Each organization has is reasons for switching to green products and services. In the case of one East Coast casino, green cleaning was the only way to clean. “The company’s position is that we do what we can in every way we can for the environment,” says Mike Van Splinter, director of environmental services for Foxwoods Resort and Casino, Mashantucket, Conn.

That commitment meant the casino “went green” the day it opened 13 years ago. Management is dedicated to buying products, particularly cleaning agents, which pose the least possible harm to the environment.

“The test for products that come into the environmental services department has always been ‘what does it do to the environment,’ ‘does it do the job,’ and finally ‘what does it cost?’ And it’s always been in that order,” says Van Splinter.

Even if your organization has not made the environment its number-one priority, housekeeping managers can still make an effort to “green up” cleaning practices.

“Switching to green products is an ongoing process,” says Sandra Cannon, facilitator of environmentally preferable purchasing initiatives for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Wash.

“It is important for purchasers to continually specify green qualities in products because it is purchasing that drives manufacturers to rethink and reformulate their products toward being green.”

Step 1: Get management on board
The key to a strong green-cleaning program is to get the bosses on board. For some, that step is no problem, but others may find a lot of resistance to change. Keep fighting the good fight, Van Splinter says, because it’s crucial that management supports the housekeeping department’s efforts to adopt environmentally friendly products and processes.

“If you don’t get top management to buy in, find another project,” Van Splinter says.

If green cleaning is a tough sell, skip to step two and get back to management with data regarding the health and environmental benefits associated with a green program, as well as the potential cost savings and cleaning quality of green products.

Step 2: Research, research, research
Despite solid management backing, even Foxwoods Casino has to take small steps toward its ultimate goal of eliminating all environmentally hazardous cleaning products from its janitorial closets. When the casino opened in 1991, green wasn’t the buzzword it is today. Finding environmentally friendly products was difficult.

“Up until the last two years, there really hadn’t been a groundswell of support, quality or standardization in green,” says Van Splinter. “You could call anything green. At first our bid requirements asked for green products but then we started seeing all the VOCs [volatile organic compounds] in the products they called green.”

Van Splinter went back to the drawing board. He decided he needed more concrete standards for his bid requirements than just a vague mention of “environmentally friendly” products. Two years ago he discovered Green Seal a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. The environmental protection group produces recommendations, called GS-37, for finding environmentally friendly products in more than 100 product categories, from copy machines to hand towels.

“It’s not just what’s in the bottle but also what goes into making the stuff in the bottle and the dispenser for getting it out of the bottle and what the container is made of,” says Van Splinter. “We ended up with three companies that met with us and met the standards.”

The City of Santa Monica uses a set of standards much like those in GS-37 when it sends out requests for custodial product bids. It also evaluates vendors on how well they service the account, how they troubleshoot problems, how their product delivery systems work, as well as their labeling systems and training programs.

When the PNNL decided to go green in 1993, it pulled together a team of specialists in the areas of contracts, custodial work, environmentally preferable purchasing, industrial hygiene, liquid effluents, waste management, and environmental releases and reporting. PNNL revised the City of Santa Monica’s standards and combined them with some existing Washington State requirements.

“Products that passed this stage were tested by custodians around the city, judged on price, and then the contract was awarded,” says Karl Bruskotter, City of Santa Monica environmental program officer.

Step 3: Staff support
Once you have your green products lined up — and management support — the last but equally important step is to make sure your staff understands and supports the plan. Get them involved early. Seek their input during the testing phase of products and keep them informed of product decisions.

At Foxwoods Casino, the cleaning staff was divided into three groups: one using the current products and two other groups using green test products. The groups reported every week about products — how they smelled, looked, if there were side effects, and how well they worked.

“The employees didn’t know which they were using,” says Van Splinter. “I heard employees debating about which was best. The hands-on evaluation got them pumped up.”

It is also crucial to properly train workers once the new products are introduced. OSHA requires retraining whenever chemical dilution or usage changes. Also, the training can help prevent employee resentment toward the program.

“By getting the employees involved, I got very early buy-in,” Van Splinter says.

Worthwhile experiment
Investing in environmentally friendly products can be leveraged for its public relations benefit and also gives management some peace of mind regarding employee and public health and safety.

City of Santa Monica custodians have experienced fewer product-related health problems since the switch to less-toxic cleaning products. The indoor air quality of the city’s buildings also has improved. “Many of the custodians expressed being very happy that their headaches and respiratory ailments went away with the new products,” Bruskotter says.

And don’t forget cost savings. Most green products come in bulk concentrate instead of ready-to-use form, which reduces inventory, shipping and disposal costs. Bruskotter says Santa Monica has cut product costs by 5 percent since going green. Foxwoods Casino saved more than $100,000 when it switched to green.

Had a bad experience with green products in the past? Van Splinter says don’t let that dissuade you. The products in this category are evolving and today’s green cleaners, he says, are far more effective and reasonably priced than ever before.
“Someone who evaluated these products five years ago should understand that’s not the end all, be all,” he says. “I don’t care what happened six months or five years ago, you have to try it now.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a free-lance writer based in Des Moines, Iowa.