Green Cleaning: Student Orientation

Put green on the list of things to know.

The beginning of the school year is a terrific opportunity to familiarize students with expectations. In many instances, this orientation is focused on helping students learn about their facilities and campuses, academic requirements, codes of conduct, food and health services, busing and parking, and if applicable, residential life, athletics, arts and extracurricular activities.

From this list of issues, it is clear that administrators have their hands full just getting through the basics. But the beginning of the school year also is an opportunity to orient students to the issues that help create a clean, safe, healthful and high-performing facility and reduce impacts on the environment. However, the challenge is that students will know what is expected only if they are told.

Creating communication tools related to operations, maintenance and cleaning need not be complicated or time-consuming. Many suppliers, including product manufacturers, distributors and service providers, offer posters and other materials. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to ask them to customize their programs with school logos, mottos and mascots to make the program an even better fit.

Some opportunities to consider:

  • Main entrances. Because this is the place that creates a first impression, place a poster announcing a commitment to green cleaning. This is an especially good location for demonstrating performance relative to goals, whether it be recycling, food waste or energy. And clearly state "We can’t do it without you" (or something similar) to get buy-in for cleaning, maintenance and other facility initiatives.

  • Restrooms. Posters explaining the importance of hand hygiene and the appropriate way to wash are important. But restrooms also are great for discussing green cleaning accomplishments in a facility. For example, be sure to let students and staff know if your maintenance department is using green paper, hand soaps, cleaners, equipment, microfiber and other products.

    Clever statistics, such as how many trees are saved when using recycled paper or the value of "chemical-free" cleaning strategies, will help make a connection to environmental benefits. Additionally, consider posting information on whom to call in the event of a problem such as a leaking faucet, along with a good tip that can make the poster resonate with patrons. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many other organizations have websites with examples of these tips, such as "Leaky faucets that drip at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water each year."

  • Classrooms. Reminding students to pick up after themselves is not just a valuable lesson for elementary school children; it is helpful at all levels. Develop and post information on picking up and properly storing or disposing of crayons, crafts and other supplies in a kindergarten class, or disposing and recycling beverage containers and papers properly in a university lecture hall. And let’s get kids to stack their own chairs and reorganize furniture, which will make more time for custodians to clean effectively.

  • Recycling and waste management. Success with these programs is related directly to being informed and taking part. Develop good signage to make it clear what can be recycled and where materials belong. Perhaps more important, develop posters and signage that demonstrate performance. Local waste haulers and recyclers typically can help with this information, which should be updated every month.

  • Cafeterias and dining halls. One of the greatest environmental impacts comes from food-service operations. Thus, this is an important place to communicate about food waste, recycling, composting and similar issues. Reducing food waste is a terrific way to reduce environmental impacts and save money.

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

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