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Green Sustainable Cleaning in Health Care and Educational Facilities

Green cleaning has evolved over the years to be much more than just using environmentally friendly chemicals during the cleaning process. In the past, if you purchased green chemicals, you had pretty much done everything you could to “green” a cleaning program. Today, the expectation in many companies and industries is that you will do green cleaning and if not, why not? By today’s standards, if all you are doing is purchasing green chemicals, you don’t have much of a green cleaning program.

Green cleaning or what is more accurately described as sustainable cleaning has evolved to a new level that encompasses all aspects of the cleaning process. It starts with chemicals, but goes far beyond that to include such things as prevention, schedules, frequencies, procedures and equipment, along with product and process effectiveness, ease of use, life cycle cost analysis, building design, carbon footprint, training, testing and return on investment.

These issues help in creating and maintaining a truly sustainable cleaning program that contributes to a healthy, comfortable, and productive indoor environment at a cost that is competitive in the market place. Developing a green cleaning program requires a realignment of departmental and organizational goals, fact finding research and a little extra thought and effort on everyone’s part to make sustainable cleaning a reality and not just a catchy phrase that reads well on paper.

Recent advances in technology expand the definition of green cleaning to include chemical free cleaning with foam, oxygenated or electrolyzed water, low moisture processes, dry vapor disinfection and other cutting edge technologies. Areas that need to be addressed when implementing a green cleaning program include: energy conservation, day cleaning, sustainable purchasing, resource use and waste reduction, recycling, and prevention, as well as construction and remodeling, and safer maintenance products and services.

Health Care and Education Lead the Way

When compared to other industries, health care and education lead the way in providing research, support and information regarding how green processes and products benefits building occupants and the environment.

The Green Guide for Health Care Project, ( has worked closely with the U. S. Green Building Council ( to develop and promote green construction, procurement, operations and maintenance techniques for health care facilities around the world. Another source of information on greening in health care is: Health Care Without Harm,

When it comes to the education market, the following websites provide research information on green sustainable cleaning for schools, colleges and universities:,,,,,


Green Continues to Evolve

            To get a clearer picture of how green cleaning has evolved over the years, I spoke with Steve Ashkin, President of the Ashkin Group in


, IN. Steve has been involved with sustainability issues for over 25 years and is recognized worldwide as a leading authority on the subject of green cleaning.

“An interesting thing has happened”, Steve told me. “Industry has bought into the concept of green. Originally it was chemicals, then paper got on the bandwagon, next came equipment and now almost every cleaning and maintenance product category is investing in a green product line. We have green chemicals, green pest control, green roofing, green floors, and green architecture, you name it, most everything has or is going green.”

Taking Green Cleaning to the Next Level

I asked Steve what he has learned about green cleaning over the years and here’s what he had to say. “A better understanding of the big picture has reinforced for me that green cleaning is a process and a journey, and not just a collection of products. It’s about people and how they go about their work, which includes the use of chemicals, but just as important, supervision and training. It’s also about management getting people to do the right thing. Not just cleaners, but building owners, occupants, vendors and suppliers as well. Everyone needs to be involved in a green cleaning program for it to be truly successful in an organization. Getting building occupants involved in the process and in prevention, is one area where we haven’t made as much progress we could.

“As for trends, the cleaning industry is evolving quickly towards the next phase of the green movement. Customers want to buy green products and services from a green company. Having or selling green is no longer enough, the next step is to internalize the concept of green to all aspects of an organizations operation. In the end everyone will sell green products, but the way a company operates all aspects of its business will be a key factor in its long term success in the market place.”

 “The goal of green cleaning is to create healthy high performance building with minimum or no negative impact on the environment, taking this to the next level would mean that green cleaning actually has a positive or restorative impact on the environment.

Green Confusion        

The term “green, sustainable or environmentally preferred” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. There isn’t a law or requirement that everyone use the same terminology, definition or standard as to what is green. At this point on an international scale there are over 200 different groups, organizations, agencies, and associations all jockeying to have their definition, certification or standard recognized as the accepted green standard worldwide. I expect the confusion will continue a few more years unless a government (FDA, FTC, EPA) or international agency (ISO) steps in and sets a standard that everyone has to recognize.

From a practical standpoint, green chemicals generally contain less or no petroleum derived base materials and use safer or less toxic, natural or bio-based ingredients derived from plant sources such as soy, corn, sunflower, citrus or other seed or tree extract.

To one company, the term green may mean that they use recycled paper or soy ink on the label. To another company putting a small amount of citrus oil, or using petroleum based products that are not considered as hazardous as what they were using or using non-reportable amounts of a hazardous material may be considered green. Yet to another company use of base products that are derived from natural renewable resources and or organically based products may be their definition of green.

Chemical Free Cleaning Gains Ground

            A movement is afoot that my revolutionize way we clean. Imagine using only water, light or other forms of energy to clean. This may sound like science fiction, but progress is being made in this direction. For more information on this subject, visit the Chemical Free Cleaning Networks website at:

Green Floor Care

            Not all green floor care is the same. Some equipment, chemical and cleaning processes are simply greener than others. Major advances are being made by a number of companies that enable Environmental Services and Custodial Managers to overnight drastically reduce floor care costs while at the same time improving the sustainability of their cleaning operations.

       In the future, I expect we will see more use of low moisture carpet cleaning processes. Even if you use green chemicals during wet extraction carpet cleaning, applying and disposing of 2 to 5 gallons of water per minute isn’t green or sustainable when other processes can accomplish the same results with a few ounces of water.

Here are some examples of truly cutting edge and environmentally friendly floor care processes. Some may be considered controversial because they challenge the status quo and threaten the market share of existing companies that have not kept up with changes in technology and customer trends.

         Diamond impregnated floor pads to polish to a shine, marble, terrazzo, concrete and VCT tile, permanently eliminating the need for stripping, burnishing, or refinishing.  

         Bucketless mopping that eliminates the need for a mop pail and wringer, while reducing water use and disposal by up to 90%.

         Auto-scrubbers that use electrolyzed/Oxygen infused water that eliminates the need for detergents, speeds drying time and reduces water use by 70%.

         Spray and vacuum floor cleaning systems that remove more soil and bacteria from floor surfaces than string or micro fiber mops.

         Activated vapor cleaning systems that kill germs and mold, thereby eliminating the need for detergents, sanitizers and disinfectants.

         Auto-scrubbers that use foam generated from super concentrates that reduce water use and disposal by up to 70%.

         Floor stripping and scrubbing pads that work with detergent and water or dry, eliminating the need for harsh chemical strippers.

         Super concentrated detergent cartridges that provide enough product to clean 1 million square feet of flooring before they need replacement, thus reducing costs and energy consumption associated with the manufacture, storage, transportation and disposal of traditional dilution rate products.

         Low maintenance floor surfaces such as porcelain and ceramic tile, densified concrete, rubber, laminates, and wood and vinyl tile flooring with mineral coatings that do not require topical finish, burnishing or stripping, thus cutting floor care costs by up to 65%.

         Mini-auto-scrubbers the size and shape of an upright vacuum.

 Green floor care much like green cleaning, involves the use of preventative measures, less toxic chemicals and technologically advanced equipment along with processes that reduce the need and frequency of resource depleting, time consuming and hazardous restoration procedures such as wet extraction cleaning, scrubbing, stripping and refinishing. 


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Green Cleaning Resources

Here are some resources you should know about:

o        Health Care Without Harm Organization (HCWH) offers a free Going Green Resource Kit and other information for health care facilities.

Green Guide for Health Care offers tools and resources on greening health care   facilities.

          International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA)

o        Information on applying green processes to the hospitality industry.

o        Information on Green Seal Standards for cleaning chemicals, paper, and services (GS-37). The group has also established green cleaning service standards for commercial and residential properties..

o        Information on Green carpeting, and the CRI’s Seal of Approval testing program for vacuum cleaners, carpet spotters and cleaning chemicals.

o        Information on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program.

o        Information on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), mold and green chemical issues.

o        Informative site on IAQ, mold and green issues in schools.



Air Resources Board (CARB)

o        Information on the Green Restaurant Association’s certification program, services and publications.

o        Manufacturer of cleaning equipment that utilize cutting edge technologies such as oxygenated water for chemical free cleaning, foam, and super concentrates.

o        Information on the companies Green Pest Control Gold Metal Protection Program

o        An informational resource on pollution prevention and green cleaning issues.

o        A source of green info.

o        A source for green info

o        A source for green info

o        A private company offering third party green certification.

o        An industry consultant provides information on green cleaning and offers free subscription to the “Destination Green” newsletter.

o         A private company that for a fee offers to audit and provide green certification to organizations using its OS1 cleaning program.