by Stephen P. Ashkin
Implementing a Green Cleaning program in a healthcare facility can be a bit more complicated than implementing such a program in a school or office building. One of the first issues is that many medical facilities are legally required to clean certain surfaces with specific types of products, such as disinfectants and sanitizers. While there are Green-certified disinfectants and sanitizers in use in some areas of the world, they are not recognized in the U.S. While is discussion about this policy, at this time only EPA-registered disinfectants may be sold or marketed in the U.S.
Another issue related to this is that medical facilities typically are made up of many different areas. Whereas an office building will have work areas, common areas, and restrooms, a hospital will have patient rooms, operatory and emergency areas, offices, public and private restrooms, public and private food service areas, retail outlets, etc. In some of these areas, Green Cleaning programs can be implemented and in others it may not be possible or may be a bit more complicated.
Because of this, I suggest healthcare facilities take a “three bucket” approach to Green Cleaning. The gist of the approach involves the following:
- First bucket: Items that can be completed now at little or no extra cost, but still have a significant benefit. A good example of this would be transferring to healthier Green Cleaning chemicals. While these chemicals cannot be used in certain areas of a medical facility, we will be able to use them in many others. Simply selecting Green alternatives to the chemicals now in use is an easy first step and, now that most Green chemicals are cost competitive, not a costly one either. Other options include switching to microfiber cleaning clothes as well as the installation of high-performance matting systems at all key building entries. Further, it is very important to communicate the facility’s green goals with the entire organization for buy in and acceptance of the program.
- Second bucket: Items that can be implemented over time and are not too costly. For instance, when they reach the end of their lifespan, replace conventional vacuum cleaners with those that have more advanced air filtration systems. Related to this, backpack vacuum cleaners should be selected to replace dust mops to help protect indoor air quality. Terry cloth towels should be replaced with microfiber. If not already installed, auto dilution systems, which properly mix chemicals, should be installed in all janitorial closets.
- Third bucket: More costly items that may take several months, if not several years, to replace. For instance, low moisture carpet extractors that work effectively using cold water should be selected as older machines reach the end of their lifespan. Similarly, floor machines that use less water and chemical are now available. Another option is to consider floor machines and cleaning systems that use no chemicals at all, cleaning floors and other surfaces effectively by using “activated” water, a new and promising technology.
With each “bucket,” medical facility administrators are advised that without proper training of housekeeping personnel, the entire Green Cleaning strategy can fail. Green Cleaning is far more than just the use of environmentally preferable products. There is a “systems” approach to Green Cleaning that involves how areas are cleaned, how and what tools and chemicals are used, and even how and why the program is being implemented. Effective training of custodial workers will result in a more effective Green Cleaning strategy and a healthier overall program.
Stephen P. Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating building owners and suppliers about Green Cleaning.