now is the time
Changing how our customers think about cleaning is the first challenge. Building managers and agents would also do well to take advantage of the opportunity green cleaning offers to transform their buildings – and our industry. As social and regulatory pressures gain momentum, now is the time to do something about it, before we are forced to by legislation. Our customers, employees, stockholders and future generations will all be glad we did.
1. See www.grist.org/biz/tp/2005/11/01/greenclean/
2. See www.bsmexpo.com.au/seminars.htm
3. See www.gbca.org.au
4. See www.incleanmag.com.au/blog/ ‘Greyish-Green 6 Star status for Mirvac Shopping Centre’
5. See http://business.smh.com.au/business/occupants-drive-the-push-for-ecobuildings-20080725-3l16.html
6. See www.ashkingroup.com/CampusFall2006.pdf
Robert Krastic is the managing director of Sharper Cleaning Pty Ltd in Port Melbourne, Victoria.