I want you to take a quick look at your floor care processes, chemicals, and equipment to make sure that your intentions when creating the cleaning process are achieving the intended results. (While many find this topic controversial, I need you to know I am not trying to change anyone’s opinions about the “Green Movement,” just attempting to bring awareness to your floor cleaning methods.)
For me, the best part of my career has been touring thousands of manufacturing, warehousing, and other large facilities over the years. I have met hundreds of facility managers that maintain world-class facilities with great pride. Keeping a clean, safe environment for employees and customers while staying within a limited budget is their life’s work. Most current facility managers today are making a good effort to use floor care processes and products that are safe for employees and good for the environment. Unfortunately, some of these plans end up making matters worse.
Properly Dispose Floor Scrubber Waste
A large manufacturing company, with a great reputation for being environmentally friendly, declared a large plant a “Zero Waste Facility.” By entirely removing garbage bins and dumpsters, they forced employees to figure out how to recycle all waste. The plant manager went so far as to seal the floor drains so that no liquid waste could leave the building. I went there to demo a battery powered ride on floor scrubber. At the completion of the demo, I asked where they dumped and cleaned up their current scrubber. I was taken outside near some railroad tracks and was asked to dump the machine here. (I refused by the way!) It turned out they had put in a system to reuse dirty water with a series of filters and a holding tank. It was slow, ineffective, and the water smelled like a swamp. The plant had to be kept clean for health, safety, and quality reasons. They gave the maintenance department no choice but to dump the water outside. Putting the wastewater down a sanitary sewer would have been far better for the environment than what they were doing! A true example that green cleaning is more than what meets the eye.
Beware of the secret chemical stash and the self-acclaimed chemist working on your maintenance team. There have been several floor cleaning machines introduced in the last five years with proprietary systems that are advertised to eliminate the need for cleaning chemicals. Industry expert’s opinions of these products vary from revolutionary to complete hocus pocus! What we can say for sure is that these products do not work in situations where petroleum products, food & plant oils, paraffin, or other synthetic oil exists. In these situations, degreaser and preferably hot water are needed. I have seen many applications where cleaning machines with “chemical free” technology were introduced. As a result, cleaning chemicals were taken away.
Use Environmentally-Friendly Floor Cleaning Chemicals
Many maintenance employees take great pride in the work they do. Some are under great pressure to deliver a clean building by the end of their shift. When traditional methods are taken away they often find a way to accomplish their daily goal efficiently. One way is borrowing chemicals from other departments. I have seen people use some scary solvents from their paint or metal prep department. They are often kept in spray bottles that are incorrectly labeled. Not only are these chemicals bad for the environment, some of them are flammable. Not a good recipe for a machine with components that are not electrically enclosed. Not to frighten you too much, but we often see these same well-meaning employees mixing these chemicals for improved results! I have even witnessed cases where maintenance workers smuggle in chemicals that are purchased outside of the company to make their job easier. I am not saying that the “chemical free” floor care machines are necessarily bad. I will say that many of them have been sold into applications where the technology isn’t effective. In these situations, good intentions may be causing bad practices. The bottom line really comes down to this… If your green floor care process doesn’t clean very well, is it really green?
Most of us do care about the environment and most of us don’t like to be misled. I think we can all agree with that statement. Unfortunately, “Greenwashing” has become big business in this country. Companies are using green lingo to boost profits and their reputation. Words like “Green,” “Biodegradable,” and “Recyclable” are subjective terms. There are millions of examples of “Greenwashing” in the marketplace. One of my favorites is “Contains no CFCs.” These ozone layer eating chemicals were banned in the U.S. in 1996. So, this catchphrase could be replaced with “Complying with US environmental laws since they made us do it in 1996!” Just because your cleaning chemicals have the word “green” in the name doesn’t mean they are actually green. Don’t be fooled by that little leaf in the logo either. Some of these products are not so green. One nationally advertised brand of “green cleaner” uses a couple of chemicals named Methylisothiazolinone & Methylchloroisothiazolinone. Now they are very small percentages of the overall product. Google these chemicals and decide for yourself if the amounts are small enough for you to keep using the products.
In the end, I thank you for considering this new perspective and encourage you to take a step back from some of the green cleaning hype for a moment. Use some common sense when putting together an environmentally friendly floor cleaning program. We all want to give our employees the best tools for accomplishing their goals while protecting them and the environment. Unfortunately, we must be very careful with our choices. We also need to revisit our floor care process from time to time to make sure we made the right choices in the long run.
Written by Rick Schott, President of Factory Cleaning Equipment, Inc.
If you’re committed to a green cleaning plan and creating a clean and safe work environment, we’ll work with you to help create the best floor care plan possible!