Today’s organizations are centered on sustainability with a goal to implement eco-friendly practices throughout their operations—cleaning is no exception. How can service providers ensure their cleaning programs address sustainability when it comes to hard floor care, which has traditionally required a lot of water and harsh chemicals to get the job done?
Green cleaning experts Carlos Albir Jr., director of operations for ABCO Cleaning Products; Richard “Bo” Bodo, vice president of sales at Square Scrub, and Nina Hwang, lead environmental scientist at Green Seal, discuss ways sustainable floor care has evolved and how you can “green” your cleaning routine with effective processes and tools that are good for the environment and safe for your cleaning team.
Q: How do today’s green cleaning programs address hard floor care?
Carlos Albir Jr.: With hard floor care, it’s important to monitor and assess environmental impacts such as waste generation, water usage, and chemical usage. But green cleaning requires both limiting your environmental impact and protecting the health and safety of employees and building occupants. So, cleaning programs need products and processes that minimize environmental footprint and protect people’s well-being.
Also consider the type of cleaning your employees are engaged in at any given time. The three main types of floor care maintenance are preventative, restorative, and interim maintenance. A facility will have different considerations for how to clean sustainably depending on the type of floor care they are prioritizing at any given time. For instance, preventative maintenance involves frequently dust mopping and wet mopping, which can help minimize airborne particles that worsen indoor air quality and can be hazardous to the health of occupants. At the same time, operations should carefully consider which chemicals to use for wet mopping and ensure that they are also safe for employees and guests. Truly green cleaning protects people and the planet.
Richard “Bo” Bodo: Today, a green hard floor care program focuses on both the consumption of resources and the waste stream of the process. Detergents have been developed, and continue to be developed, that are both safer for the cleaning technician and the environment after they are recovered and disposed of. Gaining traction in the marketplace requires green detergents to truly achieve an incredible feat: threading the needle between being effective as their non-green counterparts while eliminating dangerous components.
Another trend in green floor cleaning is the advent of orbital equipment that cleans and maintains hard floors with less or no detergent. When you look at the four principles of soil suspension—time, mechanical action, chemicals, and temperature—orbital units rely on greatly increased amounts of mechanical energy, which lessens or eliminates the need for detergents during cleaning.
Another area orbital equipment makes a tremendous difference in a green floor care program is in dry preparation of vinyl composition title (VCT) flooring that has floor finish. Typically, these floors are chemically stripped which, apart from being dangerous for cleaning technicians, creates a tremendous amount of downstream waste and slurry containing harsh chemicals and polymers that need to be disposed of. Dry floor preparation with orbital equipment eliminates the use of both water and chemicals by using the mechanical action of the orbital machine and the abrasiveness of the pad to sand away the floor finish. Well-balanced units can even remove one coat of finish per pass.
Q: Can floors be “green-cleaned” effectively to meet today’s coronavirus standards?
Albir Jr: In recent years, it has become clear that sustainable floor care programs can be just as effective as traditional hard floor care and can meet newly heightened standards of cleanliness. In fact, compared to some floor care products such as strippers and floor coatings, more sustainable options can perform considerably better. There are numerous third-party certifications that can help guide facility managers to the right equipment to build a green floor care program.
Distributors and manufacturers of cleaning solutions also have insights on the current and future best practices for green cleaning, as well as the best, most sustainably manufactured products for the job. Tapping into their insights and comparing your “green” options side by side—assessing environmental performance and efficacy—can help take your sustainable floor care program to the next level.
Bodo: Floors can be cleaned effectively using green detergents and methods, though one thing that has changed since the advent of green cleaning in the early 2000s is the type of flooring being cleaned. Luxury vinyl flooring is the fastest-growing type of flooring over the past five years, with the amount of this flooring being installed nearly quadrupling. This floor has a factory-applied UV coating that eliminates the need for traditional floor finishes, however, the lack of floor finish means the texture marks are exposed to detergents and soils, allowing them to build up and make the floor look dingy, dull, and dirty. Orbital cleaning equipment is a great solution to cleaning luxury vinyl flooring since it can effectively clean this surface with water or a minimal amount of detergent. The orbital cleaning action allows the pad to gently deep scrub these texture marks to break up and remove the sticky soils.
Nina Hwang: Green Seal-certified floor cleaners are proven to perform to high cleaning standards and are as effective as conventional cleaners. Disinfecting floors is unnecessary and carries toxic chemical exposure risks for building occupants and custodial teams. Some formulations may even damage or erode floor coatings.
Q: What are some tangible ways service providers can implement green practices in their hard floor care routines?
Albir Jr.: Before implementing green practices, service providers should conduct a self-assessment of their own floor care program. After looking closely at everything from waste output and cleaning frequencies to types of cleaning equipment and recycling programs, operations can develop a plan of action based on specific opportunities to institute greener practices.
Are you overusing water and chemical wet-mopping floors? Maybe switching to dual-cavity mop buckets in certain areas is necessary. Are you using virgin plastic brooms and brushes? There are options made from recycled plastic bottles and caps that are more sustainably manufactured. It’s crucial to consider every level of the supply chain when developing a sustainable cleaning program. Again, third-party certifications are becoming increasingly important in guiding environmentally conscious facility managers to the greenest products and solutions available.
Bodo: Start by assessing where you are currently to establish a baseline of your current state. For example, document how much water and detergent is used on each job and take pictures of the floor before and after cleaning. This will allow you to establish where you are currently to set attainable goals for the implementation of a green cleaning program, while pictures of your cleaning jobs will help you ensure you are maintaining or improving the level of cleanliness.
Also, set realistic goals and remember the old adage, “By the mile it’s a trial, by the inch it’s a cinch.” You do not have to implement an entire green cleaning process overnight. Pick a process or a detergent and start slowly implementing and verifying the products work the way you want them to. Small changes add up, make a difference, and they are much easier on your business.
Hwang: Cleaning service providers should take into account the traffic patterns of floors to prevent over-cleaning. This helps conserve resources and reduce chemical exposure for cleaning workers and building occupants. Companies should also choose products with third-party certifications like Green Seal that verify both sustainability and performance and follow label directions to maximize efficacy and efficiency. Using ergonomic cleaning equipment is an important way to prevent worker injury and strain, and contribute to a healthy, high-functioning team.
Q: What are trends in eco-friendly floor care equipment and tools? How do they compare to a decade ago? What’s next?
Albir Jr.: There is truly no comparison between today and a decade ago in terms of sustainable floor care. The number and efficacy of green cleaning solutions have grown vastly over those 10 years.
Moving forward, I see businesses and consumers focusing more on the details of how cleaning products were made as well as how they are used. This dynamic will lead to a continued growth in the importance of third-party-certified floor care solutions, which address all the inputs and outputs involved in taking a product to market.
There is also a growing awareness of greenwashing and decreasing tolerance for it as the environmental crises proceed. This means that when thinking about floor care, operations will need to practice what they preach, using sustainable solutions and keeping their workers, guests, and the planet protected.
Bodo: When it comes to the equipment used to clean, maintain, and restore flooring there are a few trends emerging. First, there is a growing demand for equipment that can perform multiple tasks in a facility. Having equipment that performs multiple tasks reduces the environmental footprint the equipment makes in storage, maintenance, and end-of-life disposal. Versatility is a key consideration for green floor care equipment.
The second trend is toward equipment that either efficiently meters detergents or eliminates the need for them altogether. Most floor care equipment still requires detergents to effectively clean the floor, and in this case a metering system that dispenses a precise amount of detergent along with water eliminates the “glug, glug” method most cleaning technicians utilize when adding detergent.
Q: Is there equipment or solutions that stand out as the more sustainable choice?
Hwang: There’s rarely only one right sustainable choice. The most sustainable choice is in careful planning and policymaking to ensure that product choices, cleaning frequency, and staff training are appropriate for the specific needs of each space. And of course, choosing third-party certified products ensures that an independent authority has verified the product is truly more sustainable than alternatives. Green Seal certification is possible for floor cleaning equipment through Green Seal’s Environmental Innovation standard, which is designed for manufacturers who are engaging in transformative product innovation. Several companies have earned Innovation certification for floor products [see directory at greenseal.org].