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Sustainability: Practice What You Preach
By Keith Baker — posted 07/19/2011
Green products

Green cleaning has been one of the strongest rising trends in the cleaning industry in recent years. Indeed ISSA has played a leading role in promoting the use of green products, equipment, and practices, with a whole section of our Web site dedicated to the subject at

Our industry has responded very well to the demand for greener, less environmentally harmful, and yet effective cleaning chemicals. Janitorial paper products are widely sourced from recycled post-consumer waste and sustainably managed forestry, while the latest powered cleaning equipment is more energy efficient, sustainably manufactured, and recyclable.

Why Go Green?
Why have we switched to less harmful and more sustainable cleaning products? Because our customers are aware that some cleaning chemicals can have a harmful effect on the environment and they do not want to harm the environment. We make the same choices as consumers and individuals ourselves, but increasingly it is big companies and organisations whose corporate social responsibility agendas are driving greener choices. That can be a good thing because corporations can be a powerful lever for positive change.

Green cleaning has become a marketing issue, with manufacturers competing on environmental credentials as well as more traditional values such as efficacy and value-for -money. As a result, some have raised concerns about greenwashing—where unsubstantiated, false, or misleading environmental claims are made. ISSA seeks to promote green cleaning and prevent greenwashing by upholding meaningful environmental standards wherever it and its members can.

Ensuring products and resources are more sustainable is one thing, but are we doing enough to ensure the practice of cleaning couldn’t be greener? Every manager and cleaner needs to embrace greener cleaning practices if the industry as a whole is to deliver a more sustainable and environmentally friendly service to its customers.

Making the Change
It should be easy to switch to greener cleaning products. In many cases, legislative change has outlawed more harmful products forcing us to use more sustainable alternatives. It is harder, but all the more important, to ensure that sustainable cleaning practices are in place. Our workforce needs to be consistently trained on the role of green cleaning and how to ensure cleaning is as sustainable as possible.

There is no point in switching from one product to another, simply because the chemical is understood to be greener, unless its use makes it fully sustainable to do so. Notionally less harmful chemicals may not always be the most appropriate for certain cleaning jobs. For instance, where an intractable stain requires effective treatment, the most sustainable product will be the one that gets the required cleaning job done with the least environmental impact. Therefore, we should be mindful of this in the broadest sense.

Here is another example of where it is important to think and act green as much as to buy green products. Chemical concentrates can lessen environmental impact considerably by reducing packaging and the carbon emissions associated with shipping diluted products over hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles. But the effectiveness of using concentrates relies on making sure they are diluted correctly. That includes diluting the required quantity, not twice the required amount so that half the product is wasted. Once again, here is an issue where training is so important to ensure effective use of concentrates.

The reduction of waste and recycling are also fundamental to sustainability, and cleaning staff often have an important role in ensuring both their own and their customers’ waste is recycled effectively. Many large producers of waste, such as retailers, now go to enormous lenghts to maximise recycling. Key to this can be ensuring that waste streams are separated into: Organic matter, paper, cardboard, metals, glass, and plastics. More sophisticated methods of keeping different waste materials separated are now in use.

How the Industry Can Help
The cleaning industry plays its part by providing separate colour-coded bins.
These schemes can be extremely successful at increasing recycling and cutting waste, but they are reliant on buy-in from the whole company or organisation. However, one key group not always included is the cleaning staff, possibly because they are contracted out to another employer. So the cleaning staff needs to know how to keep different material streams apart—which bins need emptying, where and what to do if they find a glass bottle in the plastic waste, etc.

Training is critical with all aspects of sustainable cleaning, not just regarding the choice of green products, but to ensure that every aspect of the job is done efficiently. It needn’t be difficult, and just like health and safety training, it should become an integral part of any company’s policy.

This article first appeared in Cleaning Hygiene Today -

Keith Baker is ISSA Director of European Services.