Green cleaning is gaining credence in Australia. The number of cleaning service providers and product suppliers offering ‘green cleaning’ is rapidly increasing. But without a nationally accepted definition or requirements to purchase third party approved products, the term is in danger of being reduced to little more than a marketing tool.
Fresh Green Cleans’ director Bridget Gardner discusses how a facility manager can build measurable sustainable outcomes into cleaning contracts.
Australia compared to the US
Green cleaning has wide acceptance and even legislative status in many US states. This is facilitated by 500+ cleaning products certified by the Green Seal ecolable. Furthermore, many US Government building managers employ janitors and purchase their own chemicals, increasing demand for certified products in the process.
In comparison the Australian model of sub-contracting a service provider who purchases chemicals from a third party supplier, significantly reduces capacity to monitor the supply chain. Only 22 commercial cleaning products are certified by our own Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA).
As it is unlikely the Australian Government will legislate to enforce procurement of certified green cleaning products anytime soon, the onus lies with the facility manager to specify auditable criteria for cleaning products and practices.
Specifying green cleaning
We define Green Cleaning as ‘cleaning effectively with minimal harm to health or the environment’. If viewed as a process of actively seeking to mitigate risk, then the role of a facility manager becomes one of change management rather than enforcing compliance from the start.
Taking a partnership approach with the Building Services Contractor (BSC) is essential to success, especially given the current market of narrow margins and financially unsustainable bidding, and the fear that ‘true green cleaning’ will be uncompetitive.
BSC engagement is vastly improved when the facility is willing to co-invest in green consumables, recycling programs, monitoring and even staff awareness programs to address perceptions that no bleach = unclean! Green clean programs based on trust, communication and collaboration, can improve environmental and cleaning performance outcomes.1
Tender specifications should be designed to gauge the commitment and capacity of prospective BSC to work toward environmentally sustainable outcomes, rather than be prescriptive. The following article provides guidelines on which to base your tender specification questions and how to interpret responses.
Cleaning service procurement guidelines
The Federal EPA Guidelines for the Procurement of Cleaning Services offers some guidance. The following list contains additional measures that BSCs could provide to demonstrate their company’s green commitment:
- Environmental Management System Standard - ISO 14001:2004
- Certification by GECA Environmentally Preferred Cleaning Services
- BSCAAs (Building Services Contractor Associations of Australia) State certification programs: Eco Clean (QLD), Green Stamp (W.A.)
- The use of cleaning products with third party proof of low environmental impact or chemical-free methodologies
- Quantifiable evidence of efficiency measures and resource reductions
- Green Clean staff training, such as Lennox Institute’s greenRclean™ Training Program.
- Green Clean Facility Benchmarking and Management Workshops by Fresh Green Clean
Green Star Rating System requirements
The Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star Office Interiors tool (v1.1) addresses Green Cleaning briefly throughout a number of credits (Eco-3 & Eco-4). However, there are no specific compliance requirements other than showing that the products used have a ‘low environmental impact’.
Three points are awarded where the building manager is contractually required to implement the following environmental initiatives:
- The use of low environmental impact cleaning products;
- Energy monitoring and consumption reduction targets;
- Waste reduction/recycling monitoring and landfill disposal reduction targets;
- Water monitoring and consumption reduction targets.
1. The use of low environmental impact cleaning products
Specifications could request BSCs to describe and where possible provide quantifiable evidence, of how their cleaning operations assist the facility manager to achieve each of these four Green Star initiatives:
Specify that cleaning products are supported with evidence of low environmental impact, via a third party certifier or through their design. Ask the BSC to attach copies of documents such as;
- General cleaning products certified as Environmentally Preferred by GECA
- International equivalents include: Green Seal (USA), EcoLogo (Canada) and the EU Ecolabel (The Flower). These are useful for items not covered by GECA’s standard, such as air fresheners, degreasers or strippers.
- EcoSpecifiers’ new rating program Green Tag will measure the life-cycle of a cleaning product
- EcoBuy lists environmentally preferred products on the EcoFind site but this is a guide not a certification
- Evidence of AS:4351/1996 for Ready Biodegradability
- Evidence of low Aquatic Toxicity
- Evidence of low Eco Foot-printing or Carbon Foot-printing by an independent third party (ie: University)
- Use of chemical-free methods: microfibre technology, diamond buffing, electrolysed water
2. Energy monitoring and consumption reduction targets
Note: Ensure the label is genuine, not clip-art or a symbol created by suppliers
Ask the BSC to describe measures that could reduce energy consumption. For example, Airlite Group (Perth) offered to install a solar panel to charge their equipment batteries
3. Waste reduction/recycling monitoring and landfill disposal reduction targets
- Documented vacuum maintenance monitoring
- Specifications of energy efficiency of all electrical equipment
- Are they willing to engage in day cleaning?
Request the BSC undertake specified recycling and/or monitoring requirements.
4. Water monitoring and consumption reduction targets
- Can they provide additional recycling partnerships, ie: organics, batteries, light globes, computers?
- Do they practice waste avoidance?
- Purchase in bulk / concentrated form
- Return canisters to supplier for re-use
- Implement controlled dose dispensers
Ask the BSC to provide evidence of their capacity to save water:
- Does the equipment demonstrate significant water reductions, such as some scrubbers, pressure washers and microfibre floor mops?
- The Smart Approved Water Mark rates products for water saving capacity
NABERS National Australian Built Environment Rating System
The NABERS program measures the operational impact of a building on the environment. While the focus is currently on NABERS Energy Rating, interest is growing in Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ). The IEQ audit measures the level of particulate matter, VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), formaldehyde and microbial in an occupied space. 5. The level of particulate matter
Dust particulates create poor IEQ due to their small size and that they can contain chemical pollutants:
6. The level of VOCs & formaldehyde
- Ask the BSC to obtain dust emission specifications from the vacuum cleaner manufacturer
- Specify vacuum cleaners with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) in sealed units, that provide evidence they capture 99.97% airborne particles of 0.3 microns
- Do they damp dust surfaces?
In a recent study on the effects of cleaning products on IAQ, cleaning products emitting VOCs combined with ozone to create formaldehyde at harmful levels. They are typically found in glass sprays, solvents, stain removers, strippers & sealants, metal polishes, air-fresheners & fragrances.
7. Microbial levels
- Ask the BSC to provide to chemical-free, low fume or fragrance-free methods to mitigate the risk of VOCs
- GECA Certification ensures VOC levels are very low
Good hygiene practices are integral to Green Cleaning as pathogenic microorganisms (bad bacteria) are a health hazard and green cleaning aims to mitigate risk to health. Furthermore, strong chemicals are commonly used to disguise poor cleaning and if removed, or microfibre is implemented without correct procedures, green cleaning can fail.
Ask the BSC to describe procedures to reduce microbial levels while handling and maintaining cleaning tools:
- Colour-coding systems
- Cloth quotas and carrying systems
- Cloth laundering procedures
1. Fresh Green Clean is currently conducting a green clean program of this kind in the City of Yarra, Melbourne, and the results can be viewed here
2. Bridget Gardner, director of Fresh Green Clean, provides the building service industry and facility management with expert advice and training in sustainable cleaning practices. She is considered by many as Australia’s leading independent expert in the field.