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Environmentally friendly cleaning agents

Project supervisors: Ms. KLaas, Ms. Grethler


Acting on a suggestion made by the women’s staff representation, the university has introduced environmentally friendly cleaning agents without superfluous perfumes or inactive ingredients for the cleaning staff of the university. In order to find a suitable cleaning agent, we tested selected agents in several different areas of the university. All tests were successful as far as consumption and cleaning performance were concerned.

In addition to the ecological advantages of these new cleaning agents, they are also significantly less expensive. We were able to implement the project within several months in 2006. In 2006 a proportion of environmentally friendly cleaning agents of 40% was already realised. And with expiry of September 2007 this application rate again could be increased even on 68%.

Reasons for the Switch to Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Agents

  • Up to now, the university has used many different products without any unified regulations. These cleaning agents were not tested for environmental friendliness; they needed only to meet the minimum legal requirements. There are clear differences in the environmental compatibility of various substances used in cleaning agents; not all of them are biodegradable.
  • In our search for new cleaning agents, we took care to choose only products which contained surfactants made from renewable substances. Such surfactants are more biodegradable.
  • We also took care that the cleaning agents did not include any superfluous artificial perfumes, colors, or other inactive ingredients which could be harmful to the environment or cause allergies.
  • Another important goal was to reduce the amount of harmful substances the women on the cleaning staff have to come into contact with to a minimum.

Criteria for the Selection of Cleaning Agents

With the help of Mr. Armin Schuster (from the Institute of Environmental Medicine and Hospital Epidemiology at the Freiburg University Medical Center) we compiled the following list of criteria for the selection of cleaning agents:

  • Is the product group useful and does it fulfill its function (successful cleaning) without damaging material unnecessarily?
  • Is the agent free of undesirable ingredients?
  • Are all organic ingredients, or at least the surfactants, easily biodegradable according to the OECD?
  • Is the agent highly concentrated and easy to measure into exact doses (and if possible sold in a refillable package)? 
  • Does the agent contain as few potentially unhealthy substances as possible?
    (irritation of skin/mucous membranes, allergenic, does it contain solvents?)
  • What opinion does the cleaning staff have of the cleaning agents?
    Reports from practical experience are important and were thus taken into account – this increases the acceptance of the cleaning agents.
  • We suggested that the responsible planning groups lay uniform, easy-to-clean floors in all buildings. Linoleum floors are inexpensive, but also very difficult to clean: They require basic cleaning, polishing with wax, and routine cleaning with 3 different cleaning agents, two of which do not meet our criteria for environmental compatibility.

Implementation of Project:

After intensive research on the internet, we selected the company “Sonett” from the companies which produce environmentally friendly cleaning agents, because its products meet the criteria listed above and are recommended by the dermatology and allergology departments at the Zurich University Medical Center. Sonett offers a wide range of products. All cleaning agents are available in bulk packages and all data sheets are available. A test phase was conducted at the university with selected cleaning agents. These tests were successful, and a price comparison revealed that the environmentally friendly agents are also less expensive than those previously used at the university.

The Sustainable University Work Group resolved to switch to the new products. They were introduced following a product training session for the cleaning staff.

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