Creating a Green Cleaning Program in your building

The delivery of cleaning services has a broad impact on the sustainable performance of your building. It can encompass aspects of health and hygiene, indoor air quality, water and energy consumption and waste recycling, yet it is all too often reduced to the use of ‘green cleaning’ products, with some microfibre cloths thrown in for good measure. Bridget Gardner explains how the establishment of a Green Cleaning Program can help you to raise the bar.

Understanding the barriers to change.

Even if an organisation has specified the most detailed sustainability clauses in their cleaning contracts, many Sustainability and Facility Managers have expressed frustration at the lack of means by which to validate ‘green cleaning’ claims, or to take it beyond chemicals.

Gaining an understanding into some of the reasons behind this ‘green’ ceiling will help you to plan a strategy to break through it. Firstly, interpretations as to what ‘green cleaning’ actually entails vary widely across the industry. A second challenge to education and monitoring is the fact that cleaning usually occurs after hours, and often by a sub-contracted and transient labour-force.

However, by far the biggest barrier to adopting ‘green cleaning’ is the perception that green cleaning products don’t work as well. Poor performance could seriously hurt profits in such a labour-heavy service industry. For a Facility Manager, the risk of occupant complaints about a possible lack of shine, chemical smells or bleached surfaces that adopting environmentally sustainable cleaning methods may bring, is a headache they can do without. But to the cleaning operator, it could mean the loss of a contract.

The only way to address these concerns is to be willing to share the risks and responsibilities of managing the process of change, education and experimentation to find the best solutions. Such a partnership approach must form the core of your green cleaning program.

A Green Cleaning partnership

During 2010-11, consultants Fresh Green Clean (FGC) facilitated a collaborative green cleaning program between the Yarra City Council’s contract managers, staff, and three cleaning contractors. Through education and face-to-face communication, a strong partnership was built between the cleaners and occupants that enabled different innovations to be trialled and monitored.

As one building officer reported; “Face to face communication was the key. The induction session was invaluable. That level of involvement rarely happens at the depot and it meant we understood what was going to happen and why, [and] that’s what made it successful.”

For example, through a collaborative mop laundering arrangement with childcare centre staff, the floors are now mopped with microfibre in a chemical-free hygienic process. By providing parents with educational posters explaining changes to gloss levels, they were able to introduce a maintenance procedure that buffs without the use of polish. The floors are now cleaner and easier to maintain, and staff and parents are happier with a visibly increased standard of hygiene and the assurance of chemical-free floors where infants play.

These changes alone have eliminated the annual load of 160litres of hazardous stripping chemicals and 240litres of floor polish in just four childcare centres.

Measurable outcomes

The Yarra City green cleaning program was established on clear, measurable outcomes that addressed all key aspects of health, wellbeing and sustainability related to cleaning. These became the guidelines that under-pinned all procurement, monitoring and decision making processes, and kept all stakeholders on the same page.

Auditing cleaning products and process against the measurable outcomes before and after the program enabled success to be measured. Some of the many outcomes this program achieved are:

  • Up to 46% reductions in materials and packaging waste via the use of multi-use, concentrated and chemical-free methods,
  • Proof of environmental claims on all chemicals and consumables via eco-label certifications,
  • Low-flushing urinals that are free of bad odours, VOCs and the risk of blocked pipes, via a trial of various biological blocks and cleaning solutions, and 
  • A low VOC, plant-based and durable oil treatment on the wooden Town Hall floors.

The same measurable outcomes are now being embedded into the next cleaning contracts, ensuring that commitment to the program continues into the future.

Avoiding the pitfalls of green cleaning

By framing sustainability within the structure of such a partnership program, stakeholders were far more willing to improve and innovate, without the fear that teething problems would come back and bite them! Without support, ‘green cleaning’ efforts can all too easily fall at the first hurdle, with the ‘green’ products or cleaning operators taking the blame - again.

Learn how to implement a Green Cleaning Program in your building in a new half-day Master-class for EcoBuy on the 5th of June with Bridget Gardner. You will discover how best to engage your colleagues and building cleaning contractors, and the process of developing the following steps:

  • Develop a sustainable cleaning policy
  • Embed measurable outcomes into your cleaning specifications
  • Build a team and develop your green cleaning program
  • Plan implementation and monitoring strategies
  • Address the inevitable barriers to change
  • Be ready to meet Green Star-Performance for building operations

For more details on the workshop, view the Green Cleaning Masterclass page.

Article provided by Bridget Gardner, Director of Fresh Green Clean, a pioneer in Australian commercial green cleaning, and a technical expert to the GBCA’s Green Star-Performance Rating program.