A Clean Sweep
Purchasers across the country are carefully examining the cleaning products they buy because cleaning can be a very dirty business. One out of every three commercial cleaning chemical products contains ingredients known to cause human health or environmental problems. The institutional cleaning industry alone uses five billion pounds of chemicals a year, many of which can cause serious health problems for office workers, students and teachers, patients and healthcare professionals, other building occupants, and janitorial workers. These chemicals also contribute to air and water pollution.
Luckily, as many government purchasers have discovered, safer “green” cleaning products are commercially available. They work just as well or better than traditional products. They do not cost any more. They are also readily available and easy to locate.
As a result, purchasers are taking steps to protect their health, the health of their coworkers, and the environment. They are specifying green cleaners whether they are buying the products directly or as part of a broader janitorial services or facilities maintenance contract.
One out of three cleaning chemical products contains ingredients known to cause human health or environmental problems.
Many Traditional Cleaners are Hazardous
Public-and private-sector purchasers now recognize that traditional cleaning products can contain harmful chemicals that can cause cancer, reproductive disorders, major organ damage, and permanent eye damage. Other common health problems associated with cleaning chemicals include asthma and other respiratory ailments, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
Cleaning chemicals are also routinely washed down the drain where they find their way into drinking water, lakes, and streams, adversely affecting plant and animal life and threatening public health. In addition, cleaning products are responsible for approximately eight percent of total non-vehicular emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can trigger respirapounds-tory problems such as asthma, contribute to smog formation, and inhibit plant growth.
Those who spend much of their time indoors—office workers, students, and healthcare patients—are particularly susceptible to health problems caused by cleaning chemicals. The three million janitors who keep the country’s buildings clean also experience unnecessarily high injury rates with six out of every 100 injured because of the chemicals they are using.
Switching to safer cleaners can significantly increase indoor air quality, reduce cleaning-related health problems and absenteeism and increase productivity and morale. Green cleaners can also reduce negative environmental effects. Santa Monica, a small resort community in Southern California, for example, eliminated 3,200 of hazardous materials by replacing traditional cleaning products with safer alternatives.
While reducing hazardous materials is important for environmental reasons, some facilities are reducing use of such materials for more immediate security reasons. Some traditional cleaning chemicals are flammable and, when mixed, can produce deadly gases. Avoiding such products eliminates a possible safety threat.
Safer Cleaners are Affordable and Effective
Many government purchasers have learned that switching to safer cleaning chemicals is a smart financial decision. In most cases, green cleaning products do not cost any more than traditional cleaners. Some governments have even discovered significant cost savings by switching from traditional cleaners to green cleaners. Santa Monica documented a five percent price savings after its switch to safer cleaners. Other public purchasers, including the U.S. Department of Interior (including several National Parks); the Chicago Public School System; Seattle, WA; the States of Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Vermont; as well as Sarasota County, FL, and Alameda County, CA, also report that safer cleaners are cost competitive.
Using green cleaning chemicals can actually produce additional savings when other benefits are taken into account. According to one study cited by government purchasers, using safer cleaning products, in addition to better ventilation and cleaning, could improve worker productivity by between 0.5 percent and five percent—an annual productivity gain of $30 billion to $150 billion.
Others are hopeful switching to safer cleaners will help reduce the more than $75 million a year U.S. institutions spend on medical expenses and lost time wages for janitors due to chemical-related injuries.
End users report that the safer cleaners also match or exceed their traditional counterparts when it comes to performance. In numerous independent laboratory tests conducted on behalf of a group of large purchasers, all of the safer products bought by the group work as well or better than traditional cleaners. Santa Monica, the Chicago Public School System, and others have repeated these results in controlled onsite evaluations. Products certified by Green Seal, a U.S. standard setting and environmental labeling organization, are required to pass stringent performance standards in addition to strict environmental and human health criteria.
Health Conditions Associated with Traditional Cleaning Chemicals
Many purchasing professionals and end users, however, recognize that any product change—whether from one traditional product to another or from a traditional product to a “green” product—might require some changes in the way products are used. Some cleaners, for example, work more effectively if they are sprayed directly on the surface being cleaned while others work better if they are sprayed on a cleaning cloth first. As a result, the purchasing criteria used by many government agencies include a preference for companies that provide on-site training in the proper use of their products.
Many government agencies include a preference for companies that provide on-site training in the proper use of their products.
Specifying Safer Cleaners
Given the health, environmental, and financial benefits of safer cleaning products, their use is increasing rapidly. Until recently, it could be difficult to identify the safer products. Thanks to consensus-based criteria developed by a national work group of state and local government purchasers representing more than $15 million in annual cleaning product purchases and the work of many green cleaning advocates, finding green cleaning products is easier than ever.
The nationwide work group, which was coordinated by the Center for a New American Dream and funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, included some of the early pioneers who first attempted to define and purchase safer cleaning products, including Massachusetts; Santa Monica, CA; King County, WA; Minnesota; and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The work group set out to identify standards that addressed toxicity; carcinogens and reproductive toxins; skin and eye irritation; skin sensitization; combustibility; smog, ozone, and indoor air quality; aquatic toxicity; eutrophication; aquatic biodegradability; concentrates; fragrances; and prohibited chemicals.
The work group examined many existing standards and considered developing its own before deciding that Green Seal’s standard for environmentally preferable institutional cleaners (GS-37) met their needs. Because at the time Green Seal’s standard only covered general-purpose, bathroom, and glass cleaners, the work group extrapolated GS-37 to cover additional cleaners such as carpet cleaners, disinfectants, floor care, and hand soaps. Green Seal is currently expanding its standard to include many of these additional products, which will make it even easier for facilities to find them.
The specification developed by the work group has already-been used successfully by Massachusetts; Santa Monica, CA; and Sarasota County, FL. Other governments are currently incorporating the specification into future solicitations. Given the success of the specification some purchasers are referencing the list of ” approved” products that has been developed based on products meeting the specification. Alameda County, CA, for example, recently requested products meeting the ” National Consensus-Based Standard (NCBS)” and referred bidders to the list of approved products. A copy of the consensus specification and a list of products known to meet it are available at www.govinfo.bz/ 4355-253.
Other purchasers are further simplifying the bid evaluation process by requiring all products to demonstrate that they meet the requirements of the Green Seal GS-37 standard. This approach is working successfully for Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Illinois, and others. With Green Seal’s new floor care standard under development, it will soon be even easier to specify a broad range of greener cleaning chemicals.
Review Product Claims Carefully
As more suppliers recognize the opportunities presented by the green cleaning market, purchasers need to carefully review all product claims. Use the following questions to assess environmental claims:
- Ask for a copy of the standard they are using. Does the meaning of the standard appear clear, consistent, and thorough? Does it clearly identify specific human health and environmental concerns? Does it specify detailed testing protocols to be used to determine the safety of the products being certified? How does it compare with other reputable standards?
- Ask about the standard setting process. Was the standard developed by an independent third-party or by the company? Who paid to have the standard developed? How many organizations were involved in its development? Was the public invited to participate and comment throughout the standard development process? Are copies of all stakeholder comments along with the standard-setting organization’s response to those comments publicly available?
- Ask about the verification process. What process must companies use to prove their products meet the standard? Are companies allowed to self-certify their products or are they required to use an independent third-party to determine if the products meet the standard? Does the verifiction process include just a review of product information or does it require an on-site visit by the certifying organization?
It is a rare opportunity when it is possible to simultaneously remain fiscally responsible, protect the health of office workers, students, patients, and employees, and preserve the environment. Switching to safer cleaning chemicals provides just such an opportunity. The safer products are better for human health and the environment. They work just as effectively as traditional products and they do not cost any more. It has never been so easy to do the right thing and clearly demonstrate the value of the purchasing profession.
Editor’s Note: Scot Case is the Director of Procurement Strategies at the Center for a New American Dream where he helps institutional purchasers buy less polluting products from less polluting companies. For additional information, visit www.govinfo.bz/ 4355-254 or e-mail Scot at [email protected].
Green Cleaning is More than Green Chemicals
Given the significant environmental and human health hazards associated with cleaning chemicals, it is understandable that many purchasers focus first on the cleaning chemicals. According to Steve Ashkin and other green cleaning experts, the chemicals are only part of the story. Other factors include cleaning equipment, cleaning protocols, and employee training.
Employee training is especially important, according to Mr. Ashkin, because 90 percent of a cleaning budget is labor costs with only two to five percent related to chemical costs. If the workers are not using the products properly (whether they are green products or not), facilities could be spending more than necessary. Santa Monica, CA, recognized the importance of well trained cleaning employees in its most recent cleaning contract. Employee training and support proved the determining factor in awarding the contract.
Other governments also recognize the importance of looking beyond the cleaning chemicals. Pennsylvania’s Guidelines for Green Building Housekeeping and Maintenance, for example, emphasizes the importance of placing doormats at entryways to reduce the amount of dirt entering a building. It encourages the use of microfiber mops and cloths that reduce the need for cleaning chemicals. It also promotes the use of HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners to reduce air-borne particulates.
Purchasers are also modifying facilities maintenance contract language to move away from strict schedules for certain highly polluting cleaning activities such as floor stripping. Instead, purchasers are moving towards performance-based language that requires floors to be stripped only when needed based on objective criteria that are agreed to by both the facility manager and the cleaning company.
In addition, the Resources Recovery and Conservation Act (RCRA) already requires federal agencies and other entities using federal funds to buy recycledcontent products, including such janitorial supplies as paper towels, tissue, and trash bags. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) program recommends recycled-content percentages for these and other products on its Web site at www.govinfo.bz/4355-252.
—Center for a New American Dream, www.govinfo.bz/4355-255, includes a list of “approved” cleaning chemicals and the purchasing criteria developed by a nationwide group of purchasers.
—Green Seal, www.govinfo.bz/ 4355-256, provides a copy of the Green Seal GS-37 standard for general purpose cleaning chemicals, which is being used by many purchasers to buy safer cleaning products. Includes a list of certified products that have demonstrated they meet or exceed the standard. Also contains a copy of the June 2004 Choose Green report, which recommends safer floor care products.
—EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines, www.govinfo.bz/4355-257, includes the list of more than 50 recycled-content products entities spending federal money are required to buy, including janitorial supplies.
—EPA’s Design for the Environment Program, www.govinfo.bz/4355-258, works with manufacturers to help them improve the environmental performance of their products and manufacturing processes.
—EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program, www.govinfo.bz/4355-259, provides tools and resources to make it easier to buy more environmentally preferable products, including green cleaning products.
—INFORM, www.govinfo.bz/4355-260, issued a report, Cleaning for Health, that highlights ways of reducing the environmental and human health impacts of traditional cleaning chemicals.
—Janitorial Products Pollution Prevention Program, www.govinfo.bz/4355-261, details many of the hazards associated with traditional cleaning chemicals and recommends ways of avoiding them.
—Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Guidelines for Green Building Housekeeping and Maintenance, www.govinfo.bz/4355-262, highlights ways of reducing the environmental and human health impacts associated with cleaning and includes chapters on selecting cleaning products, developing a pollution prevention plan, and suggested cleaning practices.