What senior care managers need to know about 'green' cleaning and sustainability

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Ron Segura
Ron Segura

For some long-term and senior care facilities, "green" cleaning is old hat. They have transferred from conventional cleaning – using non-green cleaning products – to those that have been certified by such organizations as GreenSeal, UL/Environment or the EPA's Safer Choice Program. So with green cleaning tackled, many are now looking into ways to make their communities more sustainable.

But wait. Aren't these terms essentially the same when it comes to cleaning? 

This question often comes up, and the answer is yes, and no. It is yes because most green-certified cleaning products are made from renewable resources. But "green cleaning" refers to the use of cleaning solutions, tools and equipment that help reduce cleaning's effects on the environment.

Sustainability, on the other hand, refers to several different ways to reduce not only the use of natural resources, but waste, greenhouse gasses, fuel consumption, water, energy and the overall environmental footprint of a facility.

Even though these terms do not mean the same thing, we need to know one more thing: green cleaning and sustainability are very interconnected. In fact, today a care facility could not be green if it did not have a sustainability program in place; and a sustainable facility could not be sustainable if it did not have a green cleaning program in place.

Sound confusing? Maybe the following will help clarify the situation:

ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, estimates that as much as 90% of the soil (dust, grit, moisture) that enters a facility walks in the front door on the bottom of shoes. If we install a highly efficient matting system at that front door – one that is at least 15-feet long and designed to collect and trap these soils – then fewer soils are entering the facility.

When fewer soils are walked in, it means:

  • Less cleaning is necessary.
  • When less cleaning is needed, fewer cleaning solutions are used.
  • When fewer cleaning solutions are used, fewer cleaning solutions need to be transported around the country.
  • When fewer cleaning solutions are carried around the country, less fuel is consumed, reducing greenhouse gasses.
  • This also means fewer packaging materials are necessary to package these products,
  • Fewer cleaning solutions and less packaging materials reduce waste..

We likely could go on and on, but what is vital to realize is just how interconnected green cleaning and sustainability is.

Other examples of the green cleaning/sustainability connection

Many examples exist of how green cleaning and sustainability are interconnected, and many of these examples are already found in care facilities today around North America. For instance:

Microfiber mop heads. Studies going back more than 20 years indicate that the use of microfiber mops tends to be more efficient at removing contaminants from floors than the use of the traditional “spaghetti” mop heads. They also promote sustainability in many ways, however. They clean effectively using considerably less water and cleaning solutions. Plus, in most cases, they last significantly longer than traditional mop heads. All of these features help benefit sustainability.

Auto dilution systems. Before exploring these devices, know that I believe these systems are a must for care facilities. They ensure that just the right amount of chemical is being diluted with water. Too little chemical and the cleaning solution will not be effective. Too much, and it can leave a chemical residue that can cause rapid re-soiling of surfaces. As for their effect on sustainability, auto dilution systems help prevent waste, whether it is chemical or water.

Cleaning with water. In the past few years, several cleaning systems have been introduced that use no chemicals whatsoever and meet most cleaning needs. They also have been shown to be effective at sanitizing surfaces.* Because they work effectively with just water, they promote sustainability just as our floor mat example earlier. No cleaning solutions are needed, transported, packaged, etc.

Paper productsAlthough it is not explicitly a cleaning-related item, when it comes to making a care facility green and sustainable, we must take a look at the paper products used in the facility. These products must be made from recycled and recyclable materials. Plus, hand towels and toilet paper should be on large rolls. These large rolls last longer, helping to reduce transport needs and packaging materials.

Bulk purchasing. We've referenced this in earlier discussions, but for a facility to be green and sustainable, it must purchase cleaning solutions in bulk – five gallon - containers.  Often, cleaning solutions are purchased in gallon jugs or, worse, in ready-to-use sprayers. Green cleaning solutions purchased in five-gallon containers usually are highly concentrated. This means they last longer, which we know can help reduce fuel needs and greenhouse gasses.

These are just a few of the ways green cleaning and sustainability are interconnected. If you care facility is large or part of a group of care facilities, it is often a good idea to turn to a cleaning consultant experienced in both green cleaning and sustainability. That's because it can get a bit complicated, but the benefits are significant.

Not only will the facility be healthier due to the reduced effect of cleaning on the environment, but most administrators find operating costs related to cleaning is reduced. Those are two benefits few care facility operators can ignore.

Ron Segura is founder and president of Segura & Associates, a U.S.-based janitorial consulting company. He has more than 45 years of experience in all segments of the cleaning industry, with 10 of those years spent overseeing the cleaning of more than 4.5 million square feet for the Walt Disney Co.

*Sanitizing refers to reducing the number of pathogens on a surface, not necessarily kill them. Disinfecting, using the right disinfectant properly, kills pathogens.

McKnight's Senior Living welcomes marketplace columns on subjects of value to the industry. Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

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