For years, building service contractors have been hearing about the green movement, often encouraged by cleaning industry experts to explore “going green” themselves. And there has been a shift in thinking among BSCs, with more and more jumping on board to provide environmentally friendly products and services. To many, however, green refers only to chemical products. Companies that have switched to green products should be proud of that move and should tout that feature to customers.

Some BSCs don’t stop with that, and take green cleaning a step further by purchasing equipment — from autoscrubbers to an array of vacuum cleaners — that are certified green or sustainable. While green technology hasn’t evolved a lot in past years, the movement continues to make strides pertaining to mainstreaming products, affordability and usability.

Companies that claim to be green but haven’t made a commitment to green products shouldn’t really call themselves “green,” says Gary Walker, president of Magic Touch Cleaning in Kansas City, Mo.

“Chemicals are a very, very small piece of green cleaning,” Walker says. “People think, ‘If we change our chemicals, we’re green cleaning.’ No, that’s not it.”

Air quality, ergonomics and cleaning processes should also come into play, he believes, necessitating the inclusion of green equipment in any green program. With afflictions such as asthma and allergies so prevalent in the general population, especially children, using the right equipment can make a huge difference in indoor health.

BSCs are most likely to start with vacuums when integrating green equipment into the lineup. Most will look for machines that feature HEPA or ULPA filtration. HEPA, or high efficiency particulate air, filters can remove 99.97 percent of airborne particles as small as 0.3 micrometers. ULPA, or ultra low penetration air, filters airborne particles that are 0.12 or larger, removing 99.999 percent of dust. ULPA filters are used where the smallest particles can cause problems.

“If you don’t have a vacuum that’s sealed up and has proper filtration, all it’s going to do is blow dust all over the place,” Walker says. “Then people are going to breathe it, you’re going to agitate sinuses and lungs and possibly trigger asthmatic episodes.”

One recent advancement is the HEPA filter vacuum bag, which provides another option for BSCs that aren’t yet ready to replace their machines but would like to improve filtration.

“Some of the biggest advances are the filtration, the bags, the hard cases, the way they seal up — all that is such a huge factor in green cleaning. The microns that these things trap are just amazing,” Walker says.

BSCs who have invested a little more in their supply of vacuums will likely find they’re already carrying environmentally friendly machines. Those certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), for instance, adhere to standards of pickup and filtration that improve indoor air quality (IAQ).

When Milwaukee-based CleanPower made a commitment to green equipment, it found that the company’s backpack and upright vacs already met CRI’s certification criteria, says Barb Whitstone, vice president of business development.

Using better vacuums not only improves indoor air quality but it also can result in labor savings, Whitstone says, because improving filtration means workers are not dusting as much.

Vacuums need to be part of a greater system of cleaning centered around indoor air quality, says Allen Rathey, president of InstructionLink/JanTrain Inc. in Boise, Idaho. Filtration is only part of that system.

“You really have to look at vacuums as a system. Indoor air quality derives from a lot of sources. If [a vacuum is] picking things up and blowing them back out that’s not good. If you’re filtering but not picking up a lot of things from the surface, that’s not good,” Rathey says. “Not all vacuums are equal in that regard. I think there is an overemphasis on filters, at the expense of systems. System is where the rubber meets the road, it’s how the entire system works together.”

Floor Machines
Water-saving floor machines are also popular for companies wanting to go green. A number of cleaning methods exist within that category, from encapsulation to foam to steam. CleanPower uses a foam autoscrubber, and not only is it efficient and water-conserving, but again, it contributes to employee productivity.

“It’s great to save water and that’s a wonderful thing, but if you think about how often and how long it takes to fill up an autoscrubber at a slop sink, to walk all the way back there, drain your tank of the dirty water, refill the entire thing with clean water — it takes a long time, so if you’re using only a third of your water, you’re decreasing your labor time,” Whitstone says.

CleanPower also uses dust collection buffers for hard surface floors in buildings going for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification or healthcare facilities, where kicking up dust while buffing is a major hindrance to occupant health.

Worthwhile Investment
As interest in environmentally sound practices has grown, so has demand for machines that meet green standards while cleaning just as well, if not better, than traditional machines. Both CleanPower and Magic Touch see equipment as an investment, and though some green products and equipment may cost a bit more, it’s worth it to end up with a quality piece of machinery that contributes to the health of operators and tenants.

To Walker, the most important benefit to using green equipment is peace of mind and the health of his employees.

“When we first started talking to our associates about changing the chemicals and the process, you could just see how good they felt about it,” Walker says. “They’re like, ‘Wow, you really care about us.’”

The industry as a whole is benefiting from the increasing demand for green. It seems that most products being newly manufactured have a connection to green, says Jim Harris, president of Janitronics Inc., and in trying to protect people and healthy indoor environments, the industry is moving in the right direction, he contends.

“The results of the cleaning effort is such that it’s working towards sustainability so that the quality of the indoor environment is sustained, “ Harris says.

“We’re moving toward that direction, where the race has to do with making certain that products that go on the market today in our industry meet the test of cleaning efficacy first and then they meet the test of health and hygiene, they’re safe for the worker, safe for the population,” he adds.

And of course, BSCs who practice green cleaning with environmentally friendly equipment also enjoy spreading the word.

“I think that there’s definitely a marketing benefit,” Whitstone says. “Customers are becoming more aware of green and more interested in green. And I think that it matters to people and I think that it can help us sell. It helps differentiate us.”