True definition of green

21st of September 2012
True definition of green

ECJ US reporter Ron Segura talks to an expert in 'green' cleaning about its definition.

Here in the US there are more and more requests for building service contractors to provide 'green'/sustainable cleaning. I asked David Holly, author of Green Cleaning For Dummies and chancellor of Green Cleaning University to give us an overview of the differences and benefits.

Let’s look back at the original definition of green cleaning. It is cleaning to protect health, without harming the environment. Note: the definition refers to cleaning – an activity, not a product.

Some of you might be saying, green cleaning? Haven’t we all done that by now? Unfortunately, many who say they are doing green cleaning are really just doing all the things they used to do, but simply using a 'certified' cleaning product. We need to be cleaning effectively with these products.

The term 'sustainability' is used a great deal, but what is it? Sustainability is most commonly defined as “…meeting the needs of the present generation, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". This definition was introduced by the Brundtland Commission in the book Our Common Future. One of the key concepts in the discussion of sustainability is the triple bottom line.

We are all familiar with the bottom line – the definition of business success – what is left from proceeds after costs are removed, profit: the bottom line. But a few decades ago economists and ecologists started talking about two new bottom lines – people and planet. Thus, the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit began to be discussed. Sustainable organisations, those that have and will endure, pay careful attention to all three of these bottom lines.

Profit – the organisation must make money to cover costs and allow for growth and investment into its future. Shareholders must receive a return to continue to invest in future growth. A sustainable organisation understands how the other parts of the triple bottom line enhance the financial case.

Planet – every organisation depends on certain raw materials, as well as having access to fresh water, fresh air and a comfortable environment. Sustainable organisations understand their actions will impact them and other companies in their community. Helping to maintain a clean, healthy environment will have a payback that can actually be measured and the costs can be calculated.

People – while most of us already understand the concepts of profit and planet, the idea of focusing on people – employees, customers, and community -  is relatively new. However this is probably the most important consideration right now. In the simplest terms, without employees or customers no business can survive.

So, what is the difference between green and sustainable? Green and green cleaning are focused on the facility, products, equipment, supplies and processes of cleaning. A green cleaning programme is a part of a sustainable programme for an organisation. Sustainability is a much larger concept – it focuses on the organisation as a whole – beyond the physical facility.

One of the key points is to understand and create a culture of sustainability within your company or organisation. There is a lot to be done, and the good news is, we can do it. I look forward to talking with you about how to create this culture of sustainability in future articles.


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