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A Look at Restrooms Around the World on World Toilet Day

Every year on Nov. 19th, World Toilet Day is celebrated with the goal of inspiring action and improving the global sanitation crisis. Sadly, more than 4.5 billion people throughout the world live without access to a household toilet, and this absence of a clean, sanitary environment not only fuels the spread of disease, it reinforces the cycle of poverty. In contrast, restroom sanitation is a key cultural focus in other parts of the world, reinforced through stories and song. In recognition of World Toilet Day, we’re looking at significance of restrooms in two very different parts of the world and how various these societies treat the people who are responsible for keeping them clean.

HAITI: In a place like Haiti where there’s no sewer system, more than 3 million residents (1 in 5 Haitians) use outhouses—so nearly every restroom is “public.” The people charged with cleaning out public toilets are known as bayakou. Their jobs are critical because Haiti is in the midst of a cholera epidemic. Deemed a “significant threat to global public health,” cholera results from poor hygiene, limited access to sanitation and inadequate water supply. While their jobs are critical to the health of people and children in Haiti, bayakou are often so scorned by the public that some never tell their spouses what they do for a living. Oftentimes, they clean at night because the smell is less intense and so they can hide in the darkness.

With no sewer systems in place, public restrooms in Haiti are cleaned by workers known as bayakou who often don’t tell their families about their work because of their shame.

JAPAN: On the other side of the world in Japan, visitors can expect the opposite experience when entering a public restroom. As writer Kaori Shoji suggests in the Japan Times, “you can expect a certain standard of cleanliness and tsukaiyasusa (accessibility) in most nooks and crannies.” This is because the restroom is a “prime feature of Japanese life” to the point that lore suggested daughters who cleaned the family toilet were destined to become beautiful, and would in turn bear beautiful daughters. In 2010, the song “Toire no Kamisama” or “The Toilet God” was a best seller, and just two years ago, the Japanese government launched the Japan Toilet Prize to “ensure that washrooms are always clean and safe.”

In U.S., we’re somewhere in the middle. While we’re fortunate to have access to public restrooms and sewage systems to reduce our exposure to diseases like cholera, it’s far from being treated as the most important room in the house when it comes to cleaning. In many facilities, the people who clean these areas are unappreciated for what they do. In the (OS1) System, we call these workers “restroom specialists.” But because their work goes unrecognized in most buildings, few restroom cleaners take pride in what they do. You’ll often hear custodians joke about being the “queen of the latrine” or “chief of the toilet brigade.”

Yet the role of the restroom specialist is no joke—it’s hard work and critical to business. In a recent Facility Cleaning Decisions survey, 56 percent of cleaning professionals say that restrooms are the most difficult areas in a facility to keep clean. Lack of supplies, trash, odor and spills are common issues plaguing cleaning workers.

From the customer perspective, a dirty restroom is a major turn-off. Seventy-five percent of U.S. adults say they wouldn’t return to a restaurant with dirty restrooms. An article featured earlier this month in Convenience Store Decisions found the same — “Clean Restrooms Are Good Business” it concluded.

So what is needed to help improve restroom cleanliness in the U.S.? A few things:

  1. Educating more people about the implications of a dirty restroom. A dirty restroom not only poses health risks, but also can also be a deterrent to customers.
  2. Appreciating, recognizing and supporting restroom specialists and custodians responsible for cleaning the restrooms.
  3. Moving beyond “the box” mentality. Restroom cleaning isn’t just a little box someone checks off after they have picked up a few pieces of stray paper towels. It needs to be a system that regularly monitors and maintains restroom surfaces in a way that ensures a consistent level of cleanliness—and health.

If you want to recognize World Toilet Day, you have a couple of options. To help reduce the number of people without access to a household toilet, you can donate to the World Toilet Organization, which is a non-profit organization aimed at providing a clean and safe toilet for everyone, everywhere at all times.

You can also take a minute to thank the person who cleans the public restrooms where you work or visit. By letting them know you appreciate what they do, you help improve their appreciation and respect for the work they perform.

Additional resources: “Inside the Hidden Dangers of Life without Toilets.”

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Why Cleaning Professionals Are Flocking to Janitor University

You know that feeling you get when you step off a roller coaster? That disoriented moment when you try to collect your thoughts because the rush was so incredible that “what’s next” becomes secondary to “wow, I can’t believe that just happened.”

That’s us right now, coming off a high from one of the best weeks of Janitor University (JU) in its almost 25-year history. We had the largest class in several years, with a diverse group of attendees joining us from academia, government agencies, laboratories and building service contractors. Some attendees were taking refresher courses to earn their masters or professor certificates, but we also hosted a lot newcomers to the class. Why is this exciting? Because it tells us that many professionals are interested in learning how to manage cleaning in a way that promotes a healthy indoor environment rather than polluting the indoors by spreading around dirt through ineffective products and practices.

As students get settled in on the first day, we talk through the current issues in the industry and why a standardized approach to cleaning is so important.

Since we’re regularly out in the field working one-on-one with managers, janitors and custodians, we have a lot of great images and stories that bring these points to life. The most important lesson during the first day of class is the stigma attached to cleaning and how we need to work in a way that brings professionalism to the industry and pride to the individuals performing the work. tThe first day of this course sets up the next day where we defined what a high performance cleaning system looks like.

On the second day of the program, we review the four most important functions of cleaning management. This includes:

1) Daily kitting and how to monitor the amount of solution and product used by custodial workers.

2) Tracking communication for complaints, requests, mistakes and compliments.

3) Practical tracking of equipment use in order to plan for preventative maintenance.

4) Performing quality assessments internally based on process factors. We like to call this “quality assessments without the white glove.”

Another great piece students to JU enjoy is the work loading exercise. Recognizing that most cleaning professionals can’t agree on a common-set of work loading terms, we distill the components into a game to help simplify the principles behind work loading. Because, simplification! Beyond all the knowledge and education, attendees also benefit from the networking that happens during the event. We regularly hear stories from people who develop professional contacts and friendships that last long after Janitor University is over.

All attendees are encouraged to sign up for the class at least once every three years, because we’re regularly updating the curriculum so it reflects the current recommended best practices for cleaning.

Albert Einstein once said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” As an industry, we have to get smarter and change the way we’re cleaning our buildings. If the students to last week’s JU are any indication, we’re on the way. We’ve had more than 2,000 people complete the program over the years, and attendees regularly tell us that JU is the most comprehensive cleaning management curriculum they’ve seen.

If you’re interested in participating in an upcoming Janitor University, stay tuned! We’ve got exciting news as we’ll be taking JU on the road in 2018. We are looking for more ways to enable cleaning professionals to participate in our courses, so we hope you’ll join us!

 

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Understanding Topophilia and How It Impacts Productivity in the Workplace

Have you heard of the term “topophilia”? It’s a term that highlights how people feel about a place. As we work to create more productive and innovative work environments, ManageMen’s Ben Walker suggests in this month’s issue of Facility Cleaning Decisions that the cleanliness of a work environment will directly impact not just WHAT people feel about where they work, but also HOW they feel while they’re working.

Read the full article here.

The Universal Language of Cleaning

Language. It’s one of the most beautiful yet challenging aspects of training custodial workers. Because many cleaners have either recently immigrated to the U.S. or are first-generation citizens, our trainers and auditors encounter a variety of languages in the field—Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Burmese, French and Polish, just to name a few. Within those languages, we encounter even more sub-languages; for example, Cubans in Florida speak a different dialect of Spanish than Guatemalans. The French spoken by Haitians is different than French spoken in Montreal. You can imagine the challenge this presents during training or when we create training materials for custodial workers.

One might think that because many immigrants tend to live in close-knit communities with others from their same region, that they may not want or need  to learn English when they come to the U.S.; however, research points to the opposite. In the book “Learning a New Land: Immigrant Students in American Society,” researchers found that 99 percent of immigrant students studied felt that English was important for them to learn. Many immigrants want to learn English not only to assist with social interactions, but because they feel it’s critical for success—another study reveals that 85 percent of immigrants say that it is hard to get a good job or do well in the U.S. without learning English.

So how do we communicate with workers while also providing them with tools to educate and empower them? We do it with the language of (OS1ian). If you’ve ever spent any time in a hospital listening to doctors and nurses converse, you know that they have their own set of terms which can make it sound like they are speaking gibberish to anyone not in the medical profession. Similarly, lawyers communicate using “legalese”—technical jargon that fill legal documents. So, we asked, why not develop a professional language for the cleaning industry?

Just a few of the key terms a Restroom Specialist must learn to speak (OS1)ian.

(OS1)ian — a universal language for the cleaning industry— was developed based on specialist duties and identifyed key terms associated with each position. Each position has approximately 45 basic words and 10 to 15 terms that a specialist must be able to use in their day-to-day operations. For example, the vocabulary of a vacuum specialist includes vac station, paddle tool and inspect plug. A light-duty specialist will learn terms like wastebasket, barrel and fill line.

To assist with literacy, specialists complete an (OS1)ian worksheet in Boot Camp with the key terms provided in greyscale. The intent isn’t to test or trick workers, but to help them develop both written and oral proficiency of the terms. As the cleaner adopts new responsibilities, their vocabulary will expand to include as many as 250 phrases, helping them develop a working English vocabulary.

Before rolling (OS1ian) out, we tested it with a third-shift crew at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who spoke Chinese, Russian and Romanian. It was met with an overwhelming reception—finally, we were all able to speak the same language. In years since, we’ve found that using a standardized vocabulary benefits workers with dyslexia, functional illiteracy and cognitive perception disorders.

When everyone speaks the same language, cleaning processes and systems are safer and more efficient —there are fewer misunderstandings and mistakes. But the benefits extend well beyond the workplace—learning (OS1ian) empowers workers personally as well. It provides them with common set of English terms to set them on a path of career success as they create a new life in the U.S.

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.

‒Ludwig Wittgenstein

The Problem with the Way We’re Training Custodial Workers Today

So he could afford his daughter’s tuition at a local private school, Bob took on a second job as a custodian at the school. He looked forward to the job, much of his day was spent behind a desk, so custodial work would keep him active and involved in her school. He was also was excited to learn something new.

On his first day, Bob showed up for work and was shown a short movie about cleaning chemicals and how to use them. Next, his boss showed him his cart which overflowed with spray bottles, cloths, bags, gloves, floor scrapers and mops. “Duane’s going to show you around tonight,” he advised. “Tomorrow you’ll start on your own.”

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” Duane told him as they walked between classrooms. “I know they say to clean from top to bottom, but I’ve got a great system down that works for me.”

The next day, Bob was on his own. The work was hard—much harder than he expected. He strained his back emptying trash and his hands cramped from mopping the floor. When he woke up the next morning, he had trouble getting out of bed. After a few weeks, Bob quit. He found another job at a local warehouse that would help him supplement tuition costs. But had he received the proper training, there’s a good chance Bob would still be there today.

 

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Injury caused from improper lifting or repetitive motions is just one of the many issues that can result when we neglect to train our custodial workers. In many cleaning operations, custodial training includes a hodgepodge of show-and-tell, classroom-style instruction and vendor-led training programs specific to a particular product. Very few cleaning operations have a comprehensive training program in place that not only teaches employees HOW to clean, but WHY they clean. Training should not only provide workers with the overall understanding of why their jobs are critical and how cleaning impacts the health of people in the buildings they clean, but also protocols for how and when to perform specific cleaning tasks.

Last week, we held our annual (OS1) Coach Class. This intensive two-day program provides trainers and instructors with the latest information and resources needed to maintain a world-class cleaning program. One of the key benefits to this class is that participants share best practices and insights they have gathered as they plan their schedule for the upcoming year. We are continually updating our curriculum so that all of the (OS1) trainers and coaches have the most recent research and data to support their cleaning protocols. The coaches then take these training programs back to their facilities and use them to conduct ongoing education for their custodial teams during the next year. 

Participants in our (OS1) Coach Class spend an intensive two days learning and planning custodial training programs for 2018.

Our studies have found that cleaning operations supported with a comprehensive training program, such as that which is provided within the (OS1) System, can improve productivity by as much as 16 percent. In one example, the average square footage of cleaning productivity (SFPE) improved from approximately 27,000 SFPE to 39,000 SFPE. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Cleaning workers understand their importance of their work as it relates to the success of the business and the health of building occupants.
  2. They are taught how to properly perform cleaning tasks in a way that minimizes risk and injury.
  3. Workers are empowered through the educational process and receive one-on-one coaching by expert trainers.

It’s time we stop treating custodial work like it’s something that everyone automatically knows how to do. We can’t just throw a mop in someone’s hand and expect them to go to work. This approach results in the issues many cleaning operations face today: injuries, high turnover and low-morale. Cleaning is a profession, and like any professional field requires proper training and education.

As Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, once said, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

If you don’t have a comprehensive training program in place for new employees and continuing education programs for your current staff members, it’s time to give some thought to how you can improve these resources. Your cleaning program deserves more and so do your employees.

Think “Janitor” Is a Dirty Word? No, and Here’s Why.

Janitor University is a three-day, instructor-led class that introduces cleaning organization executives to introductory principles of the (OS1) Cleaning Management Program. When we teach the class, we’ll periodically receive feedback regarding the name of the course. People think that because facility directors, CEOs of large building service contractors and other leaders responsible for cleaning that it shouldn’t be called “Janitor University.” Moreover, they feel that the title of “janitor” is an outdated and even derogatory term for people responsible for performing cleaning responsibilities. They suggest alternative titles like “custodian” or “cleaner.”

While we have no issue with those terms, we encourage any professional cleaner to proudly wear their “janitor” badge.

You see, if you trace the etymology of the word “janitor,” it doesn’t take much research to find that the term is tied to deity. “Janus” from which “janitor” is derived, was a Roman god of beginnings and ends; metaphorically he represented doors and passages. In images, he’s often depicted with two faces that allow him to look to the future and the past.

In the English language, first signs of the word “janitor” date back to the 1500s and originally signified an “usher in a school.” In the 1600s, the word evolved to denote a “doorkeeper” and eventually referenced the caretaker of a building. Modern use of the word denotes someone who handles general maintenance and cleaning responsibilities in a building.

For some people, the term “janitor” is derogatory because it indicates a low-skilled, low-paying position. This is a context that our culture has assigned to the position over time, and not one that is truly reflective of the job description.

Many Americans don’t understand that the job not only requires extensive knowledge of chemicals and proper handling protocol, but that it also is essential for protecting public health.  They don’t know that in Germany, janitors are required to attend cleaning school and serve an apprenticeship for three years before becoming a janitor. Switzerland requires four years of schooling before one is able to seek employment as a professional cleaner. In London, there’s a membership organization for environmental cleaners that is a livery company, meaning that it descended from the medieval trade guilds and is supported by the Lord Mayor and Alderman of the city.

Considering that Janus looked both to the past and the future, it seems only appropriate we recognize the origins of the title of janitor and give those who clean our buildings the respect they deserve as we look to the future.

For more information on Janitor University or to attend our upcoming class Oct. 25-27, please go to https://managemen.com/training/janitor-university/.

A Closer Look: Why You Need to Treat Restroom Cleaning Like the Sinking of the Titanic

Note: In our “Closer Look” posts, we’ll take a deeper dive into the history of common products and technology used in custodial operations. If there’s a particular topic you’d like us to explore, just let us know!

It wasn’t until 16th century when the plague rocked England seven times in a 200-year span that people started taking a hard look at their cleaning and hygiene habits. The first flushing toilet was invented in 1596 by Sir John Harrington, a wealthy poet and godson to Queen Elizabeth I. Though innovative and not much different from the toilets we know today, royals never took to it because it was a fixed device in a room by itself and they were accustomed to having toilets brought to them. Additionally, the queen felt that having a room dedicated to using the toilet was lewd.

At that time, the type of toilet you used depended on your class. People in lower class societies used communal privies, which often resembled a bridge-like structure and was situated over a river. Individuals in the middle class used chamber pots, which was a basic bowl that allowed for some privacy and was later emptied into the street or river. Royals used fancy velvet-lined stools with a chamber pot situated inside the seat. The stools were brought to them by servants, who would roll them away once they were finished with them.

Several inventors contributed designs that are used in the toilet we all know today. This includes Thomas Crapper, who developed a patent for the flushing apparatus.

And contrary to popular belief that Mr. Crapper’s study of the toilet led to the development of the slang term “crap” as it relates to bodily waste, the term actually comes from Middle English origin and predates any reference to it as bodily waste. At least, that’s what Wikipedia says.

Today, restrooms continue to play a critical role in controlling sanitation and protecting public health. They require more chemicals, custodial products, labor, government regulation awareness and professional cleaning knowledge than any other area in a facility. Restrooms are at the very top of the list of cleaning priorities.

Restrooms are often a top area of complaints, and they also can host the most pathogenic microorganisms, including hepatitis, herpes simplex I and II, along with numerous blood borne pathogens.

We have two primary rules when it comes to managing restroom cleaning:

  1. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. 
  2. You never know how much of a mess will be in a restroom during the hours of operation.

Thoughts on Rule 1: If that first impression is negative, it can mean a lost customer. A survey by Zogby International revealed that 80 percent of consumers would avoid a restaurant with a dirty restroom.

Thoughts on Rule 2: We recommend treating restroom cleaning during operational hours like the sinking of the Titanic. You wouldn’t grab all of your photos and put on your tuxedo before jumping ship—just the essentials for survival. The same goes for cleaning the restroom when it’s open—pick up trash and spot mop visible defects. Make sure all toilets are flushed, dispensers are stocked and all water is wiped from the countertops.

Clean restrooms indicate a commitment to quality. Make it a priority.

The Five P’s of Pathogen Cleaning

As any professional in our industry knows, cleaning isn’t just about removing dirt, but also stopping the spread of bacteria and infection in the buildings we clean. It’s not just about appearance, but also about health—the health of the people in the building and the people cleaning the building.

As we wrap up our safety series for National Safety Month, we’re putting the spotlight on pathogens. More than ever, educating our custodial teams about pathogens—what they are, how they spread and what cleaners can do to protect themselves—has become critical beyond the healthcare world. Cleaners in a variety of public and private settings are regularly exposed to biological hazards that carry risks and responsibilities. Equipping custodial workers with the education they need to effectively clean for health not only empowers them, but will also improve the health of our buildings.

When training custodial teams about pathogens, consider the Five P’s of Pathogens.*

The five P’s include:

  1. Pathogen types: Broadly speaking, a pathogen is basically anything that can cause disease. Different types of pathogens may include:
    • Bacteria: Bacteria are single-celled organisms that can thrive in extreme conditions. They do not require a living host, such as a human being, in order to reproduce. Salmonella, E.coli and MRSA are just a few of the types of bacteria that custodial workers would encounter.
    • Viruses: Generally smaller than bacteria, viruses require a living host to reproduce. Viruses are likely to produce an outbreak of illness, such as influenza or the common cold.
    • Parasites: Parasites live on or inside a living host. They can cause a variety of issues, including nausea and muscle pain. Examples might include headline or tapeworm, depending on the mode of transmission.
    • Fungi: As the name implies, fungi are molds and yeasts that commonly cause respiratory problems in humans.
  2. Pathways: The primary way a pathogen can enter your body is through inhalation, ingestion (in food or water) or through direct contact with bodily fluids or blood. Custodial workers with cuts or abrasions and who do not use protective gloves can be at higher risk of exposure.
  3.  Problems: If a pathogen enters the body, it can result in temporary illness to the custodial worker, such as influenza or a cold, to something more dangerous and deadly, like MRSA. Because custodial teams often touch many surfaces in a building, they also have the potential  or spreading the pathogen unknowingly, which is why proper hand washing is essential.
  4. Places: Pathogens can be present on most hard surfaces, but are commonly found on fomites, or high-touch areas, which include light switches, elevator buttons, telephones and door handles. Kitchen areas and restrooms can also provide hospitable environments to pathogens.
  5. Protection: Wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential based on the potential hazards that may exist. Protective gloves and hand washing between areas can be an effective way to break the chain of infection.

For custodial workers to take pride in what they do, they need to be educated on the importance of their work and recognized for their efforts. We have a quick reference guide to understanding all of the microbiology used in the cleaning industry that you can use in your educational programs. “Microbiology for Cleaning Workers Simplified” offers the basics to help cleaning workers understand the basics of sanitation, vocabulary and the history of cleaning for health. You can check it out here. 

*This is by not intended to serve as a comprehensive resource on pathogen cleaning, but a baseline primer you can use to help educate custodial workers.

Experts Warn That a Global Pandemic is Around the Corner, but are Cleaning Departments Ready?

The cover of this week’s Time Magazine will likely to grab your attention.

In the article, “The World is Not Ready for the Next Pandemic,” journalist Bryan Walsh chronicles the latest pandemic percolating across China—a new strain of the bird flu called H7N9. While it “mostly” affects poultry, the virus has jumped to humans, resulting in pneumonia (88 percent) and the death (41 percent) of its approximately 1,500 victims.

Experts say that the virus can only be transmitted from poultry to humans at this point, but that’s likely to change. The potential for the virus to evolve and become transmittable between humans is so great that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranks H7N9 as the flu strain with the greatest potential to cause a pandemic.

The author notes:

And while a mutant bug that moves from chickens in China to humans in cities around the world may seem like something out of a Hollywood script, the danger the world faces from H7N9–and countless other pathogens with the potential to cause enormous harm–isn’t science fiction. Rather, it’s the highly plausible nightmare scenario that should be keeping the President up at night.

Scary stuff. But it’s even scarier for custodial workers who will be on the front lines of the battle, should the virus evolve. While we can’t know exactly how, when or even if it will spread, there’s a good chance that if it’s not H7N9, another virus will come along that will threaten our health and security.

This isn’t the first time that custodial workers have been challenged with the important job of preventing the spread of infection outside of healthcare facilities. It happened in 2009 with the H1N1 (Swine Flu) outbreak, in 2014 with the Ebola outbreak—it happens each year during cold and flu season.

Because many viruses can live on hard surfaces for several hours, it can spread “like crazy” between unknowing building occupants. That’s why effective cleaning and disinfection is an essential step to keep high-touch fomites, such as door handles and light switches, free of these viruses. That’s why planning to systematically address cleaning operations in an emergency situation like a pandemic is essential.

If you’re even peripherally associated with the cleaning responsibilities in your business, now is the time to start asking questions about how cleaning will be handled during an outbreak or pandemic situation. Is the custodial staff in your facility equipped with the right tools and knowledge to clean during an outbreak situation?

To help custodial teams prepare, we’ve identified the essential components of an effective pandemic preparedness plan. Your pandemic preparedness plan should include:

  1. A Playbook. Custodial teams must have a clearly defined action plan for how to respond in an emergency situation. This playbook will offer different scenarios and action plans depending on the virus at hand. In addition to instructions, the playbook should also include emergency contact numbers for key individuals in the building, suppliers and staff.
  2. Ongoing training for custodial workers. Even before an outbreak occurs, cleaning workers need to have a clear understanding of their responsibilities in an emergency situation. Training should include the following:
    1.  A disinfectant overview: The curriculum should include a primer on the specific viruses the disinfectants are designed to kill and the amount of dwell time required for the virus to be effective. You can’t just spray a disinfectant on a surface and immediately wipe it clean—this will make it completely ineffective. Workers need to understand what to use and how to use it.
    2. Steps for protecting workers: When custodial workers know and understand the risks, they will be more likely to take precautionary measures. This includes donning specific personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks or gloves.
    3. Action plans: Custodial personnel should have a clear understanding of their responsibilities during an outbreak situation. Using a systematic approach to cleaning is an essential step in making sure that surfaces are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
  3. Plans for inventory supply shortages. Supply shortages of commonly used items such as PPE, chemicals, tissues and hand sanitizer are likely to occur during an outbreak situation, so make plans for how to address shortages or stockpile items accordingly.
  4. Signage. Effective handwashing is key to eliminating potential pathogen encounters. Place signage around the building to remind building occupants to regularly wash their hands to reduce the opportunity for the virus to spread. Signage can also be used to remind custodial workers of their responsibilities, or  encourage building occupants to assist with cleaning efforts in their personal workspace.

Custodial workers play a key role in protecting the health and safety of building occupants on a daily basis, but even more so in an outbreak situation. Preparing them with the knowledge and tools they need will go a long way in stopping the spread of an infection.

Four Places You Might Be Generating Waste and Not Even Know It

April is Earth month and Arbor Day is next Friday, April 28, so many people are talking sustainability. How can we help protect the Earth so it’s here for future generations? What can we do to reduce our environmental impact?

A large misconception we find in the cleaning industry is that people often use green cleaning products and think that this makes their operations “sustainable.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth—using green products is just a part of it. As an industry, we have a long way to go when it comes to reducing our environmental impact. There’s a lot of “waste” in our operations that goes well beyond the pollutants we’re working to remove.

First, a few facts. Commercial and institutional buildings in the U.S. annually consume:

The issue comes down to how we approach cleaning. Oftentimes, cleaning professionals are forced to be reactive when it comes to managing their inventory, equipment and other aspects of their operations.

Reports like, “We’re out of floor finish!” or, “This backpack vacuum is broken!” often drive new purchases—and understandably.

Supply shortages lead to downtime, which can lead to complaints, which NO ONE wants. Or they generate mistakes and service lapses when a cleaning worker substitutes products. So we place an order and the problem goes away…

But that floor finish? You weren’t really out. And that backpack vacuum just needed a new filter or carbon brush. When the new product arrives, the old stuff gets stashed into a closet somewhere. That’s the kind of waste that we’re talking about.

A truly “sustainable” cleaning operation will operate on a lean inventory, making the best use out of the products, equipment and people in the operation.

To help you identify potential areas of waste in your operation, we’ve identified a few common problem areas along with a list of questions you can ask to see if your department could be more efficient:

1. INVENTORY: What inventory controls do I have in place? Can cleaners use as much cleaning chemical as they want or are they kitted with the exact amount of product they need to complete the designated area? When they are done cleaning, what happens to the unused chemical? How do I track the amount of chemical used? How do I handle overstock (e.g. is there a system in place to sell or donate unused material?)?

Just one of the many janitorial closets we’ve seen that is stuffed with products no longer being used.

A sustainable cleaning operation not only uses Green Seal certified products, but also outfits workers with the precise amount of chemical they need to clean for the day. Excessive chemical use (often resulting from the “more is better” philosophy) is one of the most common issues in the industry and not only costs you money, but also has an environmental impact, even when the products are green.

2. EQUIPMENT MAINTENANCE: How is the cleaning equipment maintained? Is the equipment visibly clean? Are carts free of personal items or unrelated/unwanted materials? Do I have an equipment maintenance program in place that ensures all equipment receives regular checks and replacements?

A sustainable cleaning operation has a preventative maintenance program in place to make sure that equipment is always clean and operational. When equipment reaches the end of its usable life, it is safely and properly disposed of, not tucked away in a cabinet somewhere.

3. LOGISTICS: Are the logistics of the inventory cabinet and waste disposal points optimized with the worker in mind? If they run out of a product, do workers have to go to another floor or area in order to restock?

Logistics refers to the orderly merging of cleaners with their materials and tools to perform the work.

A sustainable cleaning operation will take into consideration the routes of the cleaning workers and utilize drop points to limit the opportunity for stockpiling or hoarding product. Analyzing the logistical setup of cleaning workers’ paths can also help reduce worker injuries from issues like overexertion.

4. TRAINING: Have cleaning workers been thoroughly trained and possess a clear understanding of their responsibilities? Do they have an understanding of the risks associated with the job, such as improper chemical mixing or lifting the wrong way? Are cleaners recognized for their efforts and made to feel like valued contributors to the team?

A sustainable cleaning operation recognizes the critical component that its workers play and provides ongoing recognition. When workers are empowered and understand the importance of their job, they will be more likely to clean properly and effectively.

Albert Einstein is quoted with saying, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

By taking a hard look at your cleaning program and simplifying some of your processes through standardization, you can break things down to it’s easiest—and most simple—form, which will ultimately improve your sustainability.