Opportunities continue to flourish for green cleaning in government settings — all 87,576 of them — in the United States. These federal, state, and local governments, could be a steady revenue source or even a business bonanza for distributors.

Governments are expected to buy more industrial and institutional cleaning chemicals in the years ahead. Cleveland-based Freedonia Group predicts in its latest I&I Cleaning Chemicals market report that government purchases will grow from $165 million in 2005 to $223 million in 2010, and onto $291 million in 2015, a 6.2 percent annual growth rate.

And some of those government dollars will be spent on green cleaning chemicals. “Green cleaning is becoming important everywhere, but government agencies and schools are leading the way,” says Jim Beard, vice president of marketing at State Industrial Products, Cleveland.

“Because government in general, and schools in particular, have specific responsibilities to protect their constituents, as well as workable systems to mandate operations change, they have led the market in adopting green cleaning approaches,” Beard says.

In some ways, government agencies have carried the torch for green cleaning. Federal agencies continue to take up the green torch. At least five agencies — the Department of the Interior, Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Postal Service and the National Park Service — all reference Green Seal-certified products.

House Democrats are pushing a “Green the Capitol” initiative to ensure that up-to-date industry and government standards for green building and green operating procedures are in place inside buildings on Capitol Hill.

One recommendation in a preliminary report on the initiative is to: “give priority to the purchase of climate neutral products that offset the life cycle contribution of greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, purchase only adhesive, sealants, paints, coating and carpets that emit very low quantities of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).”

Another recommendation in the “Green the Capitol” report is that a Green Expo be staged so that commercial vendors can display and demonstrate the latest in green products or services available to government offices.

On The (Green) Road
Consider mass-transit districts as a possible green customer. Of the 35,052 special district governments in the United States, there are 444 mass transit districts like the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) in San Francisco and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA, the Metro) in and around Washington, D.C.

The WMATA is currently testing a variety of products that have met Green Seal’s GS-37 standard for cleaning products, says Joan LeLacheur, WMATA’s environmental manager.

Plans call for testing to be completed sometime in 2008, says LeLacheur. Some of the product characteristics that the WMATA’s custodial group is evaluating are efficacy, cost, levels of toxicity and ease of use.

“The goal of the custodial teams is to come up with a qualified product list (QPL), or some type of specification so that vendors can bid it,” adds LeLacheur. “Grease is a big issue in the WMATA’s garages, and some of the green products are hydrogen peroxide-based, and that will break down the grease, but it tends to leave a film, so our custodial teams are looking at those products carefully.”

Another goal in the product evaluation is to find substitutes for the ammonia and bleach products that are currently used.

WMATA custodians are challenged with maintaining the agency’s 28 buildings, ranging from 10 years in age to over 100 years old. Deteriorating grout and tile is one of the infrastructure challenges that WMATA is facing in its older bus garages.

One piece of advice that LeLacheur offers to vendors of sanitary supplies: “I think it would be helpful to distributors to have the products they carry be registered or certified as green products, by organizations like Green Seal. If the products are registered or certified by a good organization, that helps our staffers to find them.”

LeLacheur says her custodial teams rely on the Green Seal Web site to locate green products.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) is a busy public service — it carried 138 million bus, rail and paratransit riders in 2006 — and it is moving forward on green cleaning in several directions, says Leon Spivey, MARTA’s manager of custodial and landscape maintenance.

Some of these green efforts include replacing the main chemical used in station cleaning to an ecologically and environmentally safe soy-based product; and reducing the use of bleach because of its health effects on people with asthma or other breathing problems.

Spivey says that while green cleaning has always been important in transit operations, the chemicals needed to do a good job had not been available until recently.

“The technology is getting better, and the chemicals that are being produced as bio-friendly are improving in effectiveness,” Spivey notes.

Distributors may want to provide samples of supplies to mass-transit operators in their market area.

“We test cleaning products that vendors bring us all the time,” Spivey explains. “Usually the vendors contact Contracts & Procurement, and they refer them to the area within MARTA that may be interested in their products. We tell the vendors that the products must be competitively priced, and that they must be effective.”

Leading The Way
“Some of the first organizations that were interested in green cleaning were government agencies and school districts,” says Keith Schneringer, marketing manager at WAXIE Sanitary Supply, San Diego. “School districts continue to have an increased interest in green cleaning. These districts have said and are saying, ‘green cleaning sounds like something that fits with our mission and the way we want to do things here.’”

Though distributors have known about the success of selling green programs in public school districts, with approximately 13,506 public school districts in the United States, this market promises to be ripe for years to come.

In Cabarrus County, N.C., Mount Pleasant High School janitors are now using environmentally friendly cleaning supplies that are odor-free as well as free of ammonia and zinc. Custodians at the school are also cleaning floors with microfiber mops and with high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA) vacuum cleaners.

Four new Cabarrus County schools currently under construction will also operate green when they open their doors in August.

Some districts are even further along in greening their facilities. At Lockwood Township High School, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, custodial crews started the shift to green cleaning about three years ago, when they switched to HEPA vacuum cleaners to reduce dust.

“We started with just one or two products, and today, 80 to 90 percent of our janitorial work is done with Green Seal-certified products, and we use a lot less specialty solutions,” says Bill Thompson, facility manager at the high school.

Also in Illinois, Wabash Community Unit School District No. 348 has shifted to green cleaning practices in a big way.

“Eliminating aerosols and significantly reducing our reliance on ready-to-use products by switching to environmentally preferred, dilution-controlled green products has reduced costs, consumption of natural resources and unnecessary exposure to hazardous cleaning chemicals,” says Tim Buss, superintendent for the Wabash district, Mt. Carmel, Ill.

Buss says the district has also switched to microfiber and static mops which last longer than the cotton varieties used in the past, producing more cost savings.

These Illinois schools are already ahead of a new mandate — in May, the Illinois General Assembly voted to mandate green cleaning in schools, only the second state to do so.

“Distributors and suppliers can provide guidance and educate on resources and tools for green cleaning and cleaning for health,” says Thompson.

Organization-wide buy-in is essential. No matter what level of government, distributors should try to get support at each rung of the organizational ladder, says Beard.

“For a green cleaning initiative to succeed, it must work well at all levels of the organization,” Beard enforces. “At the policy level, it must be a valid green option, most likely verified by a robust standard like Green Seal. On the front-line, the housekeeping staff must experience products that are effective and easy to use.”

Beard says employees at State Industrial Products recommend end users hold a field trial for cleaning systems, to be sure the program truly meets the needs of everyone in the organization.

Michael Keating is research manager for Government Product News and Government Procurement magazines. He can be reached at mikekeat@gmail.com. His Web site is www.mikekeat.net.