As we move into the sustainability era, it may feel like the word “green” is being put in front of everything – green building, green travel, green products. So what exactly would define what the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification system calls a “green cleaning policy” from a regular cleaning policy?
First, we must look at the intent behind developing a green cleaning policy. A green cleaning policy is intended to protect building occupants and maintenance personnel from hazardous chemicals and biological or particulate contaminants. In addition to the negative effects on human health that these indoor pollutants can cause, they can also adversely affect air quality, building integrity, and the environment.
For these reasons, a green cleaning policy seeks to establish guidelines for the purchase of cleaning products and equipment that meet certain sustainability criteria as well as the development of operational and maintenance guidelines that ensure safe handling and storage of cleaning materials. A policy is comprehensive, establishing a connection between the products used and the people who use them. Developing a green cleaning policy for a large building means coordinating staff across divisions. People from the janitorial department must communicate with the purchasing department and the maintenance department. A green cleaning policy outlines clear tasks and responsibilities for each group as well as clear guidelines by which to make cleaning decisions.
Because development of a green cleaning policy is a prerequisite for LEED certification, this means the building that you work in has a policy in place that is actively working to protect your health and well-being as well as that of the environment. So, how can we bring these same green cleaning principles into the home?
Perhaps the easiest way is by becoming more informed consumers. One of the sustainable cleaning product certification systems used by LEED, called Green Seal, has a searchable online database of products that have qualified as sustainable under their guidelines. Their Green Seal Environmental Standard for Household Cleaning Products, or GS-8, specifically address cleaning products designed for use in a residential setting through requirements such as reduced toxicity, biodegradability, and reduced and recyclable packaging.
When you’re in the store and don’t see a Green Seal label, though, it can be hard to differentiate products. Many times consumers can become victims of “greenwashing” where a company uses words such as “organic” or “natural” to describe products that are not better for the environment than conventional products, or that may even be harmful. To combat this, a non-profit organization called The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is working to empower consumers against greenwashing. Through EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning you can search for cleaning products to see what score they receive on a scale from A to F based on intensive studies of their composition – and you will likely be surprised by what you find.
When it comes to choosing cleaning products, more information is always better. To make the best choices possible for you, your families, and the environment, do some research. Thanks to growing awareness surrounding the potential negative side effects of cleaning materials, information is now easily accessible with a click of the mouse.
Still not sure how you feel about trusting someone else’s evaluation of the health and environmental safety of a product? Then make your own! Common household items such as vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, and rubbing alcohol can be combined to create cleaning products that are effective and completely transparent when it comes to the ingredients list.
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