When we examine the issue of indoor air quality in our buildings, we must discuss the role of vacuuming in our green cleaning practices. We know green cleaning is defined by Executive Order 13423 as “products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose.”

A vacuuming program has a profound impact on whether or not we are properly removing soils found in carpets and on hard floors. These soils can adversely affect the appearance of carpet and can damage fibers leading to premature and costly carpet replacement. But perhaps more importantly, these seemingly innocuous dust particles, especially those particles so small that they cannot be seen can be inhaled deep into the lungs and harm health.

Dust can be comprised of a host of problematic substances including heavy metals such as lead, which can affect the development of a child’s brain and permanently reduce IQ. Dust can also contain mold spores, pollen and other allergens, which can trigger asthma and flu-like symptoms. Dust may even include viruses, bacteria, residue from cleaning chemicals and pesticides and insect body parts and feces.

Fortunately greener purchasing decisions can be made easy by following the Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI) Seal of Approval program. A CRI-certified vacuum effectively sucks up the dust from the carpet, captures it in the machine and keeps it out of the air, helping to get the most out of the life of the carpet, maintain its attractiveness and ultimately remove those harmful particles. Today there are more than 180 manufacturers with 470 certified products making these machines widely available and cost competitive.

Durability is also a key component of green vacuums. When the machine breaks down, are switches, fans, brushes and other components available and easy to replace, or is the machine designed to be thrown away? These disposable machines have an adverse effect on the environment, from the excess amount of material deposited in landfills to the manufacturing of replacement parts and machines.

Some final considerations from a green cleaning perspective include selecting vacuums that are ergonomically correct, as some uprights are heavier and thus harder to push across the carpet. Backpacks must be sized and worn properly especially for smaller workers. Look for quieter vacuums, which is important regardless of the time of the day they are being used as it is also important to protect cleaning personnel from loud noises.

A green vacuum will not only perform well, but also create a healthier, higher performing building and reduce impacts on the environment.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group and executive director of the Green Cleaning Network. Ashkin is speaking at ISSA/INTERCLEAN® in Chicago on Tuesday, October 6. His two presentations, “The Green Cleaning Update” and “Are You A Sustainable Company?” are sponsored by Contracting Profits.