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April marks the 52nd anniversary of the first Earth Day. As is tradition, it is also the time when many of our operations trot out institutional messaging concerning our collective efforts to protect Mother Earth from human-induced planetary calamity and destruction.  

Typically, this takes the form of sharing data on recycling waste, adopting products that promise less toxicity for occupants, installing paper products that use fewer trees, and perhaps even water-saving measures. While these efforts are laudable, they reveal an even better story of what products an organization has recently purchased — a list that is often forgotten until the season arrives again next year.  

As professional cleaning leaders, you are important stewards of our critical indoor ecosystem. We should work to tell a more meaningful story. I call it the Beyond Earth Day approach — it's a working title. 

"If you're not cleaning, you're polluting — it's as simple as that." It's been about 16 years since cleaning for health expert Dr. Michael Berry made this proclamation. At the time, it was a sensible statement that split the commercial cleaning world like an atom — and produced a similar fallout.  

The intent was to point out that many activities that we label as "cleaning" contribute more to indoor polluting activities — be it directly (poorly maintained vacuums spreading dust) or indirectly (overuse of water that contributes to mold growth). Furthermore, there are few resources outside of productivity and lowering costs where professionals can learn how to define, let alone manage effective cleaning.   

This year, for “Beyond Earth Day,” I propose we take a different approach to communicate our impact. Here are three ideas worth considering:  

Rather than merely purchasing eco-friendly products, use them to tell a data story. 

I can hear the collective groan, so I'll keep this brief. How much accurately diluted chemical do you use in each building per day? Per week? Per month? Better yet, how many individual cleaning chemicals are currently in your inventory? Are they redundant? Can that number be reduced?  

A data story looks like this: We had 37 different chemicals, but we reduced that number to 12 overall, and now only use four daily and only in specific areas. Additionally, we only need to use two gallons of solution per day in a 120,000-square-foot building. It paints a much clearer picture and uses the best data available in the profession: your own.  

Rather than using modifiers for cleaning, define it. 

Deep cleaning, elevated, sustainable, less, more, proper, effective, wet, or air cleaning. These terms tend to create a subjective understanding of cleaning — and may under-, or worse, over-promise your operation's daily capability.  

Cleaning is essentially the act of removing unwanted matter and putting it in its proper place. If you can identify the unwanted matter in your indoor environment (trash, allergens, pathogens), you can put it in its proper location (usually outside of the building).  

Measure effectiveness. 

Two basic ways to measure effectiveness are by defect or by process. There are several techniques to measure defects in cleaning: adenosine triphosphate (ATP) meters, pathogen swabs, particulate meters, fluorescent lights, etc. Using these tests effectively can open up a can of worms, so we'll save that conversation for a later date.  

Professionally speaking, I have found that the more practical way to measure effectiveness is by measuring how the process performs. For example: on average, our crew removes 150 pounds of trash, 50 pounds of recyclables, 12 pounds of dust, allergens, and other pollutants from the floor, carpet, and surfaces above the floor from this building every day. 

One can argue that the built environment is humankind's most outstanding technological achievement. Many of us may take for granted that healthy indoor environments are historically responsible for prolonging human life, protecting us from outside threats such as predators, diseases and severe climates.  

Humans spend 90 percent of their lifetime indoors. There has never been a better time than right now to incorporate the benefit of protecting our precious indoors in an all-encompassing environmental message. 

Ben Walker is COO at ManageMen, Inc., a leading cleaning industry consultancy specializing in training, transitions, auditing and educational materials. He can be reached at