Does Green Mean Clean?

By Sally Ihmels

We have all heard the popular term “going green.” In making a commitment to reduce global warming, pollution, loss of animal habitats, and other environmental concerns, many organizations, government agencies, and corporations have implemented substantial measures.


It's important to test for effectiveness before committing to using "green" cleaning products.

Parks and recreation entities, specifically, have evolved over the past 10 years to sustain the environment by reducing waste, recycling more, using more environmentally sound products, and becoming more responsible through better policies and procedures.

Environmental concerns are considered in all of these decisions. One such decision is the use of green cleaning products instead of chemicals to clean park facilities.

This decision is more complex than one might think; it involves the evaluation of cost, ease of use, and, most important, effectiveness of the product.

Define The Difference
Why would an organization want to use green cleaning products? Basically, typical chemical cleaners, while effective, have ingredients that are hazardous to the environment.

Some cleaners release vapors into the air while others force a certain amount of residual product down the drain; further, cleaning personnel are exposed to the hazards through their skin and eyes.

Choosing less-hazardous products minimizes the harmful effects on custodial staff, and reduces water and ambient air pollution while cleaning biological and other contaminants from a building’s interior.

Green cleaning products contain biodegradable materials, low toxicity, and low volatile organic contents.

Implement A Policy
Whether an organization uses a contracted custodial service or employs facility custodians and park attendants, the decision to green clean is an important one. Creating an environmentally preferable purchasing program is an initial step.

This policy encourages employees and contractors to purchase and use environmentally preferable products established by the government or other recognized authorities, such as Energy Star, Green Seal, EcoLogo, and EPA Purchasing Guidelines.

With this approach, employees are encouraged to purchase green cleaning products, waste-reduced products, and products made of recycled paper and/or recyclable materials. This ensures consistency in the use of green products for all facilities, and does not leave decisions up to individual employees or contractors.

From Fad To Requirement
For organizations still using traditional chemical products, the question is how effective are green cleaning products? Do they really kill germs?

Consider the city of Henderson, Nev., and its experience with green cleaning. The city uses the Department of Public Works custodians for the main buildings, the park maintenance staff for all park facilities, and contracted custodians to clean recreation and utility services facilities.

Using green cleaning products can be both economical and environmentally friendly.

The Public Works custodians, who clean many of the city’s buildings, which total 790,000 square feet, have been using green products for years.

According to Ed McGuire, facilities maintenance manager, the city first tried green cleaning products 8 years ago; many were tested, and almost all cost more than their chemical counterparts, and used many more products to clean per square foot.

Over the same time period, products have evolved and vastly improved, according to McGuire. With the completion of the city’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold building 3 years ago, green cleaning became a requirement rather than a management decision.

Some of these requirements included using only Green Seal products to clean, low-VOC paint, soap without perfume, and other environmentally sound practices. The city’s custodians now use Green Seal cleaning products in all of their buildings.

“One area we do not use green products at the city and choose to use a hospital-grade disinfectant is for the bio-hazardous areas, namely the nurses’ station at the jail, the crime lab in the police department, and animal control,” says McGuire.

City Custodians Weigh In
City custodians have made it a policy within their division to try the product first for effectiveness, prior to buying. Custodians test the product and complete rating sheets on its performance.

Thus, the most effective product is purchased and used. Currently, the most impressive Green Seal products are the heavy-duty spot cleaners, glass cleaners, floor cleaners, and multipurpose cleaners.

Parks Superintendent Doug Guild agrees with the city’s custodians.

“Parks staff use green products because they are safer and give us good results,” he says. The staff is responsible for cleaning and maintaining more than 54 parks and trails.

“The cost is the same as using chemical products,” he adds.

Green products are used on garbage receptacles, drinking fountains and slides, etc. While green products are effective, parks staff does use chemical disinfectants in a couple of areas, such as urinals and toilets.

Contract For Cleanliness
When contracting with custodial operations, it is critical for employees to use green cleaning products in all facilities.

Most companies are familiar with green products and have their own policy or practice regarding their use. The city of Henderson has contracted with ISS Facility Services (ISS), a worldwide firm operating in more than 53 countries; green cleaning products are required to clean the city’s recreation and utility facilities.

“Concerning the use of green cleaning products, we provide this as an option to (all of) our customers, but we respect our customers’ individual needs,” says Chelsi Bierschwale, ISS communications manager.

Like most companies, ISS has developed its own standards called ISS Green Cleaning, which defines the use and procurement of certified and environmentally friendly chemicals. Through this program, ISS has reduced the use of detergents by 75 percent in 1 year.

Going green can be unnerving in cleaning parks and recreation facilities, but the products have evolved over time. These products provide a great alternative that is environmentally friendly and cost-effective, and also clean as well as their chemical counterparts.

If one is still skeptical, the products can be tested for performance and price. Nothing beats first-hand experience in one’s own facilities.

One thing is clear: green cleaning products offer a safer alternative for humans and the planet.

Sally Ihmels is the Recreation Superintendent for the city of Henderson’s Parks and Recreation Department in Nevada. Reach her at (702) 267-4015, or .