We would like to introduce to you Green Clean Maine, a Portland, Maine based green cleaning company that is changing an old industry one client at a time. Owner Joe Walsh has been into environmental protection and sustainable living for many years, and his company was born out of sheer passion from a desire to fill a need he came across selling ads for a local green coupon book; green the cleaning business and provide unmatched service. His idea is now a rapidly growing business catering to hundreds of homes and businesses in the Greater Portland area, from Scarborough to Freeport. Joe founded Green Clean Maine in October of 2007 and hasn’t looked back. We had the opportunity to catch up with Joe at his new office on Sheridan St. and get to know more about this environmental leader and his company.
GHOM: What inspired you to start this business?
Joe Walsh: I was in educational administration and business and I made a career change. I never bought into the idea that in order to be a successful business owner you have to degrade the environment. I wanted to figure out how to do something that would have a net positive benefit for the environment and be profitable at the same time.
I started out in sustainable business selling advertising for the Sunrise Guide, a local publication that highlights all these great eco-friendly businesses and organizations. During my two years there, I learned so much about local green businesses, and also realized no one was offering green cleaning services on any sort of scale. I saw the need and I’d always enjoyed cleaning, so I did the research and decided to give it a go.
From the beginning I approached the business as a professional service where I would have a staff and we would be of the size to handle the demand and grow accordingly. I wanted to have a presence in the community and provide the service to a wide range of people. My idea was to be an environmental leader. I’m not interested in running a traditional cleaning company and using chemicals for products. I wouldn’t be in this business if it weren’t environmentally friendly.
Incidentally, my interest in the environment originated in renewable energy and sustainable land use development. However, as I did the research leading up to the creation of Green Clean Maine, I realized that indoor air quality was a topic hugely important health issue that no one was talking about. According to the EPA, the average American spends about 90% their time indoors, and indoor has more toxins in it than the air outside that everyone is focused on. Don’t get me wrong, the outdoor air is extremely important as well, but indoor air is a more acute personal health risk. And what I didn’t realize going into this was that the majority of these indoor toxins come from traditional, off-the-shelf cleaning products.
My ultimate goal is to educate our clients about the truth behind traditional cleaning products and the effects they have on your health as well as the environment. We can clean your home just as well and even better with our products, without polluting your indoor air or leaving behind the harmful residues often left by traditional cleaners.
GHOM: Which leads to my next question; Do you see a large part of your business as educating clients, or do most of your clients come to you with a general knowledge of what it means to clean with natural products?
Joe Walsh: Many clients are coming to us with a general awareness of the potential dangers of traditional cleaning products, and with an idea that a green service is preferable to a one that is not green. They don’t need much convincing that green is the way to go. Where the education comes in is showing people just how great the results are without chemicals. That’s what seems to impress people the most. When they come to me they sometimes think they’ll have to give up something in terms of results to go green, but we show them that this is absolutely not true.
The most exciting new customers are those who don’t know or care about how green we are, but are referred to us by a friend because they are purely interested in great results at a reasonable price. I love turning these situations into opportunities to educate clients about the benefits of going green. Not that I preach to them or anything, in fact I’ll sometimes downplay the green aspect when we initially talk because they’re skeptical that a house can be cleaned without bleach or scrubbing bubbles. The education happens naturally when they see the results we achieve without chemicals. This is sometimes their first experience with “going green,” so to speak, and can inspire them to take other steps in that direction. It’s a lot of fun to see people make that transition.
Especially for those new to non-toxic methods, but really for all of my clients, I’ve become a ‘green cleaning guru’ of sorts. They will call and say “Ok, you will be proud of me, I threw out all of the chemical products and bleach I used to keep around and have switched to all natural products now. But I can’t get this stain out” and I will give them a solution to use. I also get calls and they are at the grocery store asking “so which dish washing detergent or laundry detergent should I buy?” and I can help them make that choice and eliminate one more toxic product from their home. It’s a really great feeling to provide that for someone.
GHOM: You make your own cleaning products, how do you see that it benefits your clients to do so?
Joe Walsh: First off, I started by buying natural products in the store and they weren’t working to the level that we needed. We have a limited amount of time in the clients home or office and we need to know that no matter what we come across we can clean it effectively with only our natural cleaners. So I began to experiment and mix my own cleaners in house to up their strength and eventually found my way to where we are now.
I feel that it shows how committed we are to our business, our values, sustainability and the environment. It also gives us complete control over what goes into products and ultimately our client’s homes or businesses. Our employees benefit from it in the form of not absorbing the chemicals in traditional products. Creating our own cleaning products in house also lets us experiment with the formulas to achieve a better clean and also develop products to tackle specific jobs.
At this point I still make all the products myself, by hand in the office. We disclose all our ingredients to the clients so that they know exactly what is coming into their home. We are very upfront with that information and I think it adds value and accountability to our service. I can also customize the aroma profile with essential oils, but we don’t choose the oils based on smell alone, we choose them for their natural anti-bacterial properties.
GHOM: How would you advise someone interested in a service like yours to proceed?
Joe Walsh: Anytime you are considering bringing a service provider into your home, you should do your homework about that provider. The standard stuff such as insured and bonded will eliminate over half of the advertisers to begin with. You also want to make sure that their employees are actual employees and not sub-contractors. This will ensure that the service provider has workers compensation in case said worker gets injured on the job. You want to make sure they have spelled out what they are going to do for you in your contract. Professional services will have a list of what is included in each cleaning. Go over it and make sure it meets your expectations. References are important as well. Call them, talk to them and get a feel for the people you are considering hiring. Keep in mind that with cleaning services, like other contractors, you often get what you pay for. So yes, price is important and the cost has to be reasonable and fit your budget, but price is only one piece of the equation. And of course, don’t forget to do a little on-line research!
You should also consider if you want to hire an individual or a professional service. When you hire an individual you will have to manage them one on one. There are a lot of individuals who do a great job, but they are in your home or office longer and it becomes more of a personal relationship than a service. If you hire a professional service, they manage the employee, you communicate with the service. This can be advantageous depending on what your needs are and how much time you have. I’m not saying that we’re not personal, my staff loves getting to know the clients, but it’s more of a professional relationship with professional results.
Finally, if they say they are green, you should really investigate that claim. Anyone can say they are green, currently there are no regulations to prevent them from saying so and then doing differently. After a short conversation with them, most people would be able to determine if they are truly committed to being green.
GHOM: Is there anything you would like to add?
Joe Walsh: I seldom get to talk about this on a day-to-day basis, but I really subscribe to the triple bottom line in business, which is: People, Planet, Profit. People: I won’t consider my business a success unless I’m providing living wage jobs for my employees, delivering outstanding service to our clients and contributing to the community. We already offer our employees paid vacation time, which is rare in this business, and are very close to offering health benefits. That’s a milestone for Green Clean Maine that I’m very excited about achieving. The benefits to the planet are inherent in the service we provide and through all the other ways in which we’re green, which I could talk about for another hour! And of course, the business must be financially sound and profitable or none of this would be possible.
GHOM: Thank you Joe, I commend you on your business and commitment to the environment.
Interested in more about green cleaning? Joe will be writing several articles on cleaning with natural products and the effects of traditional cleaners here at GreenHomesOfMaine.com in the coming months!
If you or someone you know is interested in a green cleaning service, please give Joe and his staff a call or visit his website at;