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The evolution of green cleaning

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Today, smart businesses recognize the health and economic benefits of green cleaning. Yet, not so very long ago, the practice seemed light-years away from being a practical reality.

Now the buzz is all about green building and maintenance.

"Green buildings provide operational performance, environmental sensitivity and improved health for their occupants. It's a triple bottom line great companies can relate to," said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Before green cleaning was a buzzword

Where did it all begin? According to architects, sustainable design -- or building with the ecological environment in mind -- dates back to early humans.

They lived in caves or built shelters of stone, wood, mud and grasses. When abandoned, the man-made shelters would eventually return to the natural ecosystem. Over time, however, building materials changed, and structures could withstand harsher conditions.

As a result, buildings no longer recycled themselves back to nature. In addition, we began to require larger and stronger buildings for business and industry.

The manufacturing of building materials and the energy consumption of massive structures placed an enormous strain on the environment.

The term "conservation," which came into existence in the late 19th century, means the management of natural resources.

By the 1960s, alarming research showed the harm that chemicals and pesticides inflicted on the environment.

The energy crisis of the 1970s caused people to question the wisdom of relying on fossil fuels for transportation and buildings. Architects began paying closer attention to designs that were more ecologically friendly. Eventually this practice became known as "green building."

Six years ago, the USGBC developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System (LEED), which certifies buildings as "green" if they meet certain criteria.

While not every real estate developer has jumped on the green building bandwagon, the real results from the early adopters have led many to see the true value.

The U.S. government has mandated green practices in federal buildings. Green cleaning has become vital to the maintenance of green buildings in addition to traditional buildings.

And now, earth-friendly cleaning products are on par with their conventional counterparts in both effectiveness and price.

According to a recent article in Real Estate Weekly, "As the industry has become more aware of the benefits of green cleaning, the products have significantly improved, and because they are more readily available ... it now costs nearly the same to buy green products (as traditional products), whereas five years ago it would have been 50 percent more."

In addition, technological advances in cleaning equipment -- such as vacuum cleaners and even dusting cloths -- have made these tools better for the environment and more efficient.

When you factor in the other benefits listed below to determine the true cost, green cleaning can more than pay for itself in the long run.

The benefits

Green cleaning programs promote health, safety and social consciousness. Processes focus on improving indoor air quality, recycling and minimizing the use of raw materials and toxic products that require disposal.

Green cleaning can:

¥ Help decrease air pollution, water pollution, ozone depletion and global climate change.

¥ Help reduce health problems associated with allergens, chemical sensitivities and contaminants such as mold and bacteria. Green cleaning products contain low VOC (volatile organic compound) levels that emit fewer fumes and are gentler on the facility itself.

¥ Increase worker satisfaction, improve morale, reduce absenteeism and increase productivity, efficiency and retention. These statistics are well documented.

¥ Help reduce costs to building management, tenants and/or the janitorial company, including costs associated with sick leave, health care and productivity loss. In addition, green cleaning practitioners use energy-efficient equipment and focus on preventative maintenance to reduce expenses.

¥ Enhance an organization's reputation and brand equity, because being socially conscious has become a desirable business trait.

To infinity and beyond

Twenty years ago, few resources existed on green building and cleaning. Today information is readily available through many organizations, including the USGBC, the American Planning Association, the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology, Sustainable Industry Buildings Council, the Unified Green Cleaning Alliance and more.

Conferences, such as the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, annually attract thousands who come to learn the latest on green products and services through educational tracks and exhibits.

In addition, some large janitorial companies specialize in green cleaning and offer expertise in planning and implementing customized programs. And if you still require more information, an online search for "green cleaning practices" will return about 14 million results.

What does the future hold? Green has surely taken hold.

"We can safely say that green buildings are no longer a fad, but rather an increasingly important new way of doing business," said Harvey Bernstein, vice president of Industry Analytics and Alliances, for McGraw Hill Construction.

The USGBC's Fedrizzi comments, "Green building isn't the wave of the future. It's the reality of the present. The question is no longer why build green; the question is why wouldn't you?"

Additional indicators that green will only gain popularity include the March 20, 2006 issue of Fortune magazine, which contains an advertising special feature called "Building A Greener Future" -- the second issue of its kind in just 18 months.

Green cleaning will continue to gain ground as more companies see positive results from those who decided to go green early.

Not only does it go hand-in-hand with green building, it is increasingly important for businesses in buildings that were not built green. Beginning in 2004, existing non-green buildings could seek certification under LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB), and in 2005, LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI) was launched to certify "high-performance green interiors that are healthy, productive places to work, are less costly to operate and maintain, and reduce the environmental footprint."

Many smaller businesses and schools that might not seek LEED certification have also embraced green cleaning as an important factor in creating a healthier environment for employees, customers, students and other occupants.

While some building owners and property managers may think it's not easy being green -- they will soon find out that information, resources and expert providers are available today to implement green cleaning programs in big or small steps. In fact, green is the only way to go if you consider what George Burns once said: "I look to the future because that's where I'm going to spend the rest of my life."

Jensen-Murphy is vice president of strategic sales for OneSource.

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