ICS Magazine

The Impact of Green

June 6, 2008


Green has arrived, and there is not much chance of getting the genie back in the bottle. It is here and you better believe it’s impacting your business. The question is, what are you going to do about it?

The term “Green” comes from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) a non-profit organization that certifies sustainable buildings and neighborhoods. The USGBC created the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System to provide sustainable standards for several types of buildings. The six prime target areas are: sustainable site development; water savings; energy efficiency; materials and resources selection; indoor environmental quality and innovation and design process. To achieve LEED certification, buildings must earn points in one of the many LEED Rating Systems categories validated through a third-party certifier.

Green is more than just safe cleaning chemicals, although chemicals have a great deal to do with the green movement. Green is an attitude, a commitment to the environment and a dedication to leaving a smaller carbon footprint on the planet. There are several factors that come into play when it comes to balancing the challenges of becoming “green” and the craft of hard-floor maintenance.

From the time it is installed until it is removed, the floor covering is subjected to various levels of floor maintenance. The service procedures incorporated in the program range from simple dry procedures to complex restorative projects. At each level there is a combination of chemistry, equipment and best practices required for completing the task. The floor maintenance technician should learn some basic green principles to understand the program and get through this transitional time.

Hard-floor maintenance incorporates the use of cleaning chemicals as well as coating chemicals. The primary concern surrounding these chemicals is the hazardous substances contained in them. Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), corrosive substances and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) top the list.

Alkylphenol ethoxylate surfactants contribute to aquatic toxicity, as well as having the potential to enter and attack the human body, potentially causing cancer or leading to birth defects.

Corrosive substances are powerfully irritating products that may cause serious skin or eye damage when exposed to them. Stripping chemicals and degreasers are usually alkaline products that have a high pH value (10 to 14), which can be quite caustic. The use of acidic products with a low pH value (0 to 6) can produce the same outcome; levels on either side can be caustic to the skin, eyes and respiratory system; many technicians can attest to the painfulness of chemical burns.

Volatile organic compounds are air pollutants consisting of organic compounds that evaporate at a relatively low temperature and contribute to air pollution. There are many floor maintenance chemicals that actually contain high levels of VOCs.

Additionally, zinc is used in many floor seals and/or finishes, the waste of which may be toxic to creatures living in streams, rivers and lakes, should these wastes be deposited in them.

When selecting floor-maintenance chemicals for green projects, purchase products that do not contain carcinogens or toxins; ammonia; ammonium hydroxide; ammonium salts; alkylphenol ethoxylates or dibutyl phthalates. Avoid purchasing products that contain glycol ethers. Select seals or finishes that do not contain metals such as zinc. Select products that have lower pH values and fewer VOCs. Of course, as with all chemicals, when they need to be disposed of, make sure it is in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.

How the products are packaged is equally important. Many products are packaged in post-consumer recycled materials and many are made of recyclable materials themselves. More and more companies are making concentrates and super-concentrates to reduce the amount of packaging materials needed. Purchasing by bulk can also contribute to less waste; buy pails over gallons when possible and drums over pails if you have resources to move and store them.

Equipment, tools and materials are also under the spotlight. Soil that is stopped at the door has no chance of attacking the floor, so matting systems are an integral part of green cleaning and a point can be awarded to those buildings that address entryway systems. The purchase of sustainable cleaning equipment is also a part of the program. Electric, battery and propane-powered equipment have been included in the mix. Dust-capture systems for floor buffers and burnishers are part of the system. Automatic scrubbing machines with variable-speed pumps and metered chemical systems that minimize the use of cleaning solutions are preferred. Gel batteries are environmentally preferable to traditional batteries in all-battery-powered equipment. Propane equipment must be monitored closely and high-efficiency, low-emission engines with catalytic converters and mufflers are required. Reducing the amount of carbon monoxide discharged into the environment and noise reduction are critical to the success of the system.

All equipment must be designed with safeguards to protect the facility. The incorporation of rollers, bumpers and cord protectors will help to prevent potential damage to the facility. Equipment must also be ergonomically correct for the technician to ensure less vibration and noise as well as reducing user fatigue. In the future, more and more equipment will be manufactured under these guidelines.

Green cleaning is directly related to how the chemicals, equipment, tools and materials are selected and how programs are implemented. The purchase of sustainable hard-floor maintenance chemicals and equipment that meet the sustainable criteria is part of the process as well as how they are handled and stored. Standard operating procedures are developed, managed and audited to ensure building occupants are protected. Training maintenance personnel in the safe use, disposal and/or recycling of these products is another important aspect of the green cleaning plan. All of this is established and included in each facility’s green cleaning policies.

If you truly, absolutely must have “green” hard-floor maintenance, the sustainable solution is simple: invest in the broom and dustpan. There are no harsh chemicals, abrasives, or coatings to contend with and very little impact on the environment. Unfortunately, it will be insufficient to maintain any facility in a manner that is acceptable. The future is green and its not going to change; it is up to all of us to make the necessary adjustments and find a way to put the programs in place.