Saturday, October 23, 2010

Quantifying VOC Reductions from Green Cleaning

How do you estimate the reduction in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from switching to Green Cleaning? To accurately quantify the change, you'd need to know all of the cleaning products used in a building pre- and post-green cleaning, as well as the quantity of each product and the percent VOC content for each. Since I've never been able to get this information (few cleaning companies want to admit to the quantity of toxins they have been exposing their employees and building occupants to), I'm going to try to estimate this based on standards and assumptions found via a very quick search of the web. The numbers definitely won't reflect the exact quantities, but might help give an idea of the scale of the reduction.

For this assessment, let's assume a 100,000 square foot office building. Prices for cleaning very greatly depending on the market and the quality / frequency of cleaning, but let's assume that the cost for this building is $1.00 per square foot per year, or $100,000 per year for this building. According to Von Schrader Company, 1% of this cost typically goes to purchasing chemicals, so we will assume $1,000 is spent on chemicals. According to FAS-TRAK, a typical all purpose cleanier can cost around $10 per gallon, which means that 100 gallons of cleaning product would be used every year in our 100,000 sf building (realistically, this wouldn't all be general purpose cleaner, but for this analysis we'll assume it is). In 2006, the California Air Resources Board issued a report that found the average percent VOC content for general purpose cleaners used in that state in 2003 was 11.63%. This represents 633 grams of VOCs used in the hypothetical 100,000 sf office building using conventional cleaning products. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environmental, Air Pollution Control Division has a good document that explains how to go from gallons and percent VOC to pounds or product and grams of VOC content.


One of the components of green cleaning is the use of low-VOC products (in addition to micro-fiber mops, HEPA vaccums, concentrated cleaning products with less packaging, etc.). In a green cleaning chemical use matrix I recently saw from ABM, they indicate that their cleaning products have less than 1% VOC content. Assuming the exact same quantity of product as in the conventional cleaning case, this equates to 54 grams of VOCs used to clean the buiding every year.

Based on the analysis and assumptions above, our 100,000 sf office building went from using 633 grams of VOC per year down to 54 grams, or a reduction in VOC of 91%. Having developed green cleaning programs for a number of projects / clients and written contracts and reviewed the programs for many others, I've found that green cleaning is proven to be a no-cost (often cost saving) option that has no corresponding decrese in quality. Besides the many environmental benefits, there is also a significant reduction in toxins. The quick estimate above shows that an office building could reduce an estimated 0.0058 grams of VOC per square foot by making the switch. Many volatile organic compounds are toxins known ot cause eye, nose & throat irriation; headaches, dizziness & nausea; and damage to livers, kidneys & the cenetral nervous system; as well as being suspected carcinogens. Quantifying the health and productivity benefits from switching to green cleaning would require a lot more assumptions (I'd start by seeing what A 1% increase in productivity would be worth), but considering that Americans spend 90% of their day indoors, the switch has to be a good thing.