Eco-Sustainability During a Pandemic


Have we lost track of our carbon footprint in the wake of the pandemic? Is the current rate of disinfection affecting the environment and us? Here are some thoughts by industry experts.


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Specialised Cleaning
February 22, 2021
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Eco-Sustainability During a Pandemic

Sustainability lies at the core of human existence, and as citizens of this planet, it is our responsibility to strike the perfect balance between societal needs, technological development, increased population and resource consumption, and our relationship with nature to avoid irreversible natural disasters. 

No individual is exempt from their role and responsibilities to strive for sustainability in all we do economically and environmentally to restore balance with nature. Sustainability means a commitment to future generations that we will not continue to destroy or deplete our planet any further and try to work towards a circular economy, whilst moving away from our current linear model. The science is out there and understood by all that climate change continues to affect our lives as well as other species on our planet.

“Sustainability means aligning your business model with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, paying attention to your supply chain to ensure transparency, taking ownership of your behavior and impact on society. A sustainable business adheres to the triple bottom line, people, planet, and profit.

It is a known fact that value- and purpose-driven businesses will be around much longer than nonsustainable ones. There are many benefits of running a sustainable business, such as reduced running costs, it improves your businesses reputation and will lead to profitability in the long-term as Millennials and GenZ increase their hold in the market towards supporting and spending their dollars on sustainable businesses,” says Adrienne Doolan, a sustainable entrepreneur, and CEO at Green Touches.

Impact of the pandemic

The pandemic caught us off guard. The world was not prepared for an impact of this magnitude. Lack of preparedness leads to a reactive response to an unknown, unquantifiable threat and panic. The transmissibility of SARS CoV2 has exceeded the experience and lessons learned from prior epidemics of SARS, MERS, and Influenza variants. This has been exacerbated by the progression of the pandemic through multiple strains and increasing transmissibility of the evolving mutations in individual countries and spread worldwide.

“In the absence of a clear understanding of the health threat, the immediate response of Government Public Health Departments - around the world - was to be publicly evident implementing aggressive response measures to reassure the public and that the threat is being mitigated. The televised images of the indiscriminate spraying of chemicals in buildings and streets clearly illustrated this misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of the characteristics of SARS CoV2 and its mode of transmission. Organizations and individuals followed suit. The subsequent demand for disinfectants and PPE quickly outstripped supply from normal accredited channels and established a grey market for products and unqualified opportunistic services. The demand for disposable PPE created a new form of potentially infectious waste flowing uncontrollably into domestic waste channels or even worse, disposed of into the environment,” says Michael Rollins, Consultant Healthcare Environment Infection Prevention.

A hotel’s dilemma

Amidst all this chaos, hotels find themselves in a dilemma to strike a balance between COVID-19 disinfection and sustainable practices. Michael believes that the dramatic downturn in hospitality demand, while economically devastating, provides an opportunity to rethink how facilities are designed and maintained to provide a safe customer experience. Cleaning as a profession has typically been seen as a necessary expense, characterized as a lowly profession with low remuneration for services. The true value of cleaning staff or environmental support service technicians have played a front-line role in maintaining safety, particularly within healthcare facilities. The restoration of visitor confidence will be influenced by many external factors including government guidance and regulations. 

The challenge now is to bring infection prevention and control governance in non-healthcare settings - a discipline that cruise lines have exemplified in good hygiene practice in the prevention and control of norovirus outbreaks. The challenge is also to identify within a built environment the functional risk of individual areas and systems such as the HVAC systems and air quality and mitigating the potential for bio-aerosols with infection transmission risk.

Emerging technology includes area decontamination with disinfectant vapors, UVC irradiation, plasma ionization systems which provide reactive and real-time protective applications.

The digital world has similarly responded with the accelerated development of sensor detection tools to monitor built environments and control safe behavior by users of the facility.

The baseline is that environmental hygiene both aesthetically and microbiologically remains at the forefront of the user experience.

Role of technology

The growth in the field of antimicrobial surface treatments is one example illustrated by the introduction and certification in the UAE of Zoono antimicrobial surface treatment, finds Michael Rollins. This topical treatment provides the first-line defense in cross-contamination from surfaces to hands, reducing the viability of germs on surfaces and potential for infection. The Zoono technology is interesting from a sustainability perspective in that it acts, unlike a typical disinfectant which is only active when wet or has discharged any short-term residual effect. Zoono is a bonded antimicrobial treatment which when dry does not leach and remains effective for an extended period of time when maintained correctly.

“To maintain an antimicrobial nano-coated surface requires a cleaning method and technique, which can effectively clean at a nanoscale. Professional microfibres such as Decitex Smart Textiles, which are in current use within UAE healthcare facilities, have passed EN 16615 test standard and can achieve a high level of surface cleanliness with water alone or in conjunction with electrolyzed water, also known as stabilized hypochlorous. The EnviroGuard program introduced in the UK last year combines these three elements within an environmental protection process which is evidence-based, synergistically effective, safe for users, and sustainable within the environment,” says Rollins. 

Technology can also play an important role through digital signage and integration with environmental systems in the workspace and public environments. For example,  Advisory Education, training, directing, and monitoring of human behavior and compliance can all be achieved via these digital systems. 

Measuring sustainability

A measure of sustainability is clearly understood in terms of global initiatives or carbon footprint reduction, recycling, and waste and pollution reduction. Therefore, sustainability can easily be quantified. “What is more challenging is the greater awareness of the general public to the impact of environmental decline and health and well being. Environmental toxicity is out of balance and will impact many areas such as compromised food production due to climate change and reduced nutritional value of farmed foods and the methods used to produce them. We currently consume significantly more than we can sustain,” says Micheal Rollins. 

Sustainable practices

Significant waste has been caused by the exponential growth in disposable products such as disinfectant wipes, masks, and indiscriminate overuse of chemicals. However, a number of sustainable practices can be implemented during the pandemic. Products are available, designed to be reused, with processes, validated to ensure the safe use of reusable products.

The first point on a checklist is this product damaging to the environment in any way. Are we damaging the world for the sake of convenience? We may have to accept that we have to pay more for a sustainable quality of life and reduce our consumption.

Can disinfection be sustainable?

The answer is YES and NO. Whether disinfection can be sustainable or not really depends upon the situation at hand. It depends upon the nature of the microorganism and its ability to become resistant to the mode of action of the disinfectant. 

If the area of chemical disinfectants, and antibiotics there is concerning evidence of resistance or reduced efficacy, influencing adoption of the microbe to strengthen resistance. This is illustrated by the increasing resistance to chemical decontamination of both wet and dry biofilms, which protect the microorganism. 

Those disinfection methods, which have mechanical action, can not result in antimicrobial resistance as the cell is totally disrupted and killed on contact or exposure to irradiated energy.

“In healthcare environmental research studies conducted at University College London Hospitals, we evaluated the power of water in its various forms. As a liquid for cleaning effect, as a steam vapor for deep cleaning, ultrasonic cleaning within a water tank, electrolyzed water disinfection, capillary force efficacy of microfibre cleaning. Each of these sustainable methods can achieve a high level of surface cleanliness compatible with a healthy environment. We also evaluated silane-based antimicrobial coatings, which I personally believe presents the foundation for the first line of defense between cleaning cycles, reducing the risk of cross-contamination and providing a modified surface type that allows for more effective cleaning and decontamination by removal, in preference to relying on the continued application of aggressive chemicals onto surfaces, into the environment, with a future outlook of increasing their strength to combat the increasing resistance. It is not a battle the humans will win against the continually and rapidly evolving world of the micro-organism,” suggests Rollins. 

So can our facilities manage to be sustainable in wake of a pandemic? Yes. 


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