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Green Cleaning Adds to Sustainability Practices

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
March 26, 2008

When Judy Koski started working in housekeeping 37 years ago, some of the cleaning solutions being used were so strong they burnt the soles of her shoes.

Today, the department is in the process of going green.

In fact, for the last several years, Koski, Gene Gargano and Jean Mitchell, managers of housekeeping facilities, have been experimenting with products that are healthier and less damaging to the environment, trying to find those that can get the job done. Until recently, the products haven’t been that effective.

But an increase in demand for green cleaning supplies has led manufacturers to improve their solutions, Koski says, making it easier for UNH to make the transition and helping to align cleaning methods with the university’s sustainability goals.

“Once vendors noticed we were willing to test green products, we were inundated,” Koski says. “We have a couple that we really trust and they’ve been a big help in choosing the best products.”

Research has shown that some popular cleaning solutions have harmful effects on the people who use them as well as the occupants of the buildings in which they are used. Complaints such as eye and skin irritation, and coughing are common. More severe reactions include asthma, cramps, vomiting, and chest pains. There is also the worry that such toxins cause cancer.

Koski tells of one UNH worker who had been having nose bleeds regularly but didn’t make the connection between cleaning products until she began using a green shower cleaner and the nose bleeds stopped.

UNH has replaced window, floor and shower cleaners with Green Seal-certified or Eco-label products that are natural or plant-based. Only the disinfectants aren’t green and that’s because, so far, there aren’t any that are nontoxic.

Green Seal is a nonprofit company that promotes environmentally friendly products. They have established a set of standards that, when met, allow a product to be Green Seal-approved. According to Green Seal, a green cleaner is one that reduces the impact on the environment at every level. Ecolabeled products provide the same assurance.

One of the areas where Koski says real progress has been made is with floor cleaners. Green solutions had been tried in the past but they didn’t work. Now UNH housekeeping is using a Green Seal certified product with satisfactory results both in effectiveness and health benefits.

“The fumes from the products we were using before were so bad for employees,” Koski says. “And the dirty water went down the drains. Now we’ve got something that does the job without affecting people.”

Judy Fahnestock of the Office of Sustainability has been working with Koski and the other housekeeping managers in the transition to green products. There is also a green cleaning committee.

“There can be a disconnect between offices,” Fahnestock says. “I’m here to see how we can help each other. It’s definitely a process.”

Fahnestock is looking into having some of UNH’s buildings Green Seal certified, a procedure that also works as a self-assessment tool. Kingsbury Hall will likely be the first building up for certification as housekeeping has been using green cleaning products there since the new building opened.

In addition to the green solutions, housekeepers are using microfiber rags and mops, which require fewer, if any, chemicals and far less water. The mops also save work because there is no need to dry mop first.

What’s more, the use of microfiber mops in the gyms has led to the elimination of oil-based sprays that were previously applied to the mop heads to ensure they collected as much dirt and dust as possible.

“Now they’re not using anything and they’re picking up twice as much dust,” Koski says.

Since making the switch to green cleaning, Koski says there have incidents where people have questioned whether their area had been cleaned because they didn’t smell anything.

“Sometimes people not noticing can be a good sign,” Fahnestock says.

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