While equipment specifications are essential when implementing a green program, sustainability consultants stress the importance of proper operator training.

As Hulin notes, “It’s not environmentally friendly equipment if it’s not used correctly.”

Ashkin urges customers to ask vendors questions about training when purchasing floor care equipment.

“What kind of training do they provide? If my staff speaks another language, do they have people who can teach them how to use the equipment? Customers really need to ask these questions when selecting new equipment,” says Ashkin.

Training is a very beneficial value-added service when purchasing floor equipment, saving departments valuable time and money. Hand in hand with that training is the importance of documentation.

“If you want to ensure your buildings are being managed in a more sustainable way, you have to track what’s happening,” says Arny. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Looking at the tracking that LEED includes as a means of assuring that what’s being strived for is actually being delivered is a good approach to green cleaning.”

Griffin recommends documenting procedures to hold custodians accountable for doing work properly.

“Keep logs on how often floor finish is put down, for example, and how many coats are applied,” he says. “If workers put floor finish on a small area, train them not to fill the bucket up with floor finish and throw away two gallons of excess finish, just because they’ve always put two gallons of floor finish in the bucket.”

In keeping with the LEED requirements for powered cleaning equipment, custodial staffs should also keep a log for all equipment purchases and maintenance. Repair and maintenance activities are an essential component of any green cleaning initiative and should be recorded for each machine.

“Equipment only achieves benefits if it’s maintained properly,” says Ashkin. “If used incorrectly, it could put workers and building occupants at risk.”

According to Ashkin, too much emphasis is placed on cost when buying floor care equipment. Instead, look at the long-term return on investment and value-added components when purchasing.

“Sometimes, people are better off negotiating for extended warranties and maintenance,” he says. “If you have a piece of equipment you use for cleaning multiple buildings, make sure service is available and inquire about service capabilities.”

The Future Of Floors

As more customers demand equipment that reduces negative impacts on people and the environment, manufacturers will continue to meet the challenge by designing sustainable machinery.

“I expect we’ll see more computerization of equipment, such as on-machine diagnostics, so you won’t have to spend so much time trying to figure out what’s wrong,” says Griffin. “You’ll also see machines analyzing and diagnosing water coming off the floor, so they’ll know how much detergent to use, how much pressure to use, or how slow or fast to go.”

Ashkin also sees a move toward life cycle assessments that inventory the impacts of equipment over its lifespan.

“We really need to understand, from cradle to grave, what the impacts of that piece of equipment are,” he says. “Ask about the type, quality, and life-expectancy of parts, such as filters, squeegees, brushes and batteries. Also what happens at the end of the life of the equipment? Do they take it to the landfill? People pursuing a green building need to ask vendors what makes their equipment green, and let them know this is important to them.”

Custodial managers need to develop a green purchasing policy — not just for equipment but for all purchases.

“We need to become informed buyers,” says Ashkin. “Develop a list of questions: How does this equipment reduce energy in manufacture and use? How does it reduce water consumption? How does it reduce impacts to people using the product and the building occupants? If we don’t ask, it’s as if we don’t care. By asking questions, we can start to change what’s going on.” 

KASSANDRA KANIA is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C.

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