Household cleaning is a murky area for consumers who want to be environmentally conscious. Of course we can assume that reusing cloth rags for cleaning is greener than buying paper towels, but household cleaners are not required to list their ingredients under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act – so they don’t. And even if they did, who knows by heart which chemicals are materially damaging? Maid Brigade is a green cleaning service that has adopted a green cleaning protocol at all of its 400+ locations that includes product scrutiny and staff training to make the service “as green as possible in today’s world”. Recently we caught up with Cloud Conrad, vice president of brand strategies to see if Maid Brigade’s green standards are as high as yours.
As more companies start using green buzzwords in marketing, discerning consumers should grow more wary. Ask: is there genuine concern for the environment here? Is there a commitment to honesty and transparency? While the first question might be impossible to answer, the second test is easy. Maid Brigade passed – their vice president of brand strategies sent me, among other documents, 10 pages of PDFs with ingredient lists. She also offered to overnight me excerpts from their training manual.
Interview With Maid Brigade Brand Strategy VP Cloud Conrad
Tell me about Maid Brigade’s Green Clean Certified System.
“Green Clean Certified” is the proprietary certification system. When we launched… our green cleaning service in April 2007, there was no standard written anywhere for house cleaning services. We patterned our standard off of Green Seal GS 42 – the standard for institutional cleaners, janitorial services that clean business offices – and in some degree on GS 37, the Green Seal standard for the cleaning products themselves.
We felt that it was important to have, we wanted to establish, our own standard because we wanted to make sure as a franchised organization with more than 400 locations in the US and Canada, wanted to make sure our brand was consistent with what we were doing and saying, franchise to franchise and visit to visit.
When did Maid Brigade decide to go green and why?
We decided to go green in the summer of ‘06. It really actually came as a suggestion and request for us to look at from our franchisees. A Boise, Idaho area franchise… [was] soliciting the businesses of a big bank building. This bank was going for LEED certification and their contact within said they had to have a company that cleans green. They taught themselves how to clean green and through the process they discovered that it’s not costing any more money, [and] the customers were happy.
At that point we entered the R and D phase [research and development] and we spent eight months in that process and looking at different products, inspecting different green cleaning standards… testing over several months in several franchise locations. And after about eight months of testing we wrote it up as a procedure and we launched it in April 2007.
Household cleaners are not required to list all ingredients. Does Maid Brigade make the ingredient lists for its cleaning products available to the public?
Yes. We don’t distribute those in every home because that’s a waste of paper and a waste of trees. MSDS [material safety data sheets] are available for anyone who wants those. That is a requirement for Green Seal’s GS 42 for institutional standards. It has to be [a requirement] because if I’m sensitive to a particular chemical or my family is and I want to make sure that you are cleaning green, and not introducing that chemical into my home, that’s the only sound proof of what is or is not.
What about cleaning equipment, like vacuums, cleaning cloths, gloves, sponges, mopheads, that kind of thing?
We use vacuums that are certified under the Carpet and Rug Institute green label. Their standard requirement is that vacuums remove 99.9% of air particles that are 1 micron or larger, basically what that means is that vacuums are removing almost all pet dander, pollen, dust, mites, mildew and other respiratory irritants. The indoor air quality is a major factor in respiratory health…
Green Seal wants your cloths to be reuseable and in general Green Seal wants a cleaning program that reduces solid waste. We use microfiber cloths and microfiber mops. The stuff is awesome. Basically they have a static charge to them so they attract dust, stuff better. They do a better job cleaning. They require use of less cleaning solutions as well because they’re so effective, and they last much longer than a cotton cloth, reducing manufacting and landfill waste – really significantly better in terms of the environmental benefits of green cleaning. And according to Green Seal’s standards, the cleaning solutions have to be equally effective. They have to do their job…
I’ll be forthright with you. We include in our bucket – our portfolio – a product that is not Green Seal certified and that is called Stix, because we have to be effective. It actually has to clean the surface properly and it has to be safe. You use the midlest thing possible to do a job. So we always start with our Green Earth product line which is from Betco. Some of these are Green Seal approved products in and of themselves. But Stix is not. Stix is our last ditch effort. We do not use bleach at all. This is actually more preferable for an environmental and health standard than bleach. But it’s still a strong chemical including phosphoric acid. We only use that where nothing else will do.
[We use] peroxide. If that doesn’t work we use Bon Ami, which is not Green Seal approved. We use a pumice stone which is very green. If that’s not gonna work we use a drywall screen which is more abrasive so it can get off stains that the peroxide cleaner can’t get off. I want to be forthright about that. We want to lay it all out there. Stix is actually used on LEED-certified buildings so its not ungreen.
[It’s ok] If the customer wants us to use their floor polish, which is not green, or their bleach on their mildew, but they have to provide it. That’s your request and you have to provide it. Mildew is one of those examples where our peroxide cleaner does a pretty good job but consumers are constantly providing an environment that’s favorable for mildew to grow in, a moist, warm environment. Some customers say “A little mildew is okay, I’d rather have a green program,” some customers will say, “Not acceptable – I’ll put the bleach on the counter.”
What kind of training do Maid Brigade maids get before they’re allowed to go out and clean? (answered via email)
The training/certification requirements for franchisees and their teams are:
A Franchisee Must: *complete a series of webinars covering the Green Clean Certified standards, our green cleaning process, solutions and equipment, sales and marketing (true claims/false claims plus health benefits and vulnerable populations) and how to train the cleaning teams *listen to a recorded sales call *take two tests on the above materials *order their starter kit of cleaning solutions and equipment *complete training of their first team (we clean in teams of 2 or 3 people because it is more efficient and they can check each other’s work) *sign a written pledge to adhere to the Green Clean Certified standards for consistency
A Team Must: *attend classroom training on the Green Clean Certified standards, solutions, equipment and cleaning procedures *attend practical training sessions for one week in the field *take a written test
Your publicist told me that Maid Brigade is working with Green Seal to establish guidelines for the residential cleaning industry to combat greenwashing. How do you hope to get your guidelines to catch on in the industry?
We hope that we will be able to achieve Green Seal certification for residential cleaning. I have been in contact with Green Seal throughout the course of our work in our launch. Green Seal is really where we took our cues from. They asked us if they would be able to review our materials. Through the course of that… their lead scientist who is writing the residential standards contacted me… He let us look at every draft for comments on the standard before it went to a public commenting process which is where it is now. We are part of the public commenting process as well. They took some of our suggestions but not all of them.
I could be wrong, but I’m not aware of anything else related to the residential cleaning industry. I believe this is the first and only third party standard. Because the cleaning industry is rightfully competitive, it’s the smart move, not just business move in going green but the smart environmental move and health move. If the maids are sick then we’ve got a problem, and these maids are exposed to these chemicals 40 hours a week…
It’s the equipment we use, it’s really a whole house process, it’s not any one component. Greenwashing is really a part of the equation now. Cleaning companies are fiercely competitive. If you’re not doing the whole system than you are not dong your customers or your maids the justice that you intended.
[Cleaning companies] would want to be Green Seal certified because it’s going to be the only standard out there. I’m sure others will come to light over the next several years but this will be the only one out there for a certain period of time. They’ll all want that “we’ve got the seal of approval” quasi-endorsement, if you will, from a third party.
There are products out there that use the word citrus, that use the word green, that leads consumers to believe that this is healthy for me, that this is healthier for the environment. And some products that say non-toxic and biodegradable. It’s just consumers owe it to themselves to dig deeper and find the MSDS sheets. The Household Products Database – look up products and find out if they include ingredients that are harmful. They can go and learn more about what their using in their own home. Just because it says its green – there’s some irresponsible marketing out there and some ignorant marketing out there.
How can customers confirm that Maid Brigade is making these green claims in good faith?
I would want them to visit our sister site, greencleancertified.com, and read up in there. That would be one place to go, there’s videos on that site and useful video on the maidbrigade.com site. The video walks consumers through five basic questions to ask a cleaning service. Really at the end of the day a consumer could call me or call their local Maid Brigade and ask these questions.
IS IT GREEN?
Yes. Maid Brigade is making a real effort toward greener practices. No doubt there will be higher standards either at their company or other cleaning services in the future. But as the pioneers, they decided to provide an environmentally-sensitive cleaning service, despite the initial capital investment that might have stopped a company that was less committed. They did serious research on the environmental and health impacts of their products. And they’re transparent. Additionally, outsourcing your cleaning to a company that does it exclusively is bound to be more efficient. If only they rode bikes to each appointment – that would be a great green cleaning service.
+ Maid Brigade
+ Maid Brigade Solutions [pdf]
+ Green Cleaning or Green Washing? [pdf]