Green cleaning—products and services that protect the environment and human health—is now common practice in the facility maintenance field. But some industry insiders say it’s not enough to be green anymore. If contractors and facility managers truly want to create a sustainable environment in a cost-effective way that is also competitive, they need to look at how materials are sourced, manufactured, distributed, used, reused and disposed. Technology trends are constantly evolving to meet these needs, resulting in a number of opportunities.
David Holly, deputy director of the Green Cleaning Network, a U.S.-based non-profit that helps eliminate confusion about green cleaning, is an industry veteran with more than 30 years’ experience working in every facet of the cleaning industry, including Canada. He is also a sustainability, green cleaning and strategic planning consultant. Holly says contractors now have a larger and more meaningful role to play in facility maintenance.
Far from the lackluster image some observers might have of the cleaning industry, he stresses that this is an exciting time; sustainability is raising the bar and creating a lot of possibilities. From a contractor perspective, he likens green cleaning to a game of poker.
“Green cleaning is the ante card; if you don’t do green cleaning or have green chemicals, you’re not in the game,” he says. “But the raises have gone up and up and up, and we’re way beyond that now. Our industry needs to keep catching up and understanding that there are some very, very, very intelligent people managing facilities and they’re reading about this stuff and understand sustainability. It’s no longer enough to say you have green chemicals. What are you doing to impact [a facility’s] sustainability requirements?”
Grey water and recycled water
The use of reclaimed water in the cleaning process is something that Holly believes will emerge significantly onto the market in the coming years.
“From a cleaning perspective, one of the things we have to focus on is how to reduce the amount of water we use. That’s not just diluting chemicals. Anything we can do from a manufacturing and use standpoint that reduces water needs is a huge deal and it’s something, I think, our industry can take a lead in.”
Technology that can reduce the impact on potable (drinking) water is becoming more important as North American cities continue to grow and draw from ground water, while many areas experience drought. Recently the water usage in Windsor, Ontario jumped to levels not seen since 2012 due to an extremely dry spring and summer. Meanwhile, droughts were recently declared in coastal B.C., while Vancouver Island declared a Level 4—the driest of the province’s ratings.
Grey and recycled water is emerging in response to this ongoing problem. Grey water is typically from rain runoff, bathroom sinks, washing machines and showers. Recycled water is treated greywater that could be potable. The water can be used for landscaping, urinal flushing, window washing, exterior washing and cooling towers, and now, Holly sees some of his clients conducting tests to show how recycled water can transform into a safe cleaning product.
“It’s not anything a contractor or end user has to invest thousands of dollars in,” he says. “It’s a relatively straightforward process where you hook up the device, run water through it, both prior to the device and after the device, and send it to a lab for analysis. Then you have the evidence. You have to prove that it’s safe, but there are technologies out there that actually make this very doable.”
In terms of implementing this technology, he suggests a facility must first determine if it is available and what permits might be necessary. He says managers should speak with their local water district to see how this type of water can be used, what is required and what he or she aims to acquire. Ask vendors to audit and find opportunities, and continue to test new innovations.
Engineered water or on-site generation that converts tap water into effective cleaning solution is another emerging technology in the cleaning industry. The process of creating a traditional chemical, from extraction and manufacturing to distribution, packaging and then waste, greatly impacts the environment as water is involved in that whole process. Engineered water, whether through steam cleaning or high pressure cleaning, is used on site, with nothing being built in the process and nothing being thrown away.
Determine the units that you need for your space. Some units may be too large for smaller areas and, therefore, not as cost-effective. Centralize the unit and create access for janitors and custodians to use them. To create more trust among occupants or staff who doubt engineered water can be used as a decontaminant, a facility could conduct a pilot program to show its usefulness. Create a space within the facility, install the right-sized unit, monitor its progress and occupant reaction and then test for effectiveness.
Facility managers have a mile-long list of daily operating tasks to fulfill, part of which involves meeting sustainability goals. Contractors who can support this work and who can sit down with sustainability professionals and show that they understand issues like water use give them a huge competitive advantage.
“It’s not just talking about making the place look nice, but talking about what really impacts a manager’s job,” notes Holly. “There are very few who really get that, but the ones who do are adding the biggest and brightest clients to their portfolio.”
A contractor who can understand how to extend the life of a facility, from finding cleaning technology that helps managers extend the life of their own technology to using chemicals that won’t harm surface areas, will be able to impact a facility’s profit.
In addition, young graduates coming into facility management will be educated to know what sustainability is all about.
“The goals that their superiors are putting on them are higher,” notes Holly. They may have a corporate sustainability officer who is monitoring sustainability. If we want to truly win, we gotta know this stuff.”
Sustainable cleaning starting point
There are a few starting points for facility managers who already have in-house cleaning staff, but who are looking to be both innovative and cost-effective. A sustainable cleaning process might seem daunting when trying to find the bang for your buck, given the plethora of technology on the market. Holly suggests that managers first partner with the right vendors.
“Green has been around for a while; we all get green, but there’s a difference between a green chemical and a sustainable product,” he says. “You can have a green chemical that meets the green criteria, but it might be sent over on a slow boat from China, chugging diesel fuel into the air, which makes it non-sustainable.”
“Don’t confuse green with sustainable; they are not the same thing,” he adds. Find the right partner who is truly dedicated to sustainability, and there are many out there.
As a first step, he says talk to people who really know about sustainability and offer direction. Another alternative would be to take a look at major manufacturers, call them up and ask to speak with someone on the topic.
“These folks are investing in this technology and will obviously try to spin their product,” Holly notes. “But there is a lot of good advice and information out there.”
Rebecca Melnyk is the online editor of Facility Cleaning & Maintenance and Canadian Property Management