Some see green cleaning as a simple product replacement, with traditional cleaning chemicals being replaced by green alternatives and virgin paper being replaced by similar paper made with recycled content. Others see green cleaning as much more comprehensive and include changes in product application and process (how they are used), as well as strategies to clean more effectively especially, around vulnerable or sensitive occupants. So this is a good open-ended question that allows the vendor to explain what makes its program better. And while there is no right or wrong answer, a vendor's reply can help a facility manager to help make a more informed decision.
Additionally, it is valuable to consider other services or opportunities that janitors have to help reduce the building's environmental impacts and save money. For example, ask the vendor if it can train the janitors on reducing the building's energy and water consumption. While some steps can be directly related to traditional janitorial responsibilities, such as cleaning with cold water or using microfiber mops, other opportunities can include turning off lights, work-ticketing that identifies leaking water fixtures and daytime cleaning.
A decade ago, a facility manager practically needed to be a chemist or toxicologist to make an informed decision about the "greenness" of a cleaning product. But today, facility managers can rely on widely used third-party certifications to make purchasing easy. So ask the vendor if it is using Green Seal, EcoLogo or EPA's Design for the Environment programs for chemicals; the Carpet & Rug Institute's Seal of Approval program for vacuum cleaners; or EPA's Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines, Green Seal or EcoLogo for janitorial paper.
If the vendor is using products that are "self-certified," ask it to provide test data to show that its product reduces the health and environmental impacts. These days, if the vendor has chosen to take the route of "self-certification," it should have this data readily available. And if not, it should be a red-flag.
Some vendors have a lot of experience with green cleaning, LEED and other green efforts. But if vendors are regional or national, warehousing and expertise may reside at corporate headquarters and may not be readily accessible locally. This is especially important when it comes to training janitors. Keep in mind that turnover in the cleaning sector is high, so having one trainer at corporate headquarters several states away, regardless of that person's skill level, may be of little help. Make sure to clarify what is local and available when needed.
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