County Green Cleaning Try out May Expand

July 9, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — As part of an ongoing commitment to sustainability, KentCounty has begun a "green cleaning" program at two of its downtown buildings.

The county has been scrubbing, vacuuming and dusting the Kent County Courthouse at

Lyon Street
Ottawa Avenue NW
and the office building at
82 Ionia Ave. NW
with environmentally friendly solvents and equipment since the beginning of the year.

The idea behind the new program is to reduce, eliminate and manage sources of indoor pollutants that would lower air quality and might trigger allergies in employees, tenants and visitors. But the program is about more than stemming potential sneezes and wheezes.

"It's part of our overall strategy to become green compliant," said Bob Mihos, county facilities management director. "The county is committed to being green in what we do, both in our facility design and also in existing facility operations. So green cleaning is relatively new, and we're still exploring what that means."

Mihos said the county uses cleaners that are rated as being green, following an industry purchasing list of environmentally preferable items to choose those solvents. Like standard cleaners, there are green-seal-certified cleaners that are recommended for specific uses, such as cleaning glass and bathrooms, and there are all-purpose cleaners.

Green cleaners are non-toxic; phosphate-free; biodegradable; non-corrosive; free of petroleum distillates, glycol ethers and alkalies; VOC compliant; and without unnecessary fragrances. The county uses water-based cleaners in both buildings where conditions allow.

Carpet runners have been installed near entrances to prevent as much dirt as possible from being dragged into the buildings, and carpets are vacuumed with green-certified machines. These vacuums gather more dust than required by national ambient air quality standards, and do so more efficiently. That means fewer passes need to be made on the carpets being vacuumed, which lowers energy and labor costs.

The Carpet and Rug Institute, an industry trade organization in Dalton, Ga., created the Green Label testing program for vacuum cleaners in 2000. Testing covers how much soil is removed and dust is contained, and how much of the carpet's appearance is retained after vacuuming. CRI claims a certified vacuum improves indoor air quality, lowers cleaning costs and makes carpets last longer.

"There are other things we're doing in our facilities to be environmentally sustainable that doesn't necessarily relate to green cleaning," Mihos said. "We use eco-fluorescent light bulbs. We recycle our bulbs, ballasts, batteries, paper, cardboard and those kinds of things."

The plan is for the county to assess the green-cleaning results from the courthouse and the Ionia office building, and then decide whether to broaden the effort to all of its buildings, which total 1.3 million square feet of space. Mihos said a date hasn't been set yet to make that decision, as the program hasn't run long enough to make the final tab known.

"We're trying to make it cost-neutral," he said. "That's the important thing — it can't be more costly. We want it to be cost-neutral or find some kind of savings. But right now we're finding that it's cost-neutral."

The county contracts for the cleaning and maintenance of its properties. Mihos said green cleaning will be included as a specification in the bidding process for existing buildings in the future and for the new structures the county will put up in coming years, such as the new human services facility Kent will break ground on at the end of the year.

"As contracts run out in our other facilities, then we will incorporate the successful aspects that we've found at the courthouse and 82 Ionia into those future bid specs," he said. "Any new facilities that we have, we will be incorporating this into those specifications also."

Mihos said the program could be considered a success in both buildings so far. Two reasons for that is that after six months of green cleaning, no one in either building has griped about the air quality or reported they had an allergic reaction to the new cleaning materials and vacuums. A third reason is that being greener isn't costing the county any more green.

"We're doing this and being fiscally responsible, without compromising the health and safety of the users of the facilities or the environments," Mihos said.    

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