When States, Municipalities and Buildings Go Green

What does it mean to your floor care program when your state or local government decides to go green? Simply put, “green” will impact what you use and how you use it.

Let’s start with a presidential definition. In 1998, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13101, establishing environmentally preferable purchasing. EPP is “Products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose.” The Executive Order recognized the fact that cleaning products can have a negative effect on the welfare of the environment and human health.

Since the EO, 20 states, more than 50 cities and municipalities and at least five counties have specified green buildings, which in many instances includes adopting a green cleaning program. Such mandates affect floor care professionals working in government buildings or looking to contract floor-cleaning services in such an institution. To establish an effective green floor care program, take a two-pronged approach that includes products and processes.

Step One: Products

When a governmental entity goes “green,” there is always a focus on the products used in the buildings. For product selection in Federal buildings, Executive Order 13101 provides the framework for product selection. Other governmental groups have adopted their own definitions for what constitutes an environmentally preferable product. At the root, preferable products consider the following components of a chemical and its application:
  • Toxicity
  • Carcinogens and Reproductive Toxins
  • Skin and Eye Irritation
  • Skin Sensitization
  • Combustability
  • Smog, Ozone, and Indoor Air Quality
  • Aquatic Toxicity
  • Eutrophication
  • Biodegradability
  • Concentrate Packaging
  • Fragrances
  • Prohibited Substances

In order to simplify the process to identify products with reduced health and environmental impacts, third-party certification entities have created standards to help professionals. Products certified by Green Seal must meet numerous criteria for environmental and human safety. Green Seal, an independent non-profit organization founded in 1989, looks at the entire life of a product. The way a product is manufactured, how it is used, what happens when the product gets into the waste stream and even the product packaging are taken into account during the certification process.

Green Seal GS-37 and GS-40 standards for cleaning and floor care chemicals, respectively, have a prohibited-substances list based in part on the organization’s adherence to the Precautionary Principle: in the face of uncertain science on the human or environmental effects of chemicals, the principle promotes action to prevent harm even if all of the data is not available.

Products containing the following ingredients will not receive Green Seal certification:
  • Alkyphenol ethoxylates (APEOs)
  • Phthalates
  • Zinc
  • Other heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, mercury, nickel, selenium
  • Optical brighteners
  • Ozone depleting compounds

Green Seal specifically requires floor finishes to be zinc free. Zinc is a naturally occurring element essential for the health of humans, plants and animals and facilitates healing and protection against infection. Check the ingredients of your multiple vitamins. You’ll see zinc on the list. Even though it’s an essential element, too much zinc is toxic to aquatic plant and animal species. Hence, the EPA has listed zinc as one of 65 toxic pollutants and 126 priority pollutants. Look for zinc-free floor finishes that are the most durable. Many may not perform as well as products containing zinc, which could actually have a negative impact on the environment by requiring more stripping, recoating, and burnishing.

Green Seal also limits the VOC (volatile organic compound) content of certified products. Both global air pollution and the indoor air quality (IAQ) of your facility are impacted by VOCs.

By purchasing Green Seal certified products, professionals can be assured that they are buying a product that meets traditional EPP criteria. If your local government enacts an EPP program, you may want to select Green Seal-certified products to help take the guesswork out of choosing the right products.

Step Two: Processes

Many experts agree that product selection is only the first part of the program when a government entity or other organization truly goes green. Leading green programs go beyond product selection and focus on entire systems benefiting the building and the external environment. Green processes and systems include tools, equipment, product application methods, waste handling guidelines, and total-cost-of-ownership calculations to build on the advantages that come from EPP programs. While proper use of environmentally preferred chemicals reduces the impact of building maintenance on environmental and human health, improper handling can result in a negative impact. For instance, if the wrong chemicals are mixed together, the fumes emitted can negatively affect IAQ. Thus, it is equally important to implement cleaning systems using the right products, tools and procedures to lessen the environmental and health impact of cleaning.

Within the context of floor care, processes that reduce water and energy consumption while having a positive affect on IAQ should be used. When purchasing carpet-cleaning equipment, look for low-moisture carpet-care extractors. Microfiber mopping systems can cut down on water and chemical consumption when cleaning hard floors. Floor care can be energy intensive due to equipment such as vacuum cleaners, carpet extractors and burnishers, so efficient devices with lower energy costs are preferable. Vacuum cleaners carrying the “Green Label” are certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute to have a significant impact on improved IAQ. In addition to water and energy considerations, pay attention to chemical-dispensing systems that are closed-loop and dilute automatically because they not only minimize chemical waste by providing consistent and accurate dilutions, they eliminate exposure to concentrated cleaning and maintenance chemicals.

Tips for the Floor Care Professional

So what should you do if your city, state or building decides to go green? Or maybe you just want to take some steps to make your floor care program safer for your employees, the occupants of the building and the environment?

First, consider all of the products, equipment, approaches and processes used in your program. Find products and processes that reduce the environmental impact and enhance the overall health of the building. Tips for implementing a green floor care program include:
  • Select products that are certified by Green Seal or other recognized third-party certification organization.
  • Use floor cleaning processes and machines that require less water.
  • Consider the temperature of the water used to clean carpets and floors. If possible, lower the temperature to save energy costs.
  • Assure you have an entryway matting program, as it is the first line of defense for preventing dirt from entering your facility.
  • Remove dirt efficiently by selecting vacuums approved by the CRI’s Green Label program.
  • Prevent carbon monoxide pollution by keeping propane-powered floor-care machines well-maintained and operating efficiently.
  • Reduce water and chemical use by adopting microfiber when possible.
  • Improve IAQ by keeping the HVAC system operating when stripping or waxing at night.
  • Analyze wear patterns and scheduling for floor care. Do floors need to be cleaned as often as they are being cleaned or can you capture some water, energy, or product savings?
  • Work closely with your distributor. Use a distributor who offers a full range of environmentally preferable floor care products. A good distributor will pair products together, identifying what will offer the least environmental impact. What additional offerings can he or she provide that will help you reduce your total cost of ownership?
  • Ask your distributor or manufacturer sales rep to put you in contact with other floor care professionals in similar facility types to see what initiatives they have taken.

Because floor care plays an integral role in the indoor air quality of a facility, floor care professionals have a strong influence on the occupants’ overall health. Recognize that an EPP program is the first step of many additional measures you can take when developing a green program.

LEED Certification

Many government entities – federal, state and local – have made the commitment to green buildings following the criteria set out in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system. Green cleaning, of which floor care is an important part, plays an important role in earning points toward certification. In LEED for New Construction, an innovation credit can be earned for a green cleaning program. In LEED for Existing Buildings, the points are even greater. Points can be garnered from the chemicals used (GS 37 and GS 40-certifited), from entryway practices and from equipment used.

Recognizing that products and processes are important components of creating “healthy” buildings, the USGBC’s LEED or LEED-EB certification reviews the overall health and environmental impact of an entire building. A facility can earn points toward certification by reducing water consumption, optimizing energy performance and optimizing use of IAQ compliant products.

Many facilities throughout the U.S. increasingly opt for LEED certification because it not only demonstrates environmental stewardship, but it also enhances the well-being and productivity of building occupants, and results in savings to the bottom line. If you liked this article, circle 130 on the Reader Inquiry Card.

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