Highly toxic cleaning products simply aren’t necessary to get office buildings clean – and greener alternatives are readily available. The potential for healthier cleaning purchases is enormous: in Southern California, for example, one study by JPPP found that up to 58,000 pounds of hazardous cleaning ingredients used annually could be avoided by shifting to milder products, or by scheduling hazardous cleaning procedures, such as floor refinishing, only when they are needed rather than by an arbitrary schedule.
There is now a greener cleaning product on the market for just about every industrial cleaning need: institutional purchasers can choose from 340 GreenSeal™ certified professional cleaning products from 80 manufacturers, and EcoLogo™, a similar Canadian standard, certifies green cleaning products from another 46 manufacturers. According to the Center for a New American Dream’s Responsible Purchasing Network (RPN), which helps institutional purchasers shift to greaner choices, “Institutional users now report that green cleaners are cost competitive, perform just as well as more toxic alternatives, and are widely available through conventional suppliers.”
Though green cleaning products are already often cost competitive with the more harmful products they are replacing, the invesment more than pays for itself when janitors’ safety is taken into account. More than 90 percent of the cost of most office building cleaning budgets is the cost of labor, not the cost of the chemicals, according to RPN. So safer, less toxic cleaning products doesn’t just mean healther indoor air for office workers and less pollution in the air and water – it also means saving much of the $75 million a year U.S. institutions currently spend to compensate for the fact that janitors so often become sick and injured by their use of dangerous chemicals on the job.
“Building cleaning is one area where the greener choice is also the smarter and more affordable choice, and is certainly the choice that protects workers,” says Victoria Kreha, the director of our Responsible Shopper program, which tracks the environmental and social performance of chemical and cleaning products companies, along with many others. “The more office workers demand that their buildings be cleaned without toxins, the closer we’ll all be to being able to work in America’s offices safely and productively — without harming people or the planet.”
• INFORM Inc. offers a variety of free resources online for moving your office building towards greener cleaning practices, including fact sheets like Healthier Cleaning Best Practices, Implementing an Environmentally Preferable Cleaning Program, and Green Cleaning Site Visit Checklist. Download these resources and other fact sheets here.
• The Responsible Purchasing Network at the Center for a New American Dream offers an online Responsible Purchasing Guide for Cleaners with best practices and product lists. RPN works with institutional procurement professionals and can help the decision-maker for your workplace shift to greener cleaning products. The guide is also available as a downloadable PDF.
• Look to Green America’s National Green Pages™ and select the “Cleaning Services” category for green cleaning services in your area. A print copy comes free with membership in Green America.
• The Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, quantifies the projected environmental benefits of purchasing and using "green" janitorial services and products in the routine interior cleaning of an office building.
• Look for these certifications for greener janitorial cleaning products: EcoLogo™, 800/478-0399, and GreenSeal™, 202/872-6400.
• Download “An Office Building Occupant’s Guide to Indoor Air Quality,” from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Originally published in issue SPRING 2008 — Web Exclusive