In the last year, cleaning in offices increased significantly to reduce the spread of COVID-19, resulting in never-before-seen levels of chemical consumption. Most cleaning chemicals contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that compromise the safety and health of building occupants. The VOCs are released into the air and negatively affect indoor air quality (IAQ). Similarly, manufacturing and transporting these chemicals further harms the environment through using natural resources and the creation of greenhouse gas emissions.
Why is this important to note? Because cleaning expectations have changed for the foreseeable future. Building service contractors (BSCs) and custodial teams will continue cleaning more frequently, especially now, as COVID-19 cases tied to the Delta variant increase. Moving forward, facility managers must select the right chemicals and equipment to mitigate the impact on the environment and people, especially since 90% of respondents in a Boston Consulting Group survey said the pandemic has made them equally or more concerned about environmental issues.
Protecting our Earth (and building occupants)
Gone are the days when using heavy-duty chemicals was the only way to clean and disinfect effectively. Whether an office accommodates 10 or 1,000 people, the increased use of traditional chemicals with synthetic fragrances, preservatives, and other questionable additives can still negatively impact the environment. Thankfully, as we continue to advance technologically, facilities can use sustainable cleaning products that inactivate viruses and other pathogens just as successfully.
Aside from negatively impacting the environment, many commercial cleaning products can hurt people. For example, poor IAQ aggravates respiratory illnesses like asthma and allergies, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that poor IAQ causes increased illnesses and absences. Investing in green cleaning programs in offices can help preserve the health of office workers, the cleaning professionals who use products daily, and the environment.
Best practices for implementing sustainable cleaning in offices
To promote healthier and environmentally friendly office buildings, consider the following best practices for your cleaning program:
1. Replace harsh chemicals.
Many cleaning chemicals are made from unfamiliar ingredients that aren’t environmentally friendly. Knowing which chemicals to choose can be challenging, especially since many products appear to be sustainable even if they do not meet basic environmental standards. Avoid products with an extensive list of ingredients. As an alternative, consider on-site generation (OSG) systems, which produce electrochemically activated solutions (ECAS) using just salt, water, and electricity. The cleaner and disinfectant don’t contain fragrances, dyes, or VOCs that can irritate people, and clean just as effectively as other commercial cleaning solutions. Generating chemicals on site significantly reduces plastic waste and eliminates reliance on frequent chemical shipments.
2. Invest in equipment that supports sustainability.
Just as with chemicals, technological advances are making floorcare processes more sustainable. Some machines can convert water into an effective cleaning solution, which reduces the need for traditional and harsh floor cleaners. Many facilities are also benefitting from automated machines that reduce resource usage and manage floorcare while cleaning professionals oversee other key tasks. In fact, research shows that robotic floor care equipment reduces water pollution by 77%, air pollution by 94%, and energy usage by 97%. Additionally, BSCs and facility managers should consider solutions such as wall-mounted dispensers that properly dilute cleaning solutions to limit product waste and robotic vacuums that uphold carpet cleanliness to reduce carpet replacement and landfill waste.
3. Choose environmentally sourced consumables.
Single-use plastic items take years to break down and leave chemicals and toxic particles behind, especially in our oceans. For example, one plastic bottle takes 450 years or more to break down into microplastic. To avoid generating unnecessary waste, source sustainable multiuse cleaning items like refillable spray bottles and microfiber cleaning cloths. Additionally, consider EPA-recommended toilet paper made up of 20-60%post-consumer material for restrooms, as small changes like this can make a big difference in high traffic office buildings.
4. Carefully vet cleaning service providers.
Many companies claim to prioritize green cleaning when in fact they’re greenwashing. This is the process of providing misleading information about how a company’s products or processes are environmentally sound. When researching cleaning service providers for your facility, consider a partner that has obtained certifications from trustworthy third-party organizations such as Green Seal. Green Seal certifies cleaning programs based on whether they meet rigorous testing standards that include effective, sustainable cleaning and disinfecting procedures and equipment. Whether you operate a LEED-certified building or simply want to be greener, consider requiring BSCs to use sustainable solutions to maintain your office facility.
A greener and healthier future
Heightened cleaning expectations will continue long after the pandemic is over. A 2021 Harris Poll found that more than half (58%) of employed Americans who worked in an office prior to pandemic would like to see increased cleaning and sanitizing measures implemented at their workplace as a result of COVID-19. Opting for sustainable cleaning practices in offices can greatly reduce plastic, chemical, water, and energy usage and demonstrates a commitment to the planet and the health and wellness of building occupants. Given that commercial buildings consume a high volume of resources on a daily basis, prioritizing sustainable and effective cleaning is a must for forward-thinking facility managers.