As the “green” movement gains an even stronger foothold in the jan/san industry, more customers are turning to distributors for help in achieving environmentally friendly goals. Thanks to advancements in technology, distributors can now offer green substitutes for nearly every chemical in their lines with one notable exception — disinfectants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates disinfectants under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and as such the products cannot be labeled or marketed as green. Third-party environmental groups can certify disinfectants, but the products cannot bear their logos or seals of approval.

Since there is no truly green disinfectant available yet, end users who wish to create an environmentally friendly facility are left with a dilemma. How do they balance their desire for green cleaning with the need for disinfection? Often it’s up to distributors to help customers even the environmental scorecard.

“A well-rounded environmental program would have as many green products as possible that still enable the facility to maintain itself in a satisfactory manner,” says Scott Allmendinger, sales manager for Datek Inc., North Little Rock, Ark.

Get Acquainted
The first step in solving your customers’ problems is to identify their needs. Are they trying to qualify as a LEED-certified green facility or do they simply want to use fewer harsh chemicals to reduce worker’s compensation claims? The answer to this question will help you determine their level of commitment to green cleaning.

In many parts of the country, particularly between the coasts, green cleaning isn’t a top priority or even a cause for concern — yet. For customers in these areas a lengthy explanation of the environmental impact of disinfection may prove futile.

For those customers who are interested in making a healthy change, the next step is to determine how important disinfection is to their facility and their cleaning goals. For example, it is critical in a hospital’s patient rooms but may be unnecessary in the lobby.

“I think as a society we over disinfect,” says Nick Spallone, general manager of Tahoe Supply Co., Carson City, Nev. “Not that there’s not a place and need for it, but a lot of times we’d be better suited using less.”

Using less disinfectant must be a priority for a facility that wants to be green. The easiest way to reduce consumption is to limit the product’s use to its primary function.

Disinfectants should be used in areas where pathogens can collect and breed, such as in restrooms, cafeterias, and locker rooms, and on touch points, including light switches and door knobs. For other purposes, such as odor control or floor care, disinfectants can be replaced with green alternatives that work as well or better and are much safer.

Plan Of Attack
To determine how green a customer needs or wants to go, sit with them and devise an individualized program for when and where to use disinfectants based on the type of facility and its occupants. Likewise, determine when a green product would work just as well.

For example, in a hospital where nosocomial infections lead to thousands of deaths each year, the infection-control benefits of disinfectants outweigh the environmental effects. In an elementary school where disinfectants would expose asthmatic children to respiratory irritants, it may be better to skip disinfectants and instead focus on doing a good job of cleaning using green products.

“We don’t need to disinfect the world,” says Rochelle Davis, founding executive director of the Healthy Schools Campaign in Chicago. “Disinfecting should never replace a thorough cleaning. A good cleaning program will minimize the need for disinfectants because it essentially removes the food source needed by bacteria to grow.”

Devising a comprehensive cleaning plan may be time consuming, but it is a critical step for any facility, particularly one striving to go green. Luckily, this step only needs to happen once. When the plan is in place, you can simply replenish supplies as needed.

“If you haven’t made those policy decisions, front-line staffers are left trying to figure it out anew every day,” says Sarah O’Brien, environmentally preferable purchasing program manager for Hospitals for a Healthy Environment in Lyme, N.H. “That’s not an appropriate role for a maintenance worker to be taking on and it’s not a comfortable role for them.”

This planning process is a great time to set your business apart from the competition, which might not have as much time or concern for a customer. Establish trust with the customer by recommending a cleaning plan that’s in the best interest of the facility, not your bottom line.

“When we go to our end user we put their interests ahead of ours,” says George Abiaad, president of Royal Paper Co., Santa Fe Springs, Calif. “We don’t impose an agenda of a particular brand or line that makes sense financially or logistically for us.”

Sales Opportunity
After creating a cleaning plan, help customers achieve their goals by selling them the greenest options available to suit their needs. While the government doesn’t yet allow disinfectants to be labeled green, there are some that are better than others.

There are now disinfectants (pH close to 7) that are less corrosive to eyes and skin than traditional products (pH closer to 0 or 14).

Likewise, newer options have little or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause respiratory irritation. There are also options that are butyl-free (products that 2-butoxyethanol as a solvent can cause health problems).

Avoid selling combined disinfectant/cleaners to green facilities. These products can lead to disinfectant overuse.

Along with a greener disinfectant, be sure to advise green facilities on the benefits of using chemical proportioning systems. Cure grab-and-go behavior with a system that reduces waste by using concentrated products and by controlling usage.

“Sometimes they think more is better, but more isn’t always better,” says Mike Sulkin, president of LBH Chemical & Industrial Supply Inc., Fort Wayne, Ind. “We stop that with chemical management systems.”

Training is important for keeping workers up-to-date on products and procedures. This is particularly true with green cleaning, which may be a new concept for many janitors.

Offer regular training to customers on the proper use of disinfectants and on any green chemicals that may now be used in place of disinfectants. Provide manuals or wall charts that clearly show the user which product they should use on which surface.

“Any changes in practices should be undertaken with assistance from vendors as to correct product usage, mixing, and storage,” O’Brien says.

Remind facilities that want to be green that chemicals are just one piece of the puzzle. Help them identify other products and techniques they can use to create the healthiest possible environment.

Some environmentally friendly changes include switching to recycled paper products and trash bags, using microfiber mops, implementing a recycling program, using vacuums and buffers with HEPA filters, and more.

“We encourage folks to look at the huge array of modifications that can make significant improvements without affecting your disinfection at all,” O’Brien says. “There are hundreds of opportunities to increase efficiency, reduce waste and improve worker safety through green cleaning initiatives.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a Des Moines, Iowa-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to SM.