Experts have been touting green initiatives for years, but their focus is usually on how cleaning products impact the environment or occupants within the building. It hasn’t been until recently that cleaning managers have asked the big question: “How is green cleaning going to benefit me?”

Based on a recent survey, readers of Housekeeping Solutions list a number of reasons as to why they have been slow to embrace green. Some still believe that green products don’t perform as well as traditional ones. Others comment that they simply don’t understand enough about what green is to incorporate it into their cleaning regimen.

Possibly the most common answer, though, is that green cleaning products eat up too much of the budget and there is little proof of return on investment.

Even with this type of hesitation from in-house service providers, the interest in green is obviously growing.

A recent survey conducted by The Ashkin Group, Bloomington, Ind., revealed that more than 75 percent of newsletter subscribers think green cleaning is important to their business, while another 20 percent said it was somewhat important.

Statistics like this prove that the interest is there, but green cleaning advocates have their work cut out for them when it comes to communicating the perks of using sustainable products.

Green Benefits
There is growing evidence supporting the fact that green cleaning provides a variety of benefits — whether for the environment, the facility, its occupants or the cleaners themselves. It is through these benefits that cleaning managers will see their own return on investment.

The only problem is, outlining and proving return on investment isn’t as easy as some may think. How a facility will benefit from green initiatives will often vary by facility.

“If a building is filthy to begin with and doesn’t have systematic cleaning processes in place,” says Steve Ashkin, president and founder of The Ashkin Group, “they will see all kind of benefits to green cleaning.”

He adds, though, that most buildings today are very well managed and the benefits of changing to green cleaning might not be as obvious.

“If floors are already shiny, they aren’t going to get shinier,” he says. “If managers are already taking care of their occupants, they are still going to do that with green cleaning.”

This doesn’t mean that well-maintained facilities will benefit any less from going green. It’s just that those benefits might be more difficult for the common eye to see.

Above anything else, green cleaning minimizes the environmental and health concerns associated with conventional cleaning practices.

The current shift towards green will continue to grow — according to experts — in part, because of its three main benefits. The first being the obvious environmental benefits outlined by using less harsh chemicals, minimizing lighting and water usage, reducing waste and incorporating recycled products such as towel and tissue into cleaning programs.

By minimizing energy, water and product usage, cleaning managers can easily keep track of dollars saved. Waste reduction might take some time before savings can be measured, but the savings are there. Less waste output equals a reduction in employee time spent taking out the trash, which turns into more time spent on other tasks and an increase in employee productivity. Not to mention savings on trash removal services, landfill costs, etc.

The second benefit to using green directly affects the cleaning staff and building occupants working within that facility. Statistics show that cleaning products have a direct impact on performance, attendance and the overall morale of workers and building occupants.

Replacing products that negatively affect indoor environmental quality will have a positive impact on the health and productivity of building occupants, including cleaners. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, implementing green products helps reduce absenteeism and health care costs, and improves worker productivity, which then leads to increased profitability.

The third — and possibly the most overlooked — benefit to going green impacts the facility budget. This is generally measured in terms of lower operating costs, both in short-term and during the entire life of a building, its equipment and other key features.

Building associations who support green have researched the impact it has on the facility as a whole. The result is that incorporating green — in the structure as well as the maintenance and cleaning departments — will positively impact the life of a building.

Financial benefits can come in a variety of forms. Whether using fewer products, reducing employee absenteeism or increasing marketing profitability of the business, facility managers need to know the return on investment that is available with implementing green cleaning products.

Employee Benefits
Beyond the cleaning department, the benefits of green cleaning will impact every building occupant. The most obvious are often health and safety, both of which will impact a facilities bottom line.

“Workers compensation represents 4 to 6 percent of the cleaning operations budget,” says Dave Frank, president of American Institute of Cleaning Sciences, Highlands Ranch, Colo. “But, departments can save by containing insurance costs, workers compensation claims and rehabilitation related to worker injuries.”

Green cleaning practices can also help reduce turnover, seeing as part of the reason for an employee’s departure is directly related to exposure to toxic chemicals.

One cleaning manager learned this the hard way when he was reprimanded for contributing to increased turnover within the facility. Seems as though, employees were having negative reactions to traditional chemicals that were being used to clean and sought employment elsewhere. The facility now uses all green-certified chemicals to keep employees happy.

Using cleaning products that have little to no impact on indoor air quality has also shown to improve the health and productivity of both building occupants and cleaners. According to industry reports, creating a healthy atmosphere to work in could increase worker productivity by as much as $180 billion. Companies could even save as much as $58 billion in reduced sick-time costs.

“Better cleaning equals lower cost because cleaners don’t have to do work over again,” says Frank. “If the quality of work is better, you can reduce cleaning frequency. For instance, better vacuums might produce less dust in the air and on the floor, so it may reduce the amount of times you have to vacuum.”

It is important to remember, though, that roughly 90 percent of the cleaning budget is labor and with new products comes training.

Changing the minds of employees is difficult, but improving communication can go a long way. Demonstrate that these new products and procedures will continue to work hard for cleaners, while requiring less cleaning frequency and often less back-breaking labor.

Companies need to factor in these employee and building occupant benefits into their green return on investment, in addition to any product or energy savings.

Getting Started with Green
Regardless of hesitation from cleaning managers, experts insist that implementing green initiatives will not take any more time or money than what is currently being done. But, before a department can get started, facility service providers must first conduct a building audit to determine what can and should be done.

“From the audit, managers should create three buckets,” Ashkin says. “First, determine the low/no cost things that can be done; then develop a high-end bucket that lists opportunities for new equipment or materials that will incur high costs; and finally, factor in a middle bucket for the things that aren’t that complicated, but will incur some cost.”

Frank suggests comparing current practices to green initiatives. In conjunction with ISSA, Frank developed a green cleaning cost evaluator called EcoSmart. Using this program, cleaning managers can analyze capital expenditures and compare specific products to determine immediate savings. This is an essential step in the audit process.

Once an audit is complete, evaluate what products and/or procedures can easily be changed. Most cleaning managers find that chemicals, toilet tissue and hand towels are an easy switch. Others implement microfiber cloths and flat mops. These types of products are easily changed because they often outline profit in the form of dollars.

Industry experts comment that cleaning equipment will also impact the facility’s goal towards green, as well as offer return on investment. They suggest setting up a plan to replace existing machines with higher quality equipment that can reduce worker fatigue, runtime or offer benefits such as HEPA filters to help indoor air quality.

In addition to products, sustainable procedures can result in increased return on investment. Facilities looking to boost their green initiatives often take the first step with recycling and trash removal.

“Recycling is a big deal because it can be measured,” says Ashkin. “Cleaning managers can measure the waste that is being diverted.”

When implementing new programs, it is important to create time tables that track progress. Doing so will allow cleaning managers to measure what they have accomplished, a statistic they can take back to management.

“Green cleaning is a concept like continual improvement, or total quality management,” says Ashkin. “We should look at cleaning in a way that further reduces the impact on health and the environment.”

Green cleaning creates a cleaner, safer, healthier building and contributes to occupant health and productivity — all of which result in financial savings. The bottom line is, these benefits make green cleaning a wise investment.

Green Resources

• The Ashkin Group (
• Environmental Choice Program (
• Green Hotels Association (
• Green Seal (
• Greenbuild (
• Greener Buildings (
• GreenStar (
• Healthy Schools Campaign (
• Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (
• U.S. EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (
• U.S. Green Building Council (

Green Stats

• Nearly 3.5 million cleaning employees are exposed to chemicals and other materials while cleaning buildings.
• Each year, 6 billion pounds of chemicals are used to clean commercial buildings.
• The commercial cleaning industry consumes approximately 4.5 billion pounds of janitorial paper products, which requires the cutting of an estimated 25 to 50 million trees.
• People spend 90 percent of their time indoors each day.
• Green strategies have the potential to achieve a 40 percent reduction in water use by office buildings.
• Offices could reduce energy costs and harmful emissions from power generation by 30 percent.
• Office buildings could divert 50 to 75 percent of construction and demolition waste for recycling purposes and productive use elsewhere.
• Building values are expected to increase, on average, by about 7.5 percent while return on investments were expected to improve by 6.6 percent.
• In green facilities, the property market value increased by $4 for every $1 invested.

Stats available from: The Ashkin Group, U.S. Green Building Council, McGraw-Hill and the Building Owners and Managers Association