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Hand Hygiene Benefits for Green Buildings

Importance of Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene, we can all agree, is very important – and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), washing our hands properly is one of the best things we can do to prevent the spread of many illnesses.

In addition to protecting public health, strategies to promote good hand hygiene can also contribute to an overall Green Cleaning program at a building, facility or campus – and WAXIE is here to assist with recommendations to help you achieve both your building occupant health and sustainability goals.

Occupant Wellness

Absenteeism costs businesses billions of dollars per year in lost productivity – and absenteeism also dramatically impacts our children’s performance in school, with untold millions of lost days for both students and educators contributing to lower academic performance and decreased school funding.

A study published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that over a 13.5 month period, the combination of hand hygiene education and alcohol-based hand sanitizer placed in strategic workplace locations and personal use resulted in “hygiene-preventable health care claims (being) significantly reduced in the intervention group by over 20%.”

With the increasing focus on creating and maintaining building spaces which contribute to overall workplace wellness and enhanced guest experience, having a strategy to promote hand hygiene will only become more and more important.

Thinking About LEED

Sustainability has emerged as a global theme in the 21st century, and many building owners are pursuing LEED certification from the US Green Building Council in order to demonstrate and validate their commitment to providing building spaces which are better for the triple bottom line of building occupant health, reduced environment impacts and the economic development.

According to the LEED Green Building Rating System*, a LEED for Operations + Maintenance project is required to “develop strategies for promoting and improving hand hygiene, including both hand washing and the use of alcohol-based waterless hand sanitizers.” as part of an overall prerequisite to ”have in place a green cleaning policy for the building and site addressing the green cleaning credits, goals and strategies…” and that “at a minimum, the policy must cover green cleaning procedures, materials, and services that are within the building and site management’s control, and include the organization responsible for cleaning the building and building site.”

The purpose for this hand hygiene requirement is help protect building occupant health and wellness by promoting hand hygiene strategies in order to increase the frequency and effectiveness of hand washing with soap and water. In addition it is also important to supplement this hand washing promotion by providing alcohol-based waterless sanitizers for when occupants do not have immediate access to soap and water.

When purchasing hand soaps to contribute to your hand hygiene program, the LEED rating system requires that soaps either be Green Seal, UL ECOLOGO, or EPA Safer Choice certified, or that they contain no antimicrobial agents.

Washing your hands is the first step to hand hygiene – the next step is to dry your hands with a paper towel, and the LEED rating system requires that hand towels either be Green Seal or UL ECOLOGO certified, meet the EPA Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines for post-consumer recycled content, be FSC certified for fiber procurement, or be derived from rapidly renewable resources or tree-free fibers.

Even if your building is not interested in pursuing LEED certification, this standard can still be used as a blueprint for best practices – and as a matter of fact, the standard itself is a representation of best practices as voted on by the USGBC membership community which is comprised of individuals from the business (including building owners, facility management and the cleaning industry), education, healthcare, hospitality and government sectors.

Hand Soap Considerations

Our society has been erroneously led to believe that antimicrobial or antibacterial hand soaps are the best options, but that is not necessarily the case. Unless you work in a healthcare of food service setting where an antibacterial hand soap is required, a regular good old-fashioned hand soap is really all you need.

Think about it – it doesn’t matter if the bacteria on your hands  is alive or dead, as long as it is washed off your hands and down into the sink.

As a matter of fact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently banned the use of 19 active ingredients commonly found in antibacterial hand soaps. The reasons?: Because there wasn’t enough empirical evidence to prove that the antibacterial hand soap actually performed better than regular hand soap, and there was concern that these ingredients may actually pose a long term health risk.

Really all you need for an effective hand hygiene program which can contribute to overall occupant health and sustainability goals is a good, regular hand soap for your facility – and if you want to be extra sure that the ingredients and packaging for that hand soap have been reviewed and vetted by a reputable third party source, UL ECOLOGO , Green Seal and EPA Safer Choice all have standards which can be used to identify certified options.

And while you are at it, you may want to consider a more sanitary hand soap dispensing system which is sealed – especially since studies** have shown that bulk soap dispensers often contain more germs than sealed dispensing systems. Yuck!

Finish With Hand Sanitizer

And when there is not access to soap and water, and even better yet as a finishing step in the hand washing process once you have washed your hands with soap and water and then dried them with a paper towel, it is recommended that alcohol-based hand sanitizers be used to help provide extra protection against germs.

Wait a minute – you may be asking yourself “what about that ban on triclosan and antibacterial hand soap? I thought I should just use regular hand soap?” The truth is that alcohol-based hand sanitizers provide effective germ control without posing potential risks like the antibacterial hand soaps referenced earlier. Other myths about hand sanitizers are addressed by WAXIE’s hand hygiene partners at GOJO in this informative article.


A hand hygiene program is an integral component in helping to promote occupant wellness and an excellent vehicle to help achieve overall organizational sustainability goals.

WAXIE GPS® Green Partner Support™ is a comprehensive approach to implementing an effective green cleaning program, and WAXIE-Green Hand Soaps set the bar for sensory appeal, sustainability and performance.

* LEED 2009 Rating System links are shown, and LEED v4 language for associated prerequisite and credit is identical or similar

** Studies which have found that sealed soap dispensers are more sanitary than bulk soap dispensers include the American Society for Microbiology and the University of Arizona (with University of Arizona findings also available on associated educational poster and presentation)