By Stephen Ashkin

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a nationally renowned consulting
firm helping both contractors and building owners “green” the cleaning process.
William Shakespeare once said “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Perhaps the same thing can be said for the concept we call green cleaning and its other names, including healthy high performance cleaning, the greening of cleaning, cleaning green, sustainable cleaning and earth-friendly cleaning. The list can go on and on. Often included in this list of names is cleaning for health, which leads to the question if they are the same thing.

Like many of you reading this article, I have been in the cleaning industry for a very long time — more than 26 years. Throughout much of this time, cleaning has been seen as a commodity because our customers think that all cleaning is the same. As a result, our focus narrowed primarily on appearances and the only thing that was negotiable (and to a large part still is) was the price.

In the early 1990s the concept of cleaning for health was introduced. I have to confess that it is somewhat misleading to say it was first introduced at that time because in many respects it represented a return to the basics — the things Florence Nightingale taught us in the 1840s, that cleaning played an important role in protecting health.

Unfortunately, the cleaning-for-health movement found little success in terms of substantive change. Please do not misinterpret my comment. I am not taking anything away from the cleaning-for-health concept. However, what I am suggesting is that as a result of those efforts in the early 1990s very little was accomplished in terms of new government policy, regulations, requirements or customer demand.

The green-cleaning movement has been built on the foundation of cleaning for health and our efforts have been based on our analysis of why more was not accomplished from the cleaning-for-health initiative of the 1990s. This is precisely why we have worked with organizations like the U.S. Green Building Council, Hospitals for a Healthy Environment and Healthy Schools Campaign, as our goal was to use the marketplace to drive health and environmental innovations — in other words, to drive real and lasting change.

So, to be clear, cleaning for health is the underpinning of green cleaning and we are grateful for what we have learned from them. But green cleaning also has initiated discussions not addressed by the cleaning-for-health initiative. Green cleaning, in addition to addressing effective cleaning designed to protect health, brings to the forefront our industry’s impact on the environment.

Whether or not green cleaning is a product of our times or has helped to invent the future, it is clear that new technologies have resulted in cleaning products that cost less and effectively perform the chosen task, but do so while reducing environmental impacts at the same time. Thus, in many respects, green cleaning is the next generation beyond cleaning for health. But this time, it is here to stay and currently making a major impact in our industry.