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As COVID-19 loosens its grip on the planet, building service contractors (BSCs) are tasked with providing foolproof infection control amidst a growing demand for green cleaning services.  

Reconciling the two may seem daunting, but sustainability and proper infection prevention don’t need to be mutually exclusive. In fact, the proof that these practices can and should coexist lies in green cleaning’s objective: to provide thorough, effective cleaning that further reduces impacts on health and the environment compared with conventional cleaning methods and products. 

Two-plus years into the pandemic, a number of BSC customers fall into one of two camps — both of which are cause for concern, according to industry experts. One is the overuse of disinfectants; the other is a reduction in cleaning services. 

“The benefits of using safe, effective green cleaning and disinfecting practices are the same as they were before the pandemic, but with even greater stakes now, because of the excessive use of hazardous chemicals over the past year,” says Mac Clevenger, national partnerships manager at Green Seal, Washington, D.C.  

Clevenger advocates for better training, safer products and more effective cleaning protocols to reduce job-related negative health impacts and chemical injuries. Additionally, he believes that communicating the many benefits of green cleaning to clients allows BSCs to get ahead of unnecessary requests for blanket disinfection. 

On the flip side, some customers are cutting back on cleaning services in light of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) announcement that the risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 from surfaces is low. 

“Because we’ve realized COVID-19 is transmitted through the air, some facility and property managers are cutting back on cleaning to reduce costs,” says Steve Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, Channel Islands Harbor, California. “My fear is that this will accelerate the race to the bottom where the only thing that matters is cost.” 

According to Ashkin, the onus is on BSCs to remind customers about the importance of thorough cleaning to maintain public health.  

“As an industry, we’re failing to stand up and tell customers that we’re not just cleaning to eliminate COVID,” he says. “We’re cleaning to remove pathogens that can harm people’s health, along with contaminants like lead dust and mold spores — things that used to concern us before the pandemic.” 

Touchy Topics 

Indeed, ongoing education and training are vital to the success of green cleaning programs that maintain the efficacy of infection prevention efforts.  

“A green program is only as good as its implementation, and that implementation comes via proper training,” notes Shari Solomon, president of CleanHealth Environmental LLC, Silver Spring, Maryland. “Make sure you’re putting the ‘why’ into training and continually reinforce that, because people react on emotion, not on procedure.”  

That same message should be shared with building occupants. Experts agree that BSCs should put as much effort into educating clients on the benefits of green cleaning as they do into training their frontline workers.  

“We need to explain to people what it means to clean thoroughly, and remind them how important it is to clean for health,” says Ashkin. “As an industry, that is our responsibility.”

This level of education is sometimes easier said than done. Building occupants often believe that more is better when it comes to cleaning and the use of disinfectants. They don’t necessarily understand that BSCs can be both environmentally conscious and effective at combating the spread of infections.  

Clevenger frequently hears from Green Seal–certified BSCs that their biggest challenge is managing client demands and expectations.   

“BSCs need tools to communicate what is necessary for infection control, but just as importantly what is not necessary,” he says. “Regular cleaning is extremely effective against this virus, and extra disinfection is generally only needed if someone confirmed or suspected to be infected has been in the building within the past 24 hours.”

In addition to communicating the importance of routine cleaning, BSCs should ensure that their clients understand what constitutes a high-touch point. 

“We need to understand that a high-touch surface is one that is touched by multiple people throughout the day,” Ashkin explains. “For example, if I’m the only person touching the light switch in my personal office, that isn’t a high-touch point.” 

Defining and identifying high-touch surfaces with clients allows BSCs to prioritize the disinfection of some surfaces over others, thereby reducing chemical usage and labor costs. 

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The Greening of Disinfectants in Infection Prevention Programs