Greening the Maintenance Arsenal

Colleges and universities are eager to highlight the accomplishments of their students, faculty, and staff. Winners on the court and on the field, on the stage and in the classroom receive extensive coverage in an institution’s communications venues. In addition, if you go to the Websites of many colleges and universities today, you are also likely to view information on their winning green initiatives — and that is good news for everyone.

Maintenance professionals play a critical role in an institution’s environmental program, and the procedures and tools at their disposal continue to evolve as new products and equipment — or improvements to existing offerings — become available. The challenge is to develop procedures to ensure that green products are used as they are intended and to evaluate carefully the products available to find the right fit for each situation.

A First at Tennessee
The University Tennessee, Knoxville (UT) is the first university in the country to be certified for its green cleaning practices by Green Seal, the nation’s leading environmental certifier. The certification, GS-42, Environmental Standards for Cleaning Services, applies to seven buildings on the UT campus that are cleaned by University maintenance personnel.

Sarah Surak, public relations manager and coordinator of sustainable activities on the campus, says that the certification reflects the University’s commitment to sustainability and respect for the environment. “The GS-42 certification is the most recent part of our ‘Make Orange Green,’ program, which focuses on spreading the word about what we are doing from an environmental perspective while also focusing our energies in this area.”

Jack Geibig, UT’s research director at the Center for Clean Products, assembled the team that pursued GS-42 certification. They were required to document all equipment, procedures, training, and other items related to UT’s cleaning products and procedures, and this will continue to be evaluated annually.

Surak contends that using green products and equipment does not always mean that a user is as green as possible unless the products and equipment are properly used. She notes that maintenance personnel receive extensive training and that they are intimately involved in evaluating new products and equipment. Maintenance and cleaning staff monitor use carefully to ensure that the manufacturers’ directions are being followed as intended in order to achieve the maximum benefits.

New products are evaluated based on University needs. In Surak’s opinion, products that are on the market today offer a broader and better range of environmental benefits than their counterparts 10 years ago, and she expects that trend to continue.

On the Equipment Side

Bill Bukowski, director of commercial sales and government for Clarke, notes the mantra when it comes to cleaning and maintenance factors into the green cleaning equation. “‘Do more with less’ is what we continually hear from our customers,” he said. “Budgets are tight and staffs are smaller, but the cleaning requirements are the same or even greater in some cases. Manufacturers of green products must understand these parameters.”

On the equipment side, Bukowski says that customers want products that consume less energy; will contribute to better indoor air quality (IAQ); that operate quietly so that cleaning can be completed during the day; and that require few chemicals and less water, if any are required for the process.

“The automatic scrubber was introduced in 1954, but changes to its mechanical cleaning function remained virtually unchanged except for small changes in power,” Bukowski stated. “Manufacturers of all types of cleaning equipment — vacuums, other floor-care machines, etc. — are continually seeking to provide what customers want, and showcasing green benefits is important when changes occur.”

With automatic scrubbers available today, Bukowski says that customers can expect to decrease both their water and chemical consumption by 50 to 70 percent while also experiencing a 25 percent increase in battery time and a 40 percent increase in pad life. The equipment’s quiet operation also means that it can be used for daytime cleaning. Its most important green feature, however, is the fact that the equipment can deep scrub/strip without using chemicals.

Bukowski encourages cleaning and maintenance personnel to ask for demonstrations and to request an estimate of the institution’s return on investment (ROI) if the product is purchased. In certain cases, green equipment may be more expensive on the front end but may provide a greater ROI both environmentally and financially through time.

Chemical Changes

Corn, soybeans, sunflowers, and palm kernels may sound like ingredients for a food product, but they are also used to manufacture bio-based cleaning products, a more sustainable way to clean according to John Schauff, director of the government services team for Spartanburg Chemical.

“Bio-based products meet the request for products that are more environmentally preferable,” Schauff said. “The bar regarding expectations has been raised, and the marketplace is responding.”

Schauff said that customers want cleaning products that are more natural and that are safer for the user as well as secondary contacts. Customers also want packaging that is sustainable and as minimal as possible.

While many companies are moving away from petroleum-based chemical platforms, the dominant makeup of cleaning products in the past five to 10 years, Schauff noted that “natural” products are sometimes not the safest choice. He encourages users to extensively evaluate all products and to use products that are certified by a reputable third-party certifier.

“All products, whether they are environmentally preferred or petroleum-based, must clean for health and meet all established cleaning standards,” Schauff stated. “If they do not clean as required, keep looking for a better solution.”

Schauff acknowledges that there are two sides to the global warming debate. In his opinion, the bottom line is the same. If a product is better for the environment, safer for users, meets established cleaning standards, and is financially feasible, then why not make the environmentally preferred choice? Perhaps that is a good question for us all.