Green Schools
Green Cleaning: Maintenance Assessment

Green Cleaning: Maintenance Assessment

Now that 2012 is underway, this is the perfect time to develop a plan for managing and improving cleaning operations. One planning approach begins with a clear vision or strong commitment to an ultimate goal, such as improving cleanliness, increasing the amount or percentage of green products, improving cleaning efficiencies to address reductions in budgets, better training for workers and supervisors, and better communications and engagement with students and the community.

But visions and commitments will only lead to real results if the current state of affairs is assessed and considered objectively. An assessment will provide the information necessary to build a realistic plan that efficiently achieves the goal(s). When it comes to assessing a green cleaning program it often is thought of in four categories:

  • Facility. It is important to consider the cleanliness of the building with an eye toward differentiating between problems caused by maintenance or system issue and problems caused by the cleaning personnel, products or processes. For example, mold growth or wall and carpet stains resulting from water intrusion will be solved differently compared with stains caused by the lack of or improper cleaning.

  • People. It is important to do an assessment of cleaning personnel. People are not machines, and although it is easy to provide written plans and cleaning requirements, getting people to do it may be another matter. So, objectively assess their ability as well as their training needs so that a plan can be built on realistic expectations.

    Furthermore, it also is valuable to consider whether there are other resources that can contribute to creating a cleaner, more healthful and greener building. For example, consider if there are teachers, staff and student groups or clubs who can be engaged. Getting elementary school kids to stack their chairs, organize their desks and pick up materials from floors can save valuable time for custodians while at the same time teaching children life lessons about cleanliness and personal responsibility. Many colleges and universities have student groups that are committed to protecting the environment that could be mobilized to help with recycling and other programs.

  • Products. Many if not most schools and universities are using green cleaning chemicals, which now is easy thanks to a variety of third-party certification programs such as those from Green Seal, EcoLogo or EPA's Design for the Environment Program (DfE). There are similar programs for equipment and paper products.

    But each year an assessment should be conducted to determine if there was any "backsliding" where traditional and more toxic products have been brought back into the building. Plus, look forward to see if newer, better and greener technologies can further improve the program.

  • Budget. An effective plan has to take into account a realistic budget, as this often overrides the best plans such as those for purchasing a new piece of equipment or implementing a new cleaning process requiring four people to clean a building, when the budget will only allow for three or two.

In general, the assessment should not be overly complex; rather, it needs to be objective to generate real issues and to help make sure the plan is headed in the right direction. One consideration is to invest in an outside auditor. This can be a paid consultant, a peer from a neighboring school or university, or a vendor of cleaning products—assuming that each has the appropriate expertise and can be objective.

The Green Cleaning Network offers tools for free, as does the Healthy Schools Campaign in their Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools (www.healthyschoolscampaign.org/programs/gcs/). But regardless of what tool is used, it will be well worth the time and effort to conduct an assessment before completing and carrying out a plan.

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

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