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First Steps in the Green Cleaning Process
By: Robert Kravitz

According to Stephen Ashkin, long known as "the father of Green Cleaning," when a church facility, or any other type of facility, decides to transfer to a Green Cleaning strategy, the first step is very simply making the decision to do so.  However, this is rarely one person's decision. 

For an effective Green Cleaning program to be implemented, it must start at the top.  For a church, "without the board and other church leaders behind the program, it may get a nudge or two forward but eventually will not happen. To transfer to Green Cleaning requires a top-down approach in order for it to be successful."

The next step, according to Ashkin, typically involves forming, what he calls, a Green Cleaning Team. The team is tasked with analyzing how cleaning is being conducted now, what products and equipment are being used, and where environmentally preferable products, tools, chemicals, and equipment need to be brought in. 

"This can be a very big step and the actual transfer to Green products can initially prove costly," says Ashkin.  "However, by Greening a facility one step at a time, the process can move along comfortably and cost effectively."

For instance, because the cleaning chemicals used in a church are typically the first thing administrators consider changing in the Greening process, the question always arises what to do with the current, traditional cleaning products. 

According to Ashkin, some of the options include the following:

 Ask the jansan distributor or retailer where the chemicals were purchased if they can be returned in exchange for a credit

 If there are not a large amount of chemicals, simply use them up

 If there are a large amount of chemicals and they cannot be returned, the most viable and cost effective option may also be to simply use them up.

"We have to be practical here," says Ashkin. "While chemicals are typically not a large expense, if the goal is to eventually transfer to a healthier cleaning strategy using Green Cleaning chemicals, unless there are concerns about allergic or other reactions with the current products, using them up over the course of a couple of months will suffice in the long run."

(Note: Should the traditional cleaning chemicals need to be disposed of, check with your local authorities as to disposal rules and regulations; in some cases, cleaning chemicals must be disposed of as hazardous waste; do not pour them down drains or into trash cans.)

The Selection Process

One misconception many facility administrators and housekeepers have is that most Green Cleaning chemicals are all alike, according to Leah Waldrop with AFFLINK, a member organization of facility maintenance distributors marketing a variety of products including cleaning products.

Waldrop says, "Just because two products have been certified as Green does not mean they perform the same, cost the same, or are similar to use. Treat Green Cleaning chemicals as you would any other chemical, some work better than others for different users."

However, this leads to one of the questions administrators encounter when selecting environmentally preferable cleaning products: Which ones will work best in our facility?  Traditionally, this required considerable trial-and-error. 

For instance in one case, 23 different Green floor finishes were tried in a New York State office building before one was found to be suitable. Most church administrators and their cleaning personnel simply do not have the time or the money to sample this many products looking for one that works.

However, new technologies have been introduced to make the process a bit easier. Some janitorial distributors now have access to software computer programs that store considerable amounts of data on all types of cleaning chemicals and related equipment. However, these software programs may have limitations and may not include the most up-to-date information.

Another option, according to Waldrop, is to work with facility maintenance distributors that have access to web-based systems. These can be updated regularly, and the distributor has access to the system whenever and wherever needed on desk, lap, or mobile computers. The way a web-based system works is actually quite simple. The distributor inventories all the cleaning chemicals currently being used in the church and system or process, as it is referred to and suggests Green alternatives.

Waldrop says, "It really is a process.  The distributor and client are presented with comparable Green alternatives. The process helps eliminate trial-and-error and allows administrators to make fact-based purchasing decisions, which saves a lot of time and money."

Moving a Step at a Time

Waldrop says another misconception many administrators have is that Green Cleaning involves only chemicals. Instead, she says it also involves vacuum cleaners, floor machines, even carpet extractors. 

"We are all aware of the 'weakest link' analogy," she says. "It applies here. A Green Cleaning program is only as strong as its weakest link so it involves all chemicals, tools, and equipment used for cleaning."

Because of this, she suggests that once the chemical selection process has been completed, administrators start analyzing the equipment used to clean the church. Vacuum cleaners with advanced air filtration systems should be considered first. The filters on more advanced machines will help prevent allergens from becoming airborne, and this is especially necessary in a church facility, which will likely have many children.

However, once again the question arises, what to do with the current vacuum cleaners if they do not have advanced air filtration systems?

"This is so important, especially in a church facility that is served not only by children but also elderly adults, that I would advise giving the old vacuum cleaners away to a charity," says Ashkin. "Vacuum cleaners typically have a lifespan of three to five years. Selecting a 'Greener' machine is healthier, and they invariably are better made and last longer, so it may prove more to be the most cost effective option, as well."

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning and building industries. He can be reached at rkravitz@rcn.com.

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