The Canadian cleaning industry has been eager to understand Green cleaning and, taking that an important step further, to implement it in the facilities they maintain. Typically it is the end-use customer who initially requests that environmentally preferable cleaning tools, products and procedures be used in a facility. But many cleaning contractors have taken the first step by approaching their clients and suggesting that Green cleaning is healthier cleaning, is more environmentally responsible, and is the future of cleaning. This is definitely a feather in the cap of our cleaning industry.
Green cleaning is a journey: there is really no end point. As such, let us review some of the principles of Green cleaning and address some new developments in its evolution.
What is Green cleaning?
We can define Green cleaning as a cleaning process that is both effective and protective of health and the environment. It is the use of cleaning chemicals, tools and equipment, procedures, and frequencies that work very well but have a reduced negative impact on the user, building occupants, and the environment.
What makes chemicals Green?
Being able to clearly define what makes a cleaning chemical Green is one of the hallmarks of the Green movement. At one time people promoted environmentally preferable cleaning products without anyone clearly defining what they are or, worse, every manufacturer, distributor, or end user having a different definition. The confusion likely stalemated the entire journey. These days, a product is proven Green if it has been tested by an independent, third-party organization and found to meet specific standards/criteria established by credible certification organizations such as EcoLogo™, Green Seal®, or Safer Choice the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s program.
What are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and why are they an issue in Green cleaning?
VOCs are made up of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, chlorine, and other compounds that vaporize or can form gases that are released into the air. Essentially, they cause indoor air pollution. They are found in all kinds of products from glue and paint to carpeting and wallpaper. The big concern about VOCs is that they can be harmful to human health, especially children’s health. For a cleaning product to be Green certified, it typically must have no or very low amounts of VOCs.
Are there Green-certified equivalents for all cleaning chemicals?
The industry is closer than ever to having a Green product for every need. At one time, some leaders in North America’s professional cleaning industry predicted that by now 80 percent of the chemicals marketed would be conventional and only 20 percent would be Green. What we are seeing is the opposite is true. About 80 percent or more of the chemicals most commonly used for cleaning have Green-certified equivalents. Floor finishes has been one of the few areas where some manufacturers are still finding it difficult to develop a more environmentally preferable equivalent that performs as well as and is competitive in price to traditional alternatives. However, many finishes are now available that are certified, are effective, and in some cases perform even better than their conventional counterparts, and generally cost competitive.
Don’t all Green cleaning chemicals perform about the same?
The answer is a big NO. Do all conventional cleaning chemicals perform the same? Again, the answer is no. Cleaning contractors should put the different Green cleaning chemicals to a challenge and see how well they perform in the locations they clean. Are they cost effective? Are they easy to use? This is one of many areas where a distributor who is known as the local “Green cleaning expert” can really come in handy. He or she will likely be attuned to the different Green products available and which work best in which situations.
Are only chemicals Green?
Absolutely not! Floor machines are now available that are effective using just water in many basic cleaning situations. Others are designed so that the operator can switch between chemical and water while cleaning, minimizing the amount of chemical necessary, which it may be, especially when performing more difficult floorcare tasks. Extractors are also getting Greener. The Carpet and Rug Institute, through its Seal of Approval program, has established fairly stringent criteria that require carpet extractors to meet certain performance and moisture-removal standards so that carpets dry faster. Typically, these are low-moisture machines designed to help carpets dry within approximately two hours. And lest we forget, vacuum cleaners with HEPA or high-filtration filters are also a key component of the Green cleaning arsenal.
What are bio-enzymatic cleaning chemicals, and are they Green?
Bio-enzymatic cleaners are products specially formulated to dispose of soils safely, economically, and rapidly. They contain the necessary blend of specific enzymes and benevolent bacteria to digest chemical and organic waste that would normally create odors and feed germs. These microorganisms and enzymes, as they do in nature, break down the waste, converting it into two basic compounds: carbon dioxide and water.
Some of these are Green, and some are not. To determine whether a bio-enzymatic cleaning product is certified Green, look for the certification label or marking of one of the certification organizations mentioned earlier, as would be the case with any Green-certified cleaning product.
Are bio-enzymatic and bio-renewable cleaning chemicals the same?
No. They are actually subcategories of biobased cleaning chemicals. As the name implies, a bio-renewable cleaning chemical is made from renewable ingredients such as corn, soy, or other agricultural products. A bio-enzymatic cleaning chemical, as we defined earlier, is made from bacteria and enzymes that not only clean a surface but also eat away at bacteria, grease, microorganisms, and other contaminants. Because of this, bio-enzymatic cleaners are excellent for eliminating odors from tile and grout areas and continue to work for as long as 80 hours after they have been applied to a surface. Bio-enzymatic cleaners are a specific subset of bio-renewable but, depending upon the type and amount of surfactant and fragrance used, may or may not meet the USDA criteria for Bio-Preferred. And again, for both bio-enzymatic and bio-renewable, ensure the product is Green certified.
Can lists of ingredients be found on all Green cleaning products?
Not always. Some manufacturers such as Enviro-Solutions® do disclose 100 percent of the ingredients. Full ingredient disclosure listing all key ingredients is definitely becoming more available. With this information in hand, users can select Green and conventional cleaning products based on where they are used. For instance, some products may not be the most suitable for locations where small children are present but may work perfectly well in office-type environments. Simply knowing what is in the product helps users make more informed decisions, which can protect their health as well as the health of the facilities they clean.