Scrubbing Down To The “Nitty-Greeny”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are found in many non-certified green cleaning products, can cause cancer in humans as well as a host of other health problems. In today’s “green” climate, however, there are safer, more efficient and environmentally preferable products to disinfect public spaces.

Why should I bother? By definition, green cleaning is applying environmentally preferable practices in a maintenance program. Part of this is using products that are certified green, meaning they are non-toxic, biodegradable and made from renewable resources.

There are two reasons to use green cleaning technology and practices:

• To drastically lower the health risks for users and people who come in contact with the cleaning products

• To reduce the agency’s impact on the environment.

Besides doing the right thing for the environment, your employing of green products is a way to set your business apart from others. According to a recent Harris poll on green behavior, 15 percent of Americans have patronized or avoided a business based on its environmental activities. This number likely will grow as green living becomes more embedded in society and our way of life.

How effective are green cleaning products? As with any product or cleaning strategy, whether it is green or traditional, it is primarily dependent on how it is applied. Many times green cleaning products do not have the toxic chemicals that instantly destroy anything in their path, so it is necessary to closely follow all manufacturers’ guidelines for application, diluting, pre-cleaning and storage.

A study is currently underway by the International Executive Housekeepers Association and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute to test and validate green cleaning products. According to Jason Marshall, Laboratory Director for the Institute, the program is “not a certification or a standard; it’s a testing program aimed toward raising the environmental bar by encouraging manufacturers to produce products that are not only less toxic and safer, but that also offer optimal results in specific cleaning applications. It is designed to show that a green product has been tested on real-life soils and found to work–and work well.”

Does green cleaning have zero effect on the environment? It is not likely. Green products and practices only reduce the impact on the environment–at least for now. As much as a company may claim its products are environmentally friendly, biodegradable or non-toxic, chances are there is still a calculable carbon footprint and residual effect on the environment.

Do green cleaning products have foul odors? Most cleaning products have some type of smell, but on average, green cleaning products have fewer additives to affect their odor. Many times traditional products have a stronger odor because there is an attempt to mask the odors given off by the other chemicals in the toxic cleaning cocktail. It is always a good idea when adding a new product to a public space to have it reviewed or to give it a trial run in a small, controlled area.

Are green cleaning products more expensive? More times than not, the price of a green-cleaning product is equal to that of a traditional cleaner. Like any new product (e.g., the electric car), until the demand catches up with supply, prices can be higher. Strategies such as buying in bulk and concentrated versions can lower the price.

How do I know a product is truly green? The short answer is to look for certification from a non-biased third party. There are currently several reputable organizations that validate a product’s environmental claims:

• Green Seal

• TerraChoice (EcoLogo program)

• The EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program

• The Carpet & Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval program.

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