By now it’s well-documented that the air we breathe indoors is two to five times more harmful than outdoor air. When coupled with the fact that we spend, on average, 90% of our time indoors, the cause for concern continues to increase.
There are numerous frightening facts regarding indoor air quality (IAQ), like its impact on asthma, which affects over six percent of the U.S. population, or allergies, which affect 20 percent of the population. IAQ has even spawned terms such as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and Building Related Illness (BRI), both of which have a direct impact on work performance.
In a recent study, it was found that increased ventilation (which improves air quality) reduced absences by as much as 35%, illustrating how important IAQ can be for your company.
And what is a building owner’s largest expense? The people inside. When you compare the salaries and benefits of the people inside a building with any other factor, such as the mortgage or energy costs, the people heavily outweigh those factors – more than ten times the rent and a hundred times the energy per square foot.
So for business owners, the connection is simple: improved IAQ leads to increased occupant comfort, and workers who are comfortable are more productive and absent less. Indoor air quality impacts the bottom line.
So what can you do?
While several factors impact air quality inside a building, you may not be able to do anything about the furniture that was purchased awhile ago and is potentially off-gassing harmful pollutants. You probably can’t do anything about the adhesives that used during construction or the carpets, paint, and other finishes in the short-term.
You can, however, reduce chemical exposure in your building through the implementation of a green cleaning policy. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and American Journal of Infection Control, green cleaning practices reduced:
- Total illnesses by 24%
- Doctor visits by 34%
- Antibiotic requirements by 24% and
- Days absent by 46%
A commercial green cleaning program should be comprehensive and include:
- Where the chemicals are stored
- What chemicals are used and in what quantities
- Training in the utilization of the chemicals and implementation of new procedures
- Indoor pest control plans
- Equipment use
Step 1: Consideration must first be given to where the cleaning chemicals will be stored. A locked janitorial closet that includes proper hot and cold water supplies, as well as a drain system is ideal. A log should also be kept (near the chemicals) detailing type and usage. Procedures should be established controlling the safe handling and storage of all chemicals, and quality control checks should regularly occur. For safety, an eyewash station is an important consideration.
Step 2: The actual chemicals used could represent the biggest change in your facility. An important factor to consider here is that a green cleaning program shifts the focus away from the appearance in favor of health. So, a clean facility is a healthy facility (and that will look good too). Green cleaning products should include hard floor cleaners, carpet cleaners, general purpose and specialty cleaners, odor control, disinfectants, hand soaps, janitorial paper products, and trash bags. Be sure that each product type meets one or more of the appropriate labeling standards:
- GREENGUARD Certified
- Green Seal Certified
- SFI Certified
- CRI Green Label Certified
- ECOLOGO Certified
- EPA DFE Certified
- FSC Certified
Step 3: A robust training plan will be an important factor in achieving “buy-in” from those who will be implementing the changes. Custodial staff should be trained at the time of hire, but regular training sessions and reviews should occur even after the initial hire period. Educating the staff about the need for the changes, the benefits of “going green,” and the difference between traditional chemical cleaners and green cleaners will assist with full implementation of the program. The staff should also be aware of the performance metrics that will be used to determine effectiveness – hint – use the APPA Custodial Effectiveness Audit.
Step 4: The goal of having a pest control plan is simply to eliminate or reduce occupants’ exposure to harmful pesticides. We all know how knee-jerk the reaction can be to an unexpected pest issue. That’s why it’s important to have a plan that includes every type of pest that could be encountered, what non-chemical preventative measures will be used, thresholds that will trigger additional actions, a method for documentation, and communication strategies.
Step 5: The last component of your new green cleaning program relates to the equipment you use. As equipment needs to be replaced, there are three characteristics that each new item should possess:
- Safeguards – necessary to ensure that building surfaces are not damaged during cleaning, and…
- Ergonomic Design – needed to minimize vibration, noise, and user fatigue, and…
- Environmentally Preferable Batteries (where applicable)- gel, absorbent glass mat, lithium-ion are all better alternatives to traditional batteries.
Once again, some of the focus here are on the equipment user, connecting us back to the idea that part of what a green cleaning program addresses is performance and productivity through health. Any cleaners required by various equipment should refer to the labeling standards mentioned above, and additional research on standards that should be considered can be discovered here.
With some further research and a willingness to involve representatives from the custodial department, purchasing, and management, your company will be able to make changes to your cleaning program that have a considerable impact on the bottom line.