Over the past year, office cleaning has increased dramatically to reduce the spread of COVID-19, resulting in levels of chemical consumption never seen before. Most cleaning chemicals contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that compromise the safety and health of building occupants. VOCs are released into the air and negatively affect indoor air quality (IAQ). Likewise, the manufacture and transport of these chemicals further harm the environment by using natural resources and creating greenhouse gas emissions.
Why is it important to note this? Because cleaning expectations have changed for the foreseeable future. Construction service contractors (ESBs) and janitorial crews will continue to clean more frequently, especially now, as COVID-19 cases related to the Delta variant to augment. In the future, facility managers must select the right chemicals and equipment to mitigate the impact on the environment and people, especially since 90% of respondents to a Boston Consulting Group survey said the pandemic has made them equally or more concerned about environmental issues.
Protect our Earth (and the occupants of buildings)
Gone are the days when the use of harsh chemicals was the only way to effectively clean and disinfect. Whether an office can accommodate 10 or 1,000 people, the increased use of traditional chemicals with synthetic fragrances, preservatives and other questionable additives can still have a negative impact on the environment. Fortunately, as we continue to advance technologically, facilities can use durable cleaning products that inactivate viruses and other pathogens just as successfully.
In addition to negatively impacting the environment, many commercial cleaning products can harm people. For example, poor IAQ worsens respiratory diseases like asthma and allergies, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that poor IAQ leads to increased illness and absence. Investing in green office cleaning programs can help protect the health of office workers, the cleaning professionals who use the products daily, and the environment.
Good practices for implementing sustainable cleaning in offices
To promote healthier, more environmentally friendly office buildings, consider the following best practices for your cleaning program:
1. Replace harsh chemicals.
Many cleaning chemicals are made from unknown ingredients which are not environmentally friendly. Knowing which chemicals to choose can be difficult, especially since many products appear to be sustainable even if they do not meet basic environmental standards. Avoid products with a long list of ingredients. As an alternative, consider on-site generation (OSG) systems, which produce electrochemically activated solutions (ECAS) using only salt, water, and electricity. The cleaner and disinfectant does not contain perfumes, dyes or VOCs that can irritate people and cleans as effectively as other commercial cleaning solutions. Producing chemicals on-site dramatically reduces plastic waste and eliminates reliance on frequent shipments of chemicals.
2. Invest in equipment that supports sustainability.
As with chemicals, advancements in technology are making soil maintenance processes more sustainable. Some machines can convert water into an effective cleaning solution, reducing the need for traditional and harsh floor cleaners. Many facilities also benefit from automated machines that reduce resource use and handle floor maintenance while cleaning professionals oversee other key tasks. In reality, research shows that robotic floor care equipment reduces water pollution by 77%, air pollution by 94% and energy consumption by 97%. Additionally, BSCs and facility managers should consider solutions such as wall dispensers that properly dilute cleaning solutions to limit product waste and robotic vacuums that keep carpets clean to reduce carpet replacement and landfill waste.
3. Choose environmentally friendly consumables.
Single-use plastic items take years to decompose and leave toxic chemicals and particles behind, especially in our oceans. For example, a plastic bottle takes 450 years or more to decompose into microplastic. To avoid generating unnecessary waste, get durable multi-purpose cleaning items like refillable sprays and microfiber cleaning cloths. In addition, consider the EPA recommended toilet paper consisting of 20-60%post-consumer toiletries, as small changes like this can make a big difference in high traffic office buildings.
4. Carefully monitor cleaning service providers.
Many companies claim to prioritize green cleaning when in fact they practice greenwashing. It is the process of provide misleading information on how a company’s products or processes are environmentally friendly. When looking for cleaning service providers for your facility, consider a partner who has obtained certifications from reputable third-party organizations such as Green Seal. Green Seal certifies cleaning programs to meet rigorous testing standards that include efficient and durable cleaning and disinfection procedures and equipment. Whether you operate a LEED-certified building or just want to be greener, consider requiring BSCs to use sustainable solutions to maintain your offices.
A greener and healthier future
The heightened expectations for cleanup will continue long after the pandemic is over. A Harris Poll 2021 found that more than half (58%) of U.S. employees who worked in an office before the pandemic would like to see increased cleaning and disinfection measures implemented in their workplace due to COVID-19. Opting for sustainable cleaning practices in offices can dramatically reduce the use of plastics, chemicals, water and energy and demonstrates a commitment to the planet and the health and well-being of building occupants. Since commercial buildings consume a high volume of resources on a daily basis, prioritizing sustainable and efficient cleaning is a must for forward-thinking facility managers.