Davis photoWhen members of our sales team recently visited a local school and attempted to discuss green cleaning with an administrator, the reception was definitely not warm. The administrator railed against the idea — he said green is a gimmick perpetuated by greedy suppliers and radical environmentalists. On top of that, he said the products were overpriced and that they didn’t perform well.

This reaction is extreme, yet many would agree to a point. A year and a half ago, when my supplier introduced its green program and asked us to buy into it, I did not see the benefit of green cleaning, either. However, my opinion changed, and our company now actively markets the concept.

What changed my mind? The main reasons are: 1.) the need to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) 2.) the safety, economy, and efficacy of the products, and 3.) the competitive advantage afforded suppliers who promote the concept.

Clean air is one of the basic elements that humans require to live. Harsh chemicals such as sodium hypochlorite (bleach), butyls used in degreasers and strippers, hydrochloric acid formulated into bowl cleaners, and strong deodorizing fragrances can wreak havoc on IAQ. Many people experience headaches, nausea, or dizziness when they come in contact with the harmful gases these chemicals produce. Others have trouble breathing — especially asthma sufferers.

Asthma affects 20 percent of Americans, including 6.3 million children, and has become the leading cause of school absenteeism. Fifteen percent of all school children are considered asthmatic, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yet many school restrooms are doused with bleach daily to control urine odors and harmful germs.

Green cleaning chemicals are designed to eliminate the presence of harmful gases that trigger asthma attacks or other reactions.

Besides improving air quality, workers benefit from using green chemicals because they are milder and less caustic to skin. The pH is generally much lower, which reduces the chance of epidermal irritation. Green chemicals also lack perfumes and dyes that can stain skin and fixtures. When used through a good chemical proportioning system and combined with good personal protective gear, such as gloves and goggles, workers reduce liklihood of contact and are safer. As a result, morale and productivity improve.

The cost of high-quality green products is no more than what you’d pay for any other high quality product. While it’s true that some green products were marketed at a premium price point when they were introduced in the late 1980s and early 1990s, that is no longer the case. End users can also reduce costs since green programs typically streamline the number of chemical components required. If you account for an increase in productivity, plus the reduction in liability costs, green products offer a favorable economic outcome.

Jan/san distributors can gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace by embracing the concept of green cleaning. Use your knowledge of green cleaning to bring value to all the markets you serve and distinguish yourself from the competition. Green’s momentum is undeniable; there are federal executive orders mandating the greening of the government by December 31, 2006. That means that all contract cleaners that service any federal building must comply. Use this opportunity to act proactively and you will be seen as an innovator.

These are just a few of the many compelling reasons for distributors to focus on green cleaning. Challenge yourself to research the issue and develop a green cleaning program for your customers. With so many benefits, the real question becomes, “Why not green clean?”

Louie Davis Jr. is a 23-year veteran of the jan/san business, having worked on the manufacturing and distribution sides. He is currently director of sales for Central Paper Co., in Birmingham, Ala.