Let’s get serious about green cleaning
Progressive facility managers are now stipulating green, measurable, sustainable outcomes in their cleaning contracts. Fresh Green Cleans’ director BRIDGET GARDNER offers a practical, step-by-step guide to adopting ‘green cleaning’ practices.
Green cleaning is gaining credence in Australia. The number of cleaning service providers and product suppliers offering green cleaning is rapidly increasing. But without a nationally accepted definition or requirements to purchase third-party approved products, the term is in danger of being reduced to little more than a marketing tool.
AUSTRALIA COMPARED TO THE US
Green cleaning has wide acceptance and even legislative status in many US states. More than 500 cleaning products certified under the Green Seal ecolabel facilitate this high level of green cleaning. Furthermore, many US Government building managers employ janitors and purchase their own chemicals, increasing demand for certified products in the process.
In contrast, the Australian model of subcontracting a service provider who purchases chemicals from a third-party supplier significantly reduces capacities to monitor the supply chain. Only 22 commercial cleaning products are certified under our own Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) program.
As it is unlikely the Australian Government will legislate to enforce procurement of certified green cleaning products any time soon, the onus lies on the facility manager to specify auditable criteria for cleaning products and practices.
SPECIFYING GREEN CLEANING
We define green cleaning as “cleaning effectively with minimal harm to health or the environment”. If viewed as a process of actively seeking to mitigate risk, then the role of a facility manager becomes one of change management rather than enforcing compliance from the start.
Taking a partnership approach with the building services contractor (BSC) is essential to success, especially given the current market of narrow margins and financially unsustainable bidding, as well as the fear that ‘true green cleaning’ will be uncompetitive.
BSC engagement is vastly improved when the facility is willing to co-invest in green consumables, recycling programs, monitoring and even staff awareness programs to address perceptions that ‘no bleach = unclean!’
Green clean programs based on trust, communication and collaboration can improve environmental and cleaning performance outcomes.(1)
Tender specifications should be designed to gauge the commitment and capacity of a prospective BSC to work toward environmentally sustainable outcomes, rather than be prescriptive. The following article provides guidelines on which to base your tender specification questions and how to interpret responses.
CLEANING SERVICE PROCUREMENT GUIDELINES
Australia’s Federal EPA Guidelines for the Procurement of Cleaning Services offer some guidance. The following list contains additional measures that BSCs could provide to demonstrate their company’s green commitment:
- adherence to Environmental Management System Standard – ISO 14001:2004
- certification by GECA Environmentally Preferred Cleaning Services
- BSCAA’s (Building Service Contractors Association of Australia) state certification programs: Eco Clean (Queensland), Green Stamp (Western Australia)
- the use of cleaning products with third-party proof of low environmental impact or chemical-free methodologies
- quantifiable evidence of efficiency measures and resource reductions
- green cleaning staff training, such as Lennox Institute’s greenRclean training program, and
- Green Clean Facility Benchmarking and Management Workshops by Fresh Green Clean.
GREEN STAR RATING SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS
The Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star Office Interiors tool (v1.1) addresses green cleaning briefly through a number of credits (Eco-3 and Eco-4).There are, however, no specific compliance requirements other than showing that the products used have a ‘low environmental impact’. Three points are awarded where the building manager is contractually required to implement the following environmental initiatives:
- the use of low environmental impact cleaning products
- energy monitoring and consumption reduction targets
- waste reduction/recycling monitoring and landfill disposal reduction targets, and
- water monitoring and consumption reduction targets.
Specifications could request BSCs to describe and, where possible, provide quantifiable evidence of how their cleaning operations assist the facility manager to achieve each of these four Green Star initiatives.
1. The use of low environmental impact cleaning products
Specify that cleaning products be supported with evidence of low environmental impact via a third-party certifier or through their design. Ask the BSC to attach copies of documents such as:
- general cleaning products certified as Environmentally Preferred by GECA
- internationally equivalent endorsements, including: Green Seal (US), EcoLogo (Canada) and the Flower (the EU ecolabel) – these are useful for items not covered by GECA’s Standard, such as air fresheners, degreasers or strippers
- EcoSpecifiers’ new rating program Green Tag, which will measure the life cycle of a cleaning product
- EcoBuy, which lists environmentally preferred products on the EcoFind site; this is a guide, not a certification
- evidence of AS:4351/1996 for ready biodegradability
- evidence of low aquatic toxicity
- evidence of low eco footprinting or carbon footprinting by an independent third party (i.e. a university), and
- evidence use of chemical-free methods: microfibre technology, diamond buffing, electrolysed water.
Note: ensure the label is genuine, not clip art or a symbol created by suppliers.
2. Energy monitoring and consumption reduction targets
Ask the BSC to describe measures that could reduce energy consumption. For example, Airlite Group (Perth) offered to install a solar panel to charge its equipment batteries. The energy monitoring process should consider:
- documented vacuum maintenance monitoring
- specifications of energy efficiency of all electrical equipment, and
- whether or not the contractor is willing to engage in day cleaning.
3. Waste reduction/recycling monitoring and landfill disposal reduction targets
Request the BSC to undertake specified recycling and/or monitoring requirements. Find out if your BSC does the following:
- provides proof of additional recycling partnerships; i.e. organics, batteries, light globes, computers
- practises waste avoidance
- purchases in bulk/concentrated form
- returns canisters to suppliers for reuse, and
- implements controlled dose dispensers.
4. Water monitoring and consumption reduction targets
Ask the BSC to provide evidence of their capacity to save water. Check that your BSC does the following:
- uses equipment that facilitates significant water reductions, such as some scrubbers, pressure washers and microfibre floor mops.
NB: the Smart Approved Water Mark rates products for water saving capacity.
The NABERS (National Australian Built Environment Rating System) program measures the operational impact of a building on the environment. While the focus is currently on the NABERS Energy Rating, interest is growing in indoor environment quality (IEQ). The IEQ audit measures the level of particulate matter, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), formaldehyde and microbials in an occupied space.
5. The level of particulate matter
Dust particulates create poor indoor environment quality (IEQ) due to their small size; they can also contain chemical pollutants. Ask your BSC to:
- obtain dust emission specifications from the vacuum cleaner manufacturer
- specify vacuum cleaners with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) in sealed units, and provide evidence they capture 99.97 percent of airborne particles of 0.3 microns, and
- damp dust surfaces.
6. The level of VOCs and formaldehyde
In a recent study on the effects of cleaning products on IEQ, cleaning products emitting VOCs combined with ozone to create formaldehyde at harmful levels. They are typically found in glass sprays, solvents, stain removers, strippers and sealants, metal polishes, air-fresheners and fragrances. Ask your BSC to:
- provide chemical-free, low-fume or fragrance-free methods to mitigate the risk of VOCs.
NB: GECA certification ensures VOC levels are very low.
7. Microbial levels
Good hygiene practices are integral to green cleaning, as pathogenic microorganisms (bad bacteria) are a health hazard and green cleaning aims to mitigate risk to health. Furthermore, strong chemicals are commonly used to disguise poor cleaning and, if removed or microfibre is implemented without correct procedures, green cleaning can fail. Ask your BSC to describe procedures to reduce microbial levels while handling and maintaining cleaning tools. Items to address include:
- colour-coding systems
- cloth quotas and carrying systems, and
- cloth laundering procedures.