Along with mops and buckets, vacuums are one of the main staples of a custodial department’s portable cleaning equipment arsenal. While the most obvious considerations when purchasing vacuums might pertain to upright versus backpack models and cord length, managers should also be taking into account issues of sustainability.

Sustainability as it applies to vacuum cleaners can be defined by numerous indicators: the effect on frontline workers who use the machines, or ergonomics; noise pollution or lack thereof; particulates captured and indoor air quality; environmental impact, including a concern for what ends up getting thrown away; durability; repairability; and energy-efficiency.  

“Green” or “sustainable” features are a point of comparison when shopping around for any product or piece of equipment, says Steve Ashkin, cleaning industry sustainability expert and president of Bloomington, Ind.-based The Ashkin Group.

“Managers should be asking their distribution vendors what makes one product green compared to other products on the market,” he says. “It’s a totally appropriate and important question to ask.” 

Ratings And Certifications

The first step toward purchasing sustainable vacuums is to buy green products, such as those that contribute to better indoor air quality. The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) offers its Seal of Approval rating system for vacuums, which tests for three things: soil removal, particulate containment and surface damage. Using a vacuum cleaner that is too aggressive, for example, can greatly reduce the life of that carpet, says Werner Braun, president of the CRI.

“You can go out and shop for carpet that has a lot of recycled content and a smaller environmental footprint, but you can blow that environmental footprint up if you’re using a bad vacuum cleaner on it,” Braun says. “That’s something a lot of people don’t think about with respect to green.”

Particle containment testing addresses the indoor air quality issue. Particles can be emitted through a poor filter, from underneath the vacuum housing — thanks to the turbulence of the brushes — and from wear and tear on the machine itself.

“A vast majority of the moving parts of a vacuum are made with synthetic materials, primarily plastic products, as well as carbon fibers and other materials,” says Braun. “Normal use of a vacuum creates emissions, as well.”

LEED-EBOM and CIMS-GB certifications require that vacuums have CRI’s Seal of Approval and operate at less than 70 decibels. Whether a facility currently has those certifications or not, it’s a good idea to consider purchasing equipment that qualifies in order to be prepared, says Teresa Farmer, LEED-AP and green program specialist for Kelsan Inc., a jan/san distributor in Knoxville, Tenn.

“If the required equipment is not purchased up front, then a replacement will need to be purchased. Otherwise the requirement for these certifications will not be met,” she says. “If there is a possibility that either of these certifications are in [a department’s] future, the wise decision would be to purchase the equipment that will be necessary for this process.”

LISA RIDGELY is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee. She is the former Deputy Editor of Contracting Profits magazine, a sister publication to Facility Cleaning Decisions.

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