Green Schools
Green Cleaning: Comprehensive Training

Green Cleaning: Comprehensive Training

Green cleaning has come a long way in the past five years. Estimates indicate that green products now represent between 35 and 50 percent of the institutional and commercial marketplace. This is remarkable considering that comparable green products in the consumer marketplace, such as those found at the grocery store or mass merchandiser, have reached only 1 percent!

This demand is what has driven the supply-side of the market, so a debt of gratitude is owed to every school and university that has made the effort to convert to green cleaning. Green cleaning chemicals, sanitary paper, high-efficiency equipment and other products containing less toxic ingredients, recycled content, and those designed to be resource-efficient and durable are everywhere. Now the race to "out-green" the competition is off and running.

As schools and universities continue on the green cleaning journey, one underutilized opportunity for reducing the impacts associated with cleaning is the cleaning personnel.

Although training typically is provided, it often covers only the minimum required by law, such as OSHA requirements for personal protective equipment, bloodborne pathogens and right-to-know information associated with chemicals in the workplace. Many workers could benefit by spending more time on training with a greater focus on "effective" cleaning (as opposed to "efficient" cleaning), as well as opportunities for cleaning personnel to contribute to reducing a building’s overall environmental footprint.

Along these lines, an innovative training program is being developed by the Thomas-Shortman Training Fund (which is associated with SEIU’s local 32BJ), along with Brandywine Realty Trust and two of its cleaning contractors. A 10-hour, five-course program covers the basics of green cleaning, LEED, and health and safety issues; it also has courses designed to teach cleaning personnel how they can help reduce a building’s energy, water and waste. As it turns out, cleaning personnel can be proactive in these areas if taught what to look for and when given a clear process for the appropriate response.

The Thomas-Shortman training has courses designed to address how adults really learn. Much of this training is done as hands-on exercises, and the courses make learning fun by incorporating key concepts into games such as a Jeopardy-style learning game, card games and a scavenger hunt to find burned-out light bulbs and malfunctioning flush valves.

Although schools and universities deal with language, cultural and other issues on a daily basis for their students, far too often the same amount of educational thought and instructional design isn’t used to help cleaning personnel. This is especially true when training has been delegated to suppliers. The goal should be to drive effective cleaning and reduce the building’s environmental footprint.

Innovative opportunities abound, so make sure training curriculums address all legal requirements and use language that the staff understands. This year, include in the curriculum courses that go beyond just efficient cleaning procedures and the "how to’s" of cleaning products and processes.

Add simple steps such as turning off lights in unoccupied spaces; reporting malfunctioning fluorescent light fixtures, automated faucets and flush valves; cleaning coils of refrigerated beverage machines; reporting electrical equipment that runs unnecessarily; cleaning with cold water and using processes that require less energy, water and chemicals, and those that produce less waste. For some of these issues, consider working with the vendors of electrical and plumbing supplies as they can help train cleaning personnel to reduce the footprint and save money at the same time.

Ashkin is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit educational organization. 

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