The Evolution of Green Cleaning

|March 14, 2017

The definition of green cleaning.

Cleaning is an important part of everyday life, whether you’re running a small household or a large office building. Cleaning helps prevent the spread of germs, eliminates unsightly dirt and dust buildup and provides an overall sense of wellness. But in recent years, more individuals and facility managers have grown concerned about standard cleaning practices and how they can damage the environment and human health.

For years, we’ve been led to believe that the only way to get rid of germs and bacteria was to nuke them with harsh chemicals and toxins. Unfortunately, we now know these practices are not only ineffective but also harmful to our planet and our own health.

This is where green cleaning services swept in with an opportunity to eliminate dirt and germs while keeping humans and the environment safe. The evolution of green cleaning has come a long way and will only continue to improve as the countless benefits of this better way to clean become known.

What Is Green Cleaning?

Green cleaning is a term used to describe household and facility cleaning practices that address environmental and health issues. Green cleaning prevents negative environmental and human health consequences that occur with the use and methods of traditional cleaning.

Green cleaning addresses concerns like waste, consumption, recycling, energy usage, air and water quality, pollutants, chemicals and sanitation practices. Environmentally-friendly cleaning services are offered by experts in the green cleaning field. Their knowledge and expertise can help improve the indoor environment and sanitation levels of many different types of buildings, from offices and restaurants to schools and hospitals.

Green buildings

The History of Green Cleaning

The very first known cleaning product was a form of soap dating back to 2800 BC, and it was as green as green can be. Ancient cleaning products were developed long before the advent of synthetic chemicals and toxins. Soap products didn’t have chemical-induced scents like lavender and ocean breeze. But eventually, common belief was that by killing germs with harsh toxic chemicals, we would be protecting our health and our environment from these illness-causing microorganisms.

In the early 1960s, however, questions started to arise about the safety of these chemicals. Scientists began to question how these toxins may be affecting our environment and our human health. By the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency began waging war against specific chemicals. Exposure to environmental toxins was being linked to all kinds of health conditions, including certain types of cancers.

By the 1980s and 1990s the general public was becoming more aware of the chemicals used in their everyday cleaning products. This awareness also happened to coincide with the discovery of “sick building syndrome.”

Sick Building Syndrome

Sick building syndrome is a condition where the occupants or workers in a building suffer from a range of symptoms that are believed to be attributed to the indoor conditions of the building. In other words, the building itself makes the occupants sick.

Occupants found to be suffering from sick building syndrome experienced symptoms like eye, nose and throat sensitivity, skin irritation, fatigue, headaches, dizziness and an inability to concentrate. In 1983, the World Health Organization declared that sick building syndrome was a global health threat. This was due to poor indoor air quality inside buildings resulting from chemical off-gassing and toxic pollutants, including those emitted by harmful cleaning agents.

Green Buildings and Green Cleaning

In reaction to the disturbing findings of sick building syndrome, environmentalism, human health protection and construction merged to create a new field: green building. Green buildings are constructed with the goal of addressing the building’s entire impact and how it can be more environmentally-friendly and healthy for humans.

Green building standards began including requirements like toxic-free materials such as low- and non-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, glues and other substances. Green builders also looked at ways to improve indoor air quality scores to prevent respiratory ailments and other health conditions.

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) was formed and became the early pioneers in environmental construction, setting the highest level of standards for green building using their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

With the increasing interest in green building, business and facility managers began to look at environmental design and performance from a holistic perspective. This means they started taking into consideration not just the building itself, but its complete impact, including how it is cleaned and maintained.

This is where green cleaning on a commercial level began to take off. Once building managers began to look at their facility in its entirety, they noticed how something seemingly as simple as cleaning was threatening their vision for sustainability. From the types of products being used to how service providers managed and disposed of waste, they realized there was huge opportunity for environmentally-friendly and health-conscious cleaning practices that could match the high-level goals of green buildings and offices.

How Green Cleaning Has Evolved

When research about toxic cleaning first became an issue in the 1960s, many forward-thinking businesses and facilities began to look for alternative cleaning products that reduced the number of harsh chemicals being used in indoor spaces. However, at the time, there simply wasn’t enough selection available in the marketplace, and any products that had been developed were much more expensive than their traditional counterparts. Consumers and businesses also feared their effectiveness was limited.

This continued to be a challenge for those who saw the benefits of toxic-free cleaning but were unable to justify the costs. As is the way with most revolutionary products, though, more and more began to adopt greener cleaning products and practices into their homes, offices and facilities. Products like microfiber cloths, allergen-free dusting tools and non-chemical cleaning agents became more popular.

Increased demand in chemical-free cleaning lowered product prices and opened the marketplace up to all kinds of new competitive green cleaning products and services. This also opened the market up to another challenge: greenwashing.

Greenwashing

Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing and product development practice that plays on consumer fears of harmful chemicals or desires to be eco-friendly. It came to light in the 1980s when many companies realized they could market themselves as “green” without having to provide any shred of evidence to support it. They targeted consumers they knew would purchase a product simply because it was labeled “eco” or “green.” To help consumers, Green Seal was created as a way to indicate to consumers that products met actual environmental standards.

Awareness of bad practices with greenwashing

Growing awareness about greenwashing is also part of the evolution of green cleaning. Today, many consumers are aware of deceptive marketing practices when it comes to environmentally-friendly cleaning products. That’s why a company’s image and brand play such a significant role in today’s marketplace.

Green Cleaning Value

When the USGBC included green cleaning in their LEED accreditation system, environmentally-friendly cleaning services became more popular. The products, services and entire footprint of the practice of cleaning have come a long way. What used to be cumbersome and expensive products have now developed into effective and beneficial business practices.

In fact, the evolution of green cleaning today has reached the point where environmentally-friendly cleaning services and products today are seen as “cost neutral,” meaning that the facility gets back from it what it has invested into it due to its abundant benefits. Additionally, the argument for green cleaning, while still important for the environment, is actually more focused around protecting human health, which bolsters other business and economic benefits as well.

Types of Green Cleaning Products and Services

Green cleaning products have certainly evolved since the earlier days of this practice. Some of today’s green cleaning products and services include:

  • Chemical-free cleaning agents
  • Non-VOC products
  • Fume-free and scent-free products
  • Non-pollutant and non-allergen vacuums, dusters, microfiber cloths and other cleaning tools and equipment
  • Recyclable or recycled packaging for cleaning products and equipment
  • Safe and environmentally conscious waste management, reduction and disposal practices

Organizations Using Green Cleaning Products and Services

There are many factors to consider when it comes to green cleaning practices. This is why today there is a demand for environmentally-friendly cleaning services that specialize in green cleaning practices. These professionals are experts in green cleaning, including the most effective green cleaning products and equipment as well as lowering footprints as a result of cleaning.

Here are some of the types of organizations and facilities that use and benefit from green cleaning services:

Green cleaning services offer large-scale solutions that take into consideration the customer’s triple bottom line approach to operations. Triple bottom line is an accounting method that businesses use today to assess how their operations impact their people, the planet and their profits.

The Benefits of Green Cleaning

Organizations are choosing to partner with environmentally-friendly cleaning services because they are looking to operate from this triple bottom line approach. Green cleaning can deliver benefits to the building’s staff and occupants as well as the environment while proving to be cost effective in the process.

The Benefits of Green Cleaning

Here are the most important health, environmental and economic benefits of green cleaning for facilities:

  1. Protects Occupant Health: Today, green cleaning is widely recognized as a good practice for human health. There has been ample research done on the effects of sick buildings, including the types of chemical products that are used to clean them. Today, individuals and companies alike want to act more intentionally when it comes to prioritizing occupant and worker health. Green cleaning products and practices eliminate health risks that traditional cleaning products don’t.
  1. Meets Environmental and Health Goals: Buildings that are LEED certified or attaining LEED standards can support these goals by using green cleaning services. This helps the company reach its vision of being more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. This goes for existing buildings, too, which can use LEED and other similar standards as a guideline to improve their environmental and health impacts.
  1. Reduces Environmental Footprint: Green cleaning companies offer their services in a way that reduces their environmental footprint from start to finish. This includes items like waxing floors and disinfecting surfaces using green products to changing lightbulbs for energy efficient kinds. Additionally, green cleaning products such as cleaners, microfiber cloths and wipes as well as other equipment last longer than traditional cleaning products, which reduces waste because the products don’t need to be repurchased as frequently.
  1. Improves Air and Water Quality: Using environmentally-friendly cleaning products ensures that the fumes from harsh chemical cleaners aren’t being trapped inside the building and contributing to toxic and harmful indoor air. Additionally, water quality can also be protected when green cleaning agents are used because it doesn’t send toxins down the drains and into waterways.
  1. Prioritizes Waste Management and Reduction: Green cleaning services consider how the waste associated with cleaning will damage the environment. Green cleaners reduce consumption waste such as trash bags and janitorial paper products to consume less and ultimately save on natural resources required to produce these products. When you consider how often facilities are cleaned, this can add up in just a few months to a significant reduction in waste.
  1. Increases Cost-Effectiveness: Because green cleaning produces less waste and uses longer-lasting products, environmentally-friendly cleaning services can save on their overall operating costs. These cost-savings are then passed along to the customer, whether it’s a private corporate building or a public school that’s being cleaned.
  1. Improves Employee and Worker Productivity: Green cleaning can increase workplace satisfaction, worker and occupant well-being and even increase productivity while lowering absenteeism. First, green cleaning can adequately disinfect the building, which stops the spread of viruses and subsequent illnesses among workers. It also eliminates exposure to toxic chemicals, which can cause eye, respiratory and other health problems that prevent workers from being productive and even causes them miss work.Good air quality can also improve energy levels and focus, while poor air quality can make workers feel sluggish and distracted. This overall feeling of better focus and energy in the workplace helps employees feel a stronger sense of well-being. In fact, a World Green Building Council report from 2014 concluded that improved indoor air quality by reducing exposure to pollutants and increased ventilation raises productivity by 8%-11%.
  1. Strengthens Brand and Corporate Image: Because employees and consumers today have access to more information about companies, they are much savvier. This means companies that set high standards for health and environmental protection can improve their corporate and brand image among customers and employees.

Having a positive brand image builds customer loyalty and helps to retain employees, both of which are important for businesses in competitive markets. Companies that shift their building management practices toward healthy and environmentally-friendly ones can demonstrate to customers and employees that they take these issues seriously.

Future of Green Cleaning

In 2006, New York became the first state to require the use of green cleaning products and practices in all private and public schools. Over time, this will eventually become the standard in all facilities, public or private. When you consider the important benefits of green cleaning inside facilities, it’s easy to see why organizations like the USGBC have included green cleaning as one of their environmental and health standards.

If your facility is in need of environmentally-friendly cleaning services, contact No More Dirt today to improve the health, environmental impact and performance of your building.

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