Now that Green is “in,” many building service contractors, large and small, have incorporated Green cleaning systems into all or most of their service operations. Most jansan distributors now have a “Green line” to offer clients who are looking for environmentally preferable products. And, more and more facility managers and property owners—our end customers—have transferred from conventional to Green cleaning and believe they have taken the necessary steps to protect the environment as well as the health of their cleaning workers, building occupants, and visitors to their buildings.
In fact, most customers who have made the switch to Green cleaning believe they are ahead of the curve and provide the services, products, and cleaning systems their clientele and tenants now request. They feel now that they have gone Green, their job is done.
Unfortunately, most end customers will soon find that selecting environmentally preferable cleaning products is just the first step in a move toward healthier, Green cleaning systems. Next, they have to make sure the products selected meet their specific cleaning needs and challenges. Today, when a product is deemed Green, it is no longer enough. The product must also be priced right, perform well, be proven effective at protecting people and the environment, and come with value-added services end users expect from a committed jansan distributor and manufacturer.
What Is Green?
As an informative resource for our end customers, distributors should first be able to define Green cleaning products. A Green, environmentally preferable, or sustainable cleaning product is often described as one that has a reduced negative impact on cleaning workers, building occupants, visitors to a facility, and the environment when compared with competing cleaning products serving the same purpose.
The most common Green cleaning products have replaced harsh chemicals found in conventional cleaners with ingredients and technologies that are sustainable and have been independently analyzed and proven healthier.
Other Green and healthier cleaning products are biological cleaning solutions, or bio-cleaners. These products contain enzymes and combine safe bacteria, nutrients, and other ingredients that harness nature’s own processes to digest soils and convert them into safer, more benign compounds. One of the big benefits of bio-cleaners is that they continue to clean for up to 80 hours after application, which allows them to deep-clean hard-to-reach areas and help eliminate odors.
Similar to bio-cleaners are hydrogen peroxide cleaners. These products kill organisms by oxidation, which can be best described as a “controlled burning” process. When hydrogen peroxide reacts with organic material it breaks down into oxygen and water.
Although chemical, biological, and hydrogen peroxide technologies differ from one another, they can safely complement each other. An ideal Green cleaning program may take advantage of the strengths of each technology in order to help obtain a healthier environment. But, each technology still must be evaluated as to price, performance, protection of people and the environment, and the commitment of the distributors and manufacturers that market and produce the products.
Price and Performance
Those of us that remember the first residential-use Green cleaning products introduced about 40 years ago recall that virtually all had two things in common: high cost and poor performance. However, over the years prices did come down and performance was improved.
A similar trend happened in Green facility construction as well. Just over a decade ago, experts indicated that building owners who wanted to construct and operate a Green facility, which incorporated the use of environmentally preferable cleaning products, should expect a cost of about 20 percent more compared to a conventional facility. But now the great majority of healthier cleaning products are cost-competitive with each other and conventional cleaning products. Furthermore, the costs for our customers to build and operate a Green facility are in many cases negligible or a maximum premium of about 5 percent.
However, while purchase prices may be similar, some Green cleaning products are not as cost-competitive as they may seem and distributors need to shop further than the ticket price. A closer examination finds that some Green chemicals have dilution ratios that make them significantly more expensive than conventional and even other environmentally preferable cleaning products. The ratio of solution to water is often overlooked in the selection process and only comes to light once the product has been purchased, especially if the product is proving not to be cost-effective by having to be purchased more often.
Similarly, just because a product is Green does not mean it performs well or the same as other Green products. The best examples of this are some of the Green floor care products now available, such as strippers, restorers, and finishes.
A test of 25 different Green floor care finishes at the massive Empire State Plaza building complex in Albany, NY by the facility’s cleaning and maintenance department found only 2 that were comparable in performance to conventional finishes. With the other 23, either: the floor’s shine disappeared within a matter of weeks; the products discolored plates and switches built into the floor; or cleaning workers found they needed to double their efforts, use more chemical, or apply many more coats of finish to achieve comparable and satisfactory results.
Protecting People and the Environment
Most jansan chemical manufacturers have turned to certifying organizations, such as UL EcoLogo®, Green Seal™, Safer Choice and U.S.D.A. Bio-Preferred Program to verify that their products are healthier and environmentally safer. Being able to place the certifying organization’s mark or seal on their product is proof that it meets all current Green requirements.
However, some manufacturers, whether because of the cost or for their own internal reasons, have decided not to have their products certified. Sometimes these products may even be safer and meet higher standards than those called for by the major certifying organizations. The problem is, how does the cleaning worker, distributor, and purchasing agent really know?
Many of the “self-declared” Green cleaning products introduced years ago were later determined not to be safer for users and the environment, and some were even found to be more harmful than conventional, non-Green products. In some cases, this happened because the science and knowledge of the day were not matured. In other instances, the manufacturer may have been intentionally misleading, or “greenwashing,” the consumer. Greenwashing is still quite prevalent in many industries, without an independent, third-party evaluation of a product it is simply not possible to tell if a product is really healthier to people and the environment or the marketing claims are just “spin” misleading end users who don’t have the time or expertise to fully analyze the product.
Commitment to the Product
Much more than with conventional cleaning products, Green and healthier cleaning products need not only the support, but also the commitment of the manufacturers that make them as well as the distributors that market them. We are asking end customers to clean and maintain their facilities with entirely new products and systems. This requires the strong backing of the manufacturer to the distributor and the distributor to the end customer by offering:
- Training and education programs on what healthier cleaning products are and their features and benefits.
- Ongoing assistance in the form of Webinars, information packets, tips to shorten the learning curve when using the products, presentations, and seminars by experts.
- Troubleshooting and patience. Problems may arise, and the manufacturer and distributor must work together and step in when needed to help the end customer through the hurdles.
- Product demonstrations and challenges—comparing different products at the customers location.
Not a Destination, but a Journey
There are scores of quotes from some of the most famous people in history stating that we should place greater emphasis on our journey in life, and not so much the final destination, as we seek to accomplish our goals and successes. The same can be said of going Green—it is not a destination or a final resting point, but rather a journey.
For distributors, building service contractors, and facility owners and managers, the key is to start the process by making the decision to select safer, healthier, environmentally preferable cleaning products. This demonstrates your commitment to a better, Greener future. However, it does not stop there.
We must acknowledge that not all Green products are the same and some may not meet our cleaning needs for a variety of reasons. We must be willing to change if necessary and keep searching for the best products to effectively clean facilities, while protecting people, their safety and health, as well as the environment.