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Green Cleaning Joins Hands with Sustainability

green cleaning and sustainable green cleaningThere is considerable confusion among cleaning professionals as to what green cleaning, “sustainable” green cleaning, and sustainability are all about.

So let’s start out with a situation that might help us address at least two of these quandaries:

You are a contract cleaning company and have been invited to submit a cleaning proposal for a very large organization.  Based on their Request for Proposal (RFP), which is sometimes called a “tender,” they request the following as far as carpet cleaning:

The contract cleaner will clean carpet throughout the building three times per year using a hot water carpet extractor with the following exceptions:

• Executive offices are to be cleaned four times per year using a hot water extractor

• Executive conference and meeting rooms are to be cleaned four times per year, using a hot water extractor

• Warehouse offices are to be cleaned two times per year using a cold water extractor

Now let’s examine what this means as to green cleaning as well as sustainable green cleaning.  But first, we must realize many organizations tend to recycle their RFPs.  By this I mean they take an RFP that may have been prepared as much as ten years ago and just put the current date on it.  A lot has changed in cleaning in the past decade and ten years ago, green and sustainable cleaning issues were just starting to become a consideration.

With that in mind, let’s dissect this RFP, realizing our discussion applies to most facilities.

• First, does all the carpet throughout the building need to be cleaned three times per year?   A greener and more sustainable approach would be that carpet on the first floor be cleaned three times per year, but carpet above the first floor be cleaned twice per year or as needed. Most carpet soiling in a facility occurs on the first floor and by keeping carpet on the first floor clean, dirt and soil are less likely to be tracked to higher floors with foot traffic.

• As to cleaning carpet in the executive offices and meeting rooms four times annually, the reality is that these areas likely have the cleanest carpet in the entire building.  They are the least populated areas but are typically given special treatment just because they are used by top executives.  Instead of carpet being cleaned four times per year, twice per year in most cases will be plenty.

• Why are warehouse offices to be cleaned only twice per year, and using a cold water extractor?  Instead of minimizing the importantance of these areas, they are likely the most soiled carpets in the building.  By cleaning carpet in warehouse and industrial offices more frequently, there is less chance that soiling from these areas will be walked in to other areas of the building.  Additionally, the use of a cold water carpet extractor here also suggests that the cleaning needs of these areas have been marginalized.  But more about that next.

• The call for hot water extractors is an indication that this may be a “recycled” RFP.  About ten years ago, it was believed that carpet was more thoroughly cleaned using hot water.  However, since then, a number of manufacturers are now making detergents and cleaning solutions that work as well, if not better, using cold water.

So What Have We Learned?

In a nutshell, this scenario tells us the following: Carpet should be cleaned based more on when cleaning is needed than on the calendar. Invariably, set schedules for cleaning services such as carpet cleaning or floorcare are not based on need.

A Greener and more sustainable practice is to clean carpet more frequently in warehouse areas and the first floor of the building.  Keeping carpet cleaner in these areas means that not only is there less likelihood that dust and soils will be tracked into other areas of the facility, but also it often helps reduce cleaning’s impact on the environment overall because fewer cleanings, and less cleaning solution, will be needed.

As to the use of hot water extractors, very simply, they are no longer necessary. I am well aware there is considerable controversy with this stance, but carpet cleaning solutions and chemicals have been developed in the past ten years that work very effectively using cold water.  This reduces the energy needs of the facility.

Taking these two steps – cleaning carpets as needed not on a schedule and using cold water extractors – helps promote sustainability and at the same time potentially lowers your costs to service the facility, a savings that can make your bid more competitive.

Further, our recycled RFP did not even mention the use of Green cleaning solutions.  The use of environmentally preferable cleaning solutions is a must and will take our green and sustainable strategy a step further, reducing cleanings impact on the environment and lowering this facility’s overall environmental footprint.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, and the professional cleaning industry’s leading advocate for promoting sustainability. He is also CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which offers a cloud-based dashboard that allows organizations to measure, report and improve their sustainability efforts. He is the coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies

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