Green your life at home, work & play

Green Custodial Services – things to be aware of if looking for a vendor December 19, 2010

Stephen Askin, who is often called the ‘Father of Green Cleaning’, refers to green cleaning as being ‘best thought of as a concept or thought process that focuses on creating a healthy, safe and attractive building while minimizing harmful impacts.’

Green cleaning is closely tied to the concept of sustainability and the triple bottom line. It is beneficial to the organization, the employees, and the planet, as well as the individuals using the products. Studies show increased staff productivity (up to 7%), decreased staff absenteeism, and decreased turnover of janitorial personnel as a result of using green cleaning products.

To date, there are four commonly accepted certifications in the commercial green cleaning sector, in North America and Europe:

  • Green Seal is the most recognized and more prevalent in the United States. Green Seal started out certifying products inthecommercialsector and now provides not only certification for green custodial products but also training on green cleaning procedures, among other services. It is also beginning to certify products in the residential sector.
  • EcoLogo is another environmental standard and certification mark, started in Canada, which is gaining ground in the United States andwhich also has rigorous standards for certification. Started by TerraChoice, EcoLogo focuses on the commercial as well as residential market.
  • Thirdly, the EPA’s Design for the Environment’s DfE label can be obtained by manufacturers for products that ‘meet stringent criteria for human and environmental health’.
  • Finally, Ecolabel is the commonly accepted certification standard in the European Union. Ecolabel addresses both commercial and residential products and services.

There are an increasing number of resources and companies offering green custodial services. Be sure to verify the products and processes that they use, ask them if these are certified by a third-party, and check in periodically with the cleaning crew to ensure that the products are being used as agreed.


It Makes Sense to Build Green – Part 6 of 6 (IEQ) February 12, 2009

Filed under: Air pollutants,Air quality,Allergies,Green buildings,LEED buildings — johnston1 @ 10:24 am

Building a low impact building means good indoor air quality (IAQ), both for the health of the buildings occupants and for the sustainability of the building. This credit requires minimum indoor environmental quality (IEQ) performance to enhance the air quality of the building. It starts early in the construction phase when the buildings toxins are flushed out and strict monitoring of pollutants and contamination are controlled by air quality testing. In addition to a reduction in air quality contaminants, which can also be attributed to low-emitting materials, the building must also provide adequate capacity for ventilation.

Two prerequisites are required to meet the indoor environmental quality credits. First, the buildings indoor air quality must comply with the code requirements LEED uses. The building is also required to establish an environmental tobacco smoke plan (i.e. no smoking inside the building and only within a certain distance outside of the building). After these requirements are met, this category offers 15 possible points no_smokingin 8 credits. The construction and pre-occupancy steps must include steps to minimize indoor air pollution in order to to meet the level required once the building is completed. Proper installation and monitoring of the building’s ventilation systems will help meet this requirement. Selecting low-emitting materials, such as adhesives and sealants, paints and coatings, carpet, and composite wood and agrifiber products, will reduce air contaminates. Reducing the number of chemicals that ever enter the building will also help you achieve points and more importantly, create a healthier building. Comfortable thermal systems with individual controllability will cut costs and improve worker performance. Using daylight and views along with controllable lighting systems will have the same effect.

Indoor environmental quality is a crucial measure to the sustainability of your building and its occupants, and it works collectively with the other LEED credit categories to construct a low impact, eco-friendly, sustainable building. By following the LEED credits, you can work toward certifying your building and establishing an environmentally friendly building that improves your workers’ health and performance, cuts your cost, reduces environmental impacts from building, and improves the economic sustainability of your building.

As you know if you have read through these posts, there are many steps that can be taken to obtain certification and these will differ based on the building, resources used, and a host of other factors. The system also allows for innovative measures, should you meet the intent of one of the points but are not doing it exactly as specified in the guide. A LEED accredited professional can work with you and the USGBC to determine if the point will apply, not to mention that you get one point just for having a LEED AP on your team!

These posts are meant to be a brief introduction, since we have LEED APs for projects and we often get some of these questions. The US Green Building Council site provides additional information, as well as checklists for each of the different guides.


Put a cork in it! Green flooring alternatives April 13, 2007

Filed under: Allergies,Green buildings,Green home,Green living,Green office,Green tips — Anca Novacovici, Eco-Coach Inc. @ 10:47 pm

If you’re remodeling and considering replacing your floor, or are tired of your carpet and want a new one, there are many environmentally friendly alternatives to choose from. Here are a few to consider:

  • Bamboo: I’m sure you’ve heard of this one already. It’s a grass that requires minimal fertilization and pesticides, grows to floor quality in 5-7 years, with the next batch of bamboo growing from the same roots.
  • Cork: Same material as wine corks only for your floor! Cork is taken from the bark of the cork oak tree, can be harvested, or peeled away after the tree is 25 years old and then every 9-12 years, without killing the tree.
  • Linoleum: No, not the vinyl flooring that many mistakenly call linoleum. The real thing, also known as marmoleum, is made by compressing linseed oil with pine resin, sawdust, dust and often other recycled materials.
  • Sustainable Wood: Wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been grown sustainably. This category also includes wood that is salvaged and reused, since reuse of materials is also a sustainable approach to flooring (decrease the harvesting of non-renewable resources).
  • Low VOC & sustainable carpet: Some carpet companies recycle their carpeting or manufacture their carpeting from recycled materials. In addition, they limit amount of chemicals involved in the process, for example by using natural dyes, natural adhesives, no flame-retardant surface coating and jute or hemp backing (rather than synthetic fibres).

And…a quick summary of pros, cons and resources (with my two cents added in, of course!):

— Grows quickly
— Durable
— Lower cost ($3-$6/sq ft)
— Imported from Asia (CO2 emissions)
— Poor quality bamboo is flooding the market (softer bamboo is often cheaper; more prone to scratching and warping)
— Look for bamboo with no toxic adhesives (urea formaldehyde)
Bamboo Info
More Info
— Holds heat
— Dampens sound
— Fire retardant
— Anti-microbial
— Comparable in price to mid or high-end hardwood flooring ($3 – $7/sq ft uninstalled)
— Cork floor with the standard polyurethane coat is said to stand up to “normal wear and tear” for only 5 -10 years, after which it will need a new coat
— Imported from Europe
— Choose finishes made of of low-VOC polyurethane or beeswax base
— 2 types: floating click flooring (comes with acrylic finish & doesn’t respond as well to wet situations) and the stick down type (should have 4 coats of polyurethane applied to it, either insitu or bought with it already applied)
Sustainable FlooringFloor Facts
— Durable
— Anti-microbial
— Lower-cost (about $4/sq ft)
— Biodegradable
— Linseed oil outgases some VOCs
— Needs a backing substance, which is often synthetic
— Porous & may need to be waxed or polished
— Choose adhesive that is water-based, formaldehyde free, and has low VOC content
— Prices generally range from $5-$8 per sq ft
Build It Green
— Forbo
Sustainable Wood
— Salvaged wood can be locally bought
— Sturdy
— Good forestry practices
— Salvaged wood can be irregularly sized
— May need more work
— May be shipped from long distances (FSC cert.)
— More expensive, depending on the source (about $6/sq ft for FSC certified, & $5-$13/sq ft for reclaimed timber)
— Look for sealers with low-VOC emissions
Habitat for Humanity
Forest Stewardship Council
Aged Woods
Sustainable Carpeting
— No off-gassing from VOCs
— Between $5-$10/sq ft for 100% wool, non-dyed and non-chemically sprayed carpeting
—Synthetic carpets are made from petroleum
— Look for CRI (The Carpet and Rug Institute) certification
— Area rugs and carpet tiles are preferable wall-to-wall) carpet.
Green Floors
Flor Carpeting
Green California

Aside from the options and resources above, there are others, such as recycled glass tiles and rubber, as well as stone, made from nonrenewable resources but that is relatively long-lasting. You will need to weigh the pros and cons (did you think this was going to be easy??) and decide the best choice for your needs. Happy flooring!


Allergies on the rise: how to combat respiratory allergies in your home February 4, 2007

When people think of respiratory allergies, they often think of mild hay fever; slight stuffiness of the nose, maybe watery eyes, but nothing particularly serious. The reality, for many people, is far different. They can suffer from much more severe attacks, caused by a myriad of often unknown factors. In fact, respiratory allergies are one of the highest causes of morbidity in the US.

Respiratory allergies, and specifically hay fever, are the 5th leading chronic disease in American adults. This results in approximately 4 million missed work days each year, which translates to more than $700 million in lost productivity. In children, respiratory allergies make up more than 50% of all allergy cases. Moreover, there are direct costs associated with allergies; medications alone cost almost $6 billion, and doctor/hospital visits add another $1 billion (Source: “Chronic Conditions: A Challenge for the 21st Century,”National Academy on an Aging Society, 2000). Other sources, such as one study by the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, put the total cost of allergies at $18 billion, with approximately half due to respiratory cases. These figures clearly show that allergies are not a trifling matter; furthermore, and worryingly, in the United States and many other parts of the world, they are on the increase across all age groups and ethnicities, but especially in less economically stable communities, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

 As mentioned briefly above, there are a large number of potential triggers for respiratory allergies. The most common include dust mite residue, pet dander, dust, pollen, mold, and spores, all of which can be found in the home at surprisingly high levels. Moreover, other household items can create fumes or situations which aggravate existing symptoms; these include cleaning products containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and malfunctioning extractor fan systems in the kitchen, which fail to reduce smoke levels effectively.

With all these potential hazards around, how can your allergic reaction to your own home be minimized? The few simple steps outlined below tackle several of the major factors implicated in respiratory allergy suffering in the home.

1)  Prevent mold from growing in your home by keeping humidity down. It should ideally be at no more than 60% (and no less than 30%, as dry air can also aggravate respiratory conditions). Leaks and condensation are signs that mold might start growing; fix leaks immediately and look for the sources of drips and condensation. Shower curtains are a favorite spot for mold growth, due to the damp, warm conditions in many bathrooms; an efficient extractor fan and/or dehumidifier can keep humidity down, and changing your plastic shower curtain for a more mold-resistant material may also prevent mold growth.

2)  Control and get rid of dust mites by changing or adequately cleaning bedding materials. Approximately 10-20% of Americans will develop sensitivity to dust mites in their lifetime. Because dust mites tend to thrive in warm bedclothes and linens, we often come into close contact with them, which explains the high frequency of symptoms deriving from their presence. However, there are numerous control mechanisms and measures that are easy and relatively cheap to implement in the home. For example, bedding made of certain materials, such as latex or wool, is more resistant to mite infestation than cotton. Similarly, mite-shielding bed covers are readily available on the Internet or in department stores.Finally, simply washing bedding in very hot water, and airing it in direct sunlight, can often be enough to control the presence of dust mites, and thus reduce allergic reactions.

3) Keep your house as free from toxic, volatile chemicals are possible. These fumes are often highly hazardous and are irritants that can exacerbate symptoms and lead to serious respiratory conditions. Always work with chemicals such as paint strippers and bleaches in well-ventilated areas, and avoid exposure as much as possible, or replace with non-toxic alternatives.Washing detergents, drain cleaners and air fresheners which all may contain VOCs can be replaced by natural products, such as borax and vinegar for drains and bathrooms and essential oils or incense to mask bad smells.

For more information, check out the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.


Going green, literally, to combat indoor air pollution! January 13, 2007

Going green, literally, to combat indoor air pollution!

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This entry was posted on January 13, 2007 and is filed under Green Home,Air Quality.

I was amazed to discover the wealth of information on the effects of houseplants on indoor living. Apart from the proven psychological benefits of having green plants and colorful flowers around us, especially while we work, the benefits of having extra oxygen is hard to deny. But even more than this, some species of plant have been shown to be adept at filtering our air as efficiently as any commericial air filter system!

The number of gases that have been tested with various houseplants is large and varied, but nevertheless includes some top criminals in the indoor pollution case, such as benzene and formaldehyde. It turns out that although toxic to us, species of plant such as the peace lily, bamboo palm, English ivy, Boston fern and even various orchids can efficiently remove these potentially carcinogenic chemicals from the air, thus reducing our levels of air pollution within the home. These species have the added advantage of being natural shade-tolerant and easily procured at garden centres and nurseries around the country.

Or, instead of buying, why not try taking a cutting from a friend or neighbour and potting it yourself? With gentle watering, a decent sized pot (over 6 inches in diameter is recommended) and moderate levels of indirect sunlight, the value of a collection of houseplants can be more than decorative; it can be an integral tool in battling indoor air pollution. For a more complete list of plants to choose from, click here.


Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate! January 2, 2007

Filed under: Air pollutants,Air quality,Allergies,Green buildings,Green home,Green living,Green tips — Anca Novacovici, Eco-Coach Inc. @ 9:50 pm

You may have heard it before, but it is worth repeating, especially if you’re not doing it! One of the easiest ways to reduce pollution in indoor spaces is to ventilate. Yes, open those windows, even if it’s chilly outside! It’s a great and easy way of bringing in fresh air. Even though we all hear about the high levels of outdoor air pollution, the air outside is three to five times cleaner than the air you’re breathing right now (assuming you’re sitting somewhere indoors).

Use exhaust fans in places such as kitchens and bathrooms where the air may not circulate as much even with an open window. If the space is hermetically sealed, like many office spaces, be sure that there is a mechanical ventilation system in place with a high exchange rate (i.e. high percentage of the air is from the outdoors). For more information, check out the Home Ventilation Institute’s site.

Another option to consider if additional ventilation is not possible is installing an air filter. There are many out there, so you will need to do your homework. However, I’ve found many HEPA(high efficiency particulate air) filters to be effective. These are said to remove at least 99.97% of allergens and contaminants like dust, pollen, mold, bacteria and airborne particles larger or equal to 0.3 microns. These filters can be costly and energy-intensive, therefore they may not be for everyone. Be weary, too, of filters that produce ozone; these are bad for the lungs as well as for the environment — look for filters that has minimal to no ozone emission. Review sites such as Consumer Search to determine which filter is right for you.


Here’s to a green 2007! December 27, 2006

You’ve made quite a few New Year’s resolutions in the past, I’m sure, as have I and the majority of the world. Here’s one that is easy to keep: do something green in 2007. If you do just one thing this year to green your house, you will be that much healthier, not to mention help the planet.

Here are a few easy things you can do – I’m keeping the list to five, for starters:

1. Replace each bulb that goes out with a CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulb. These use 66% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

2. Clean green: Buy household cleaners that are non-toxic. It will decrease the toxins in your house and in the waterways.

3. Say no to plastic bags whenever you can. We throw away 100 billion polyurethane bags annually!! Bring a reusable bag with you when shopping.

4. Cut down on junk mail. Take your name off of mailing lists.

5. Buy Energy Star appliances.

Once you’ve mastered one or more of these, feel free to check back frequently for more tips and ideas.


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