As far as green is concerned, the best way to end the year is by recognizing the outstanding education institutions that are the 2008 winners of the "Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities" sponsored by American School & University magazine, the Green Cleaning Network and the Healthy Schools Campaign.
The competition had a 25 percent increase in the number of applicants compared with last year. More notable was the improved quality of the applications, especially in four areas:
A clear trend from the winners is that they never stop improving their programs — by introducing innovative products, including greener cleaning chemicals; janitorial power equipment that reduces or eliminates the use of chemicals; strategies to eliminate floor stripping, which is one of the most hazardous cleaning procedures; the expanded use of color-coded microfiber products; paper products that demonstrate that improved quality actually can reduce consumption; and reductions in packaging.
With the growing commitment from cleaning product manufacturers, more improvements lie ahead. This year's winners illustrate the need to build a process to improve and evaluate new technologies continually.
Even the greenest product, if misused, can lead to unnecessary and negative health and environmental impacts. This year's winners demonstrated a commitment to employee training through documented training sessions, structured programming, and input from cleaning personnel and building occupants. This leads to improvements in training programs, multilingual training and more.
Whether in a university residence hall or an elementary school classroom, maintenance supervisors face the challenge of getting occupants — including students and staff — to make better decisions that affect how the rooms and buildings are cleaned. This year's winners demonstrated innovative communications programs that address how occupants can affect their health and the environment.
Winners also developed programs to reach out to the community, including 60-second television spots. Plus, some of the winners leveraged their programs to require contractors to convert to green cleaning — helping to drive green throughout the marketplace.
One of the biggest challenges with green cleaning, and cleaning in general, is its lack of objective measurements. This year's winners used a number of measurement techniques, including custodial-management software, PDAs for quality assurance, ATP meters and cleaning-standard certifications. Although we still have a long way to go to standardize objective cleaning-industry metrics, it is clear that the winners are leading the way.