A green checklist for building maintenance

Building and facility managers are being asked to develop and implement programmed cleaning services within a green framework. While this might look simple, it can be reasonably complex as it guides every decision that you will make on chemicals, equipment, product, process, suppliers and personnel. Here is a short, but by no means complete, checklist for going green with your cleaning operations.

Clean during the day: Think about it. Many cleaning processes can be done during the day such as public area maintenance, restroom cleaning, spill management, waste removal and so on.  Day cleaning brings the environmental services staff into direct contact with the building community.

It humanises and empowers staff, your green program becomes a visible initiative, your building standards are consistent during working hours and it will have a massive impact on energy usage as cleaning time at night will be minimised.

Chemical: If you think green is simply changing chemicals, think again, as chemical plays a very small part of a green cleaning program. However, chemical management is important in three ways. Firstly, the selection of chemicals that clean effectively and break down quickly in the environment is critical. This does not mean replacing cleaning solutions with vinegar and baking soda.

Many ‘natural’ products require the use of much more water and energy to remove soil while poor cleaning outcomes will reduce the life cycle of furnishings, fixtures and coatings, all of which puts pressure on non-sustainable resources.

Secondly, chemical management systems such as dispensing centres combined with appropriate staff training are required to minimise usage of and human contact with cleaning solutions. Thirdly, selection of products should focus on those that are manufactured from sustainable ingredients rather than oil-based ingredients.

Equipment selection: The decisions cleaning management makes on equipment and products will be influenced by factors such as durability, reliability, recyclability, water efficiency and energy usage, rather than initial capital outlay.

Energy usage is defined not so much by how much power the equipment or the process uses but by the energy it saves in lighting and ventilation in the day to day cleaning processes, by cleaning faster and/or by allowing the cleaning to be done in daylight hours.

Poor quality equipment or equipment that is inadequate for the needs of the facility may cost a little less but will impact on the lifecycle of floor coverings and fixtures, water and energy usage and human health and wellbeing – for both building users and workers.

Older equipment can be recycled rather than sending it to landfill. Cleaning machinery can contain significant quantities of aluminium, copper, steel, brass, polyethylene and other recyclable plastics and manufacturers are beginning to design with recyclability in mind.

Encourage suppliers to take back redundant equipment for a small fee to pull it down for recycling and/or for parts and request a certificate certifying the percentage that was recycled.

Water usage: Water is the most valuable raw material for cleaning and in Australia and many parts of the world it is becoming a precious commodity. Therefore water efficiency guidelines are one of the key platforms of a green greening program.

These guidelines will affect the way in which water used in cleaning processes is sourced dispensed, mixed and disposed of. Water efficiency will also have a major bearing on equipment and processes that you use to maintain your facility to a high, healthy standard.

Waste water generation: Waste water from building cleaning operations contain chemical, biological, oils and greases, plastic and similar synthetic fibres and suspended particulate matter. It is critical that cleaning operations are conducted using equipment, materials and processes that minimise, filter and control waste water volume and contaminates in waste water.

Cleaning management should work with clients, employees, suppliers and sub-contractors to select processes to minimise waste water generation and contaminants to the external environment. Cleaning managers must provide regular training of employees to create awareness of and understand the types and risks associated with wastewater and strategies to reduce emissions.

Sustainability: The key to sustainability is to minimise the quantities of materials used cleaning the facility and, wherever possible, chose products, packaging and equipment that are manufactured with a low carbon footprint and that are, in turn, manufactured from raw materials that are renewable, rather than finite. For instance, many chemicals and plastics are manufactured from oil-based raw materials. However, there are an increasing number of products that are based on plant and mineral based extracts.

Packaging needs to be kept to a minimum and all packaging needs to be recyclable and actually recycled. Solid waste from the building needs to be separated and recycled where feasible to minimise material going to land fill and consider treatment of grey water which can be utilised for grounds maintenance.

Processes: The selection of cleaning process is critical in a green program. For instance, augmenting water extraction with encapsulation in carpet maintenance will provide far better outcomes and has the ability to reduce water usage, energy requirements and generation of wastewater by more than half. However, sometimes the green benefits of a new cleaning process may actually be grey. It is important to check out the supply chain and manufacturing processes and trial new ideas and audit the outcomes before implementation of a new product or process.

Dust management: Green is about protecting the health of building users.  People spend approximately 90 per cent of their time indoors[1].  Dust is a pollutant and the indoor environment may be the major source of exposure for building users. Surface dust in buildings consists of organic particles such as human skin cell, hair and food residues plus inorganic particles including building material, fibres and plastics and gram negative bacteria.[2]

Cleaning process should focus on dust containment and dust removal e.g. HEPA filtered vacuums and damp dusting with microfibre rather than dust disturbance.  Feather dusters have no place in the green cleaning environment.

Training: All building staff and occupants are an integral part of a green cleaning program. Its success depends on their support and understanding of green cleaning processes and practices. Careful change management is integral to successful implementation of green cleaning practice. The goal is to implement cultural change.

Cultural change incorporates a holistic change in attitude, beliefs, practice and thinking by all members of the building community, not just the cleaning staff. Integral with green is comprehensive education, training and involvement of staff in the program as well as internal marketing and communication to the owners, guests and users of the building to ensure understanding of, and full commitment to, the green cleaning program.

Planning and evaluation: Green cleaning is a holistic program of evaluation, planned implementation and continuous improvement and needs to be continually monitored and audited to ensure the desired outcomes are achievable. A green program consolidates products, procedures and training combined with ongoing assessment of the immediate and cumulative effect of the cleaning program on people, the building life cycle, the environment and sustainable resources.

The outcomes of a green cleaning program have to be demonstrable, measurable and consistent with the environmental objectives of the building owners, building users and the community.

Supplier selection: With green, your supplier becomes a partner and every aspect of the supplier’s operation, product utilisation and supply cycle have to be taken into account in supplier selection.

The credibility and commitment of the supplier to designing, manufacturing and serious commitment for sustainability are critical in selection of equipment and products. Factors such as their distance from the facility, manufacturing practises, their environmental footprint and the source of their products will have a major impact on carbon emission reduction and sustainable resources.

This is a dramatically different approach to traditional practises. One of the most positive outcomes of green cleaning, from an industry perspective, will be the increased standing of the cleaning service department within the building hierarchy, and the community as a whole.

*Brian Clark is CEO of FM Contract Solutions

This article was republished with permission in the September/October issue of INCLEAN magazine

[1] https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/ambient-air-quality/topic/indoor-air-quality-2
[2] Gyntelberg, F. , Suadicani, P. , Nielsen, J. W., Skov, P. , Valbjørn, O. , Nielsen, P. A., Schneider, T. , Jørgensen, O. , Wolkoff, P. , Wilkins, C. K., Gravesen, S. and Norn, S. (1994), Dust and the Sick Building Syndrome. Indoor Air, 4: 223-238. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0668.1994.00003.x

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