Making the Switch to Green Cleaning Involves Educating Occupants and Service Providers
One facility management function that is on the cutting edge of green is cleaning, which Ashkin says he attributes to the industry recognizing that cleaning products affect not just a building and its occupants, but also the people using the cleaning products. He recommends that facility executives use LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance, specifically the cleaning prerequisites and credits, to specify products and training used in cleaning a commercial building. Similar guidelines exist for schools and health care facilities.
Ashkin recommends that facility executives ask suppliers what their experience is in green cleaning and also to check their references on the subject. He suggests asking for the names of three buildings where the products or services are already being used and for the cleaning supplier to provide documentation of their cleaning product purchases, which is a requirement of LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance.
Experts stress that facility executives should have benchmarks for services that are outsourced. With recycling, for example, it should be known exactly how many recyclables, by weight or volume, are collected in the building before the provider begins. Then regular audits should be conducted to see if improvements have been made.
"If you don't know where you are today, how do you know if you made an improvement?" says Elliott. "If you say complaints are down, it could be that people got tired of complaining. You need to look at the metrics."
Facility executives should communicate with occupants when any change is made, but particularly when switching to green providers, experts say. For one thing, it's possible that while green products may work just as effectively as their non-green counterparts, occupants may not perceive them that way, says Theriault. Traditional bathroom cleaning products are scented but many environmentally responsible products are not, he says.
"So even if it's just as clean as before, your occupants no longer smell the scent and they think the cleaning wasn't done or, if it was, it's still not clean," he says. "That's where communication with the occupants becomes important."
It's also important to manage occupants' expectations, Ashkin says. Facility executives have to be careful not to convey the message that no one will ever get sick, complain or have an allergic reaction once they start using green products.
"Don't create such high expectations that no matter what you do, the occupants will see a gap between what they expected and what they received," says Ashkin. "Occupants will view it as a failure even if it has made major improvements. I always tell people that green cleaning will make it better, but we can't make it perfect."
Desiree J. Hanford, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, is a freelance writer who spent 10 years as a reporter for Dow Jones. She is a former assistant editor of Building Operating Management.