Step Back, Evaluate, and Ensure ‘Green’ Cleaning Methods
Like many of you, I am a strong advocate of cleaning products and procedures that have a reduced impact on human health and the environment. As many know, the professional cleaning industry has made remarkable progress in the past ten years reformulating cleaning chemicals, developing new technologies and products, and implementing new cleaning methods that have not only improved cleaning overall but made it far more environmentally responsible, enhancing sustainability along the way.
As welcome as this is, we are now at a point where we must step back and evaluate how effective these green measures have been—especially when it comes to ensuring that these green cleaning initiatives are protecting human health. After all, that is the ultimate goal of professional cleaning. At one time the focus of professional cleaning was simply to improve the appearance of a facility. Now, the professional cleaning industry is developing products, systems, and procedures designed first and foremost to protect the health of all facility users.
The Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) emphasized the priority when it established its policy on green cleaning. According to CIRI, it is imperative when discussing green cleaning that the focus be on cleaning first to protect human health and then on using green products and strategies. Essentially what this policy means is that cleaning professionals must clean for health and hygiene and do so whenever and wherever possible in an environmentally preferable manner.
“There are times when decisions are made to go green that [may] have an impact on the actual cleaning process, resulting in a less healthy environment,” notes Jim Harris, former CIRI Chairman of the Board. “The goal of CIRI is to place cleaning practices on a solid scientific basis . . . to ensure that green [cleaning] practices provide effective cleaning and sanitation.”
Key words in Harris’ statement are cleaning on a “solid scientific basis.”
This was also addressed in a study published by The Center for Health Design in 2011 regarding cleaning in healthcare facilities. The study found that while there has been a considerable increase in the implementation of green cleaning programs in healthcare facilities, “there are many essential questions about green cleaning that remain to be answered due to lack of research.”
The study involved five different US healthcare facilities that have—in varying degrees—adopted green cleaning practices such as these:
- Selecting only certified-green cleaning chemicals, products, and equipment
- Using tools such as fluorescent markers to evaluate soiling on high-touch areas (doorknobs, hand rails, etc.) before cleaning and then again after cleaning
- Incorporating building design changes that help reduce facility soiling, thus reducing the need for cleaning and maintenance*
Among their findings, the researchers concluded that while these healthcare facilities had conducted initial testing and evaluation of the green cleaning products and procedures implemented, “they rarely monitored or evaluated the performance of these products or procedures after adoption.”
The researchers added that—at least as of the date of the study—there was limited evidence regarding the effectiveness of the green cleaning products in use and that more research was “urgently needed.” This is not to say these green products were not effective, just that the scientific data evaluating their effectiveness is lacking
In many cases, this lack of research is still a problem today, and this needs to be addressed to both advance green cleaning strategies and ensure they are performing effectively to protect human health. This is why I am suggesting that as important and valuable as green cleaning is, we must step back, evaluate, and ensure that it is protecting not only the environment but health as well.
Tom Morrison has been involved in the professional cleaning industry for more than 13 years. He is now vice president of marketing for Kaivac, developers of the No-Touch Cleaning and OmniFlex cleaning system.
* The Center for Health Design was formed in 1993 by healthcare and design professionals focused on advancing the idea that the design of medical facilities can improve patient outcomes. The studies discussed here and released in 2011 involved the following hospitals: Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, NH; Ridgeview Medical Center, Waconia, MN; Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC, Pittsburgh, PA; Boulder Community Hospital, Boulder, CO; and Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH.
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