You've had the flu three years in a row. The first year, you got it from Bob, the IT guy, who sneezed while updating your computer. The second year, you got it from Harry, who touched the tab on the water cooler after sneezing into his hand. The third year, you got it from Linda because she made out with Harry, and Harry's wife got the flu from their kids. Gross.

This year, if avoiding the flu is on your high list of priorities, see your HR manager about implementing a green cleaning program in your office. If they're worried about the cost, maybe this staggering bit of information will change their minds: According to the World Health Organization, the cost of influenza to the U.S. economy in terms of health care costs and lost productivity is estimated to be around $71 billion to $167 billion a year.

This flu season, HR managers are realizing that going green is no longer just a tree-hugging, earth-loving, iceberg-saving fad. In fact, HR managers are going green in an effort to reduce the occurrence of illness in the workplace.  It's an  inexpensive, effective way to improve employee well-being, while decreasing low productivity and absenteeism.

"Green cleaning provides demonstrable benefits to improved indoor environmental utility that directly relates to decreased absenteeism and increased productivity," said Keith Schneringer, President of USGBC San Diego and Marketing Manager for Waxie Sanitary Supply, Western U.S.

Cleaning products can contribute to indoor air quality problems as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) evaporate and are circulated through the building's ventilation system. (Imagine the stifling smell of your kitchen after you sprayed blue stuff all over the place.) Actually, indoor air is often several times more contaminated than outdoor air, and allergic reactions to unhealthy environments account for more than 10 million workdays missed by U.S. employees each year. By replacing cleaning products that negatively affect indoor environmental quality, with green cleaning, the health and productivity of employees is improved.

Although Going Green is a newer fad to the general populous,  the concept of green cleaning and better indoor air quality has been around for years. In 2002, for example, Charles Young Elementary School in Washington, DC, implemented green cleaning with a positive conclusion: green cleaning programs benefit the administration and students, with increases in productivity and higher test scores overall.

According to expert Dr. Michael A. Berry, PhD, “there is a direct connection between healthy school environments; behaviors and attitudes of students, parents, and educators; and academic achievement.”  The healthier school environments result in improved student attendance and attitude, improved teacher attitude and retention. Moreover, math and reading scores improved.

  • School attendance increased from 89% to 93%

  • Math scores at basic or above increased from 51% to 76%

  • Reading scores at basic or above increased from 59% to 75%

San Diego-based Servi-Tek, a janitorial service company, is embracing this Go Green attitude. The company employs environmentally sound practices through the exclusive use of products that meet the strict requirements of green cleaning. 

"We use non-toxic, non-reactive chemicals that have a minimal effect on the environment. Additionally, companies see more effective use of energy and less water consumption through our green cleaning processes," said Kurt Lester, partner of Servi-Tek.

Because of the environmental and human health benefits associated with cleaning practices, the LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) Rating System has incorporated credits that reward green cleaning. So, in more ways than one, Going Green is great for a company’s bottom line.

Healthy School Environment and Enhanced Educational Performance – The Case of Charles Young Elementary School, Washington, DC, Carpet&Rug Institute, January 2002.