No product category challenges building service contractors more when it comes to product selection than floor finishes and strippers. This is true whether we are talking about green or traditional products. From slip-and-fall issues associated with floor finishes to the toxicity of stripping solutions, which can cause permanent eye or skin damage, there is a need for careful product and process consideration. In this column, I’ll be focusing solely on green floor-care chemicals.

When BSCs are comparing floor-care products to find the best green alternative, “comparison may consider raw materials acquisition, production, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance, or disposal of the product or service,” states Executive Order 13101. From a green cleaning perspective, floor care is perhaps one of the best examples that, in the effort to green the products, the entire life cycle of the product must be considered.

Selecting green floor finish primarily focuses on the use of a polymer that does not contain heavy metals such as zinc, which can be harmful to aquatic life. However, it is equally, if not more, important to make sure that the finish is durable and meets the traditional performance requirements such as slip resistance and resistance to detergents — which will directly impact how frequently the finish will need to be stripped and reapplied. If a BSC is able to strip and recoat less often, it will have significant environmental (and cost) savings.

Green floor stripper effectively removes the floor finish. While this sounds simple, many green strippers are not capable of removing traditional metal crosslinked polymers. Other important considerations include moderating the pH (in the 10 to 12 range as opposed to 13 or 14), reduced odor and not containing 2-butoxyethanol or ammonia.

Since we’re on the topic of floor care, I feel I should address appearances. Clearly, green cleaning is focused on reducing health and environmental impacts; however, it would be naïve to suggest that customers don’t care about how shiny their floors appear, especially in entryways and other places that make an impression upon their visitors and tenants.

Greening floor-care chemicals requires that appearance expectations be met, or more importantly that these expectations be properly managed. For example, in many facilities a lower gloss product may actually be preferable, and it is also not unreasonable to consider using a high gloss product in some areas and a lower gloss product in others to help minimize buffing, recoating and stripping. Remember the goal is to reduce overall impacts and not just the impacts associated with the selection of individual products.

For those who regularly read this column, it might seem odd that I haven’t mentioned third-party certifications such as Green Seal, Ecologo and EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Program. While certifications exist from these programs, in this particular category, I feel proper performance and extending the life of the finish takes precedence over any seal of approval.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group and executive director of the Green Cleaning Network.