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The ongoing trend toward green cleaning offers not only environmental benefits, but also requires less handling of chemicals.
Health advocates have, for a long time, eyed harsh chemical cleaners with suspicion. After all, long-used phenol-based disinfectants — which have been known to corrode stainless steel fixtures — surely do damage to humans who are exposed to the chemicals long-term.
In the search for less hazardous chemicals and methods that could do as good a job, green cleaning was born. And while proponents claim that green cleaning is an easier sell to management and occupants than ever before, they admit that dispelling some of the long-held negative convictions isn't as easy as it should be. Clearly, one claim for green cleaning methods is that the practice is healthier for the environment and building occupants; but today's technology also allows janitorial and custodial staffs to handle fewer chemicals, all of which have the same or better effectiveness than the harsh chemicals they replace, say experts.
These days, says Gene Woodard, director of building services at the University of Washington, green cleaning is an easy sell in his organization. But his admission is tempered with a bit of history: "It is an easy sell because we've been at it for so long," he says.
Woodard notes that the president of the university was one of the original signers on a green-cleaning action plan back in 1986, when the university started to eliminate some of the more toxic cleaners.
"I came to the university from health care and was surprised at some of the caustic cleaners being used, even back in the '80s," he says. "So for us green cleaning is part of university's mission. The students are enthusiastic about it, and our employees stress the element of safety with the program."
But when organizations are new to green cleaning, a sales pitch may be required. "We switched over completely to green chemicals three years ago," says Donna Allie, founder and president of Team Clean, Inc. "We get a lot of pushback at times from clients who think that green cleaning won't be as effective as with traditional methods or compounds. So we have to prove it to them."
When an organization has successfully convinced everyone with a stake in the game — be they management, tenants, or custodial staff — that green cleaning is worth trying, it's important to have those parties understand the benefits of the new approach.
"Obviously, reducing chemical exposures for staff and students is important," says Mark Bishop, vice president for communications of the Healthy Schools Campaign. "But it can also mean things such as reducing water usage and electric use. Or improving ergonomics."
If facility managers run into resistance when adopting green cleaning practices, Steve Ashkin, president of the Ashkin Group, says he recommends using a pilot program to test and evaluate proposed products or methods.
"You have to ask: 'How do we measure success?' and then come to an agreement to understand what the product trial is going to be," Ashkin says. "Objective measurements are useful to determine product performance, but subjective inquiries — such as taking a survey at the end of 30 days of use to determine occupant appreciation of the product — are a valid measure as well."
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