Green cleaning has been one of the most significant developments to hit the professional cleaning industry in years. However, even longtime advocates of environmentally responsible cleaning products and systems acknowledge that all cleaning—whether green or not—must be effective in order to meet the ultimate goal of protecting human health.
The Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) may have put this idea best in its policy on Green cleaning, which states that it is imperative that when discussing green cleaning, the focus must be on cleaning first and then on green. This means that cleaning professionals must clean for health and hygiene as well as in an environmentally preferable manner.
"There are times when decisions are made to go green that can have an impact on the actual cleaning process, resulting in a less healthy environment," notes Jim Harris, CIRI's 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."
The necessity for putting all cleaning practices, including green cleaning, on "a solid scientific basis" was borne out in the 2011 studies by Drs. Xiaobo Quan and Anjali Joseph and their associates with the Center for Health Design* regarding cleaning in healthcare facilities. These studies found that while there is increasing implementation of green cleaning practices in healthcare facilities, "There are many essential questions about green cleaning that remain to be answered due to lack of research in the area."
To conduct their studies, these researchers evaluated five different U.S. healthcare facilities that have adopted the following three green cleaning practices to varying degrees:
1. Selecting recognized green cleaning chemicals, tools, and equipment. These chemicals are typically certified by leading green-certification organizations; selected equipment is designed to protect indoor air quality and/or use less water and chemical.
2. Making operational changes to ensure appropriate levels of cleanliness; for instance, using fluorescent markers to mark high-touch areas prior to cleaning, and then checking to see if these marks have been removed, indicating that the area has been adequately cleaned.
3. Incorporating building designs that reduce the need for cleaning or facilitates cleaning efficiency; for instance, selecting flooring materials that require less cleaning and maintenance.**
These studies concluded that while the healthcare facility administrators and their housekeeping departments had conducted initial evaluations of green cleaning products and procedures before implementation, "They rarely monitored or evaluated the performance of these products and procedures after adoption."
Researchers added that at this time, they believed there still is limited evidence regarding the effectiveness of [green] products and that more research is urgently needed for the ongoing development and implementation of green cleaning initiatives in healthcare and other types of facilities. Based on these studies' findings, cleaning professionals in all types of facilities need to step back, evaluate, and ensure that the green cleaning products and practices they are using meet the following criteria:
- Effectively and hygienically cleaning surfaces to help prevent the transfer of disease
- Effectively protecting human health (for example, by reducing asthma attacks in educational facilities)
- Effectively protecting the health and safety of the cleaning professional using these products
- Effectively protecting the indoor environment
- Maintaining cost and performance effectiveness
The bottom line is that while implementing green cleaning is certainly important, cleaning professionals also need to ensure that all tools and procedures—including those that are termed environmentally preferable—are successfully removing harmful soil, bacteria, and other bio-pollutants from surfaces. They also need to employ standardized tools and use more scientific methods to evaluate cleaning effectiveness. Further, they must use environmentally responsible tools and systems that have already been tested, studied, and proven to be highly effective for hygienic cleaning.
*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.
**These studies were released in 2011. Hospitals participating in the case studies were 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.
Tom Morrison is Vice President of Marketing for Kaivac, developers of the No-Touch® and OmniFlex™ Crossover Cleaning Systems.