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Green Schools
Stephen Ashkin

Green Cleaning: Planning for Earth Day

April 22 is Earth Day, and most schools and universities will be celebrating. For many, Earth Day is a one-day celebration with guest speakers, planting trees, service programs, recycling events, and awards for the building with the greatest reduction in water or energy consumption. For others, Earth Day has expanded into the curriculum and become a month-long or semester theme.

However, Earth Day also can be an opportunity to build awareness among students, parents, alumni, staff and community of the important contributions and successes of the custodial and facilities department.

Make it easy to showcase contributions with a simple assessment of activities taking place in the district or on campus. In some cases, Earth Day events will be centrally organized and executed. In other cases, decisions and events will be done at the individual school or building level. Both situations create opportunities for participation.

Determine which events are planned, and develop a plan how the department can participate. Regardless of the overall strategy, the next step should be to meet with the "green team" (if one exists) and vendors to determine how they can help.

Possibilities include posters, tabletop presentations, and information explaining the overall health and environmental impacts associated with cleaning, pest management, waste and recycling, and other areas for which the department is responsible.

Posters are inexpensive and can be easy to create, especially with the assistance of vendors. Posters with pictures depicting a school’s specific cleaning, pest management and waste/recycling activities always are interesting. Consider providing specific statistics, such as improvements in recycling or percentage of green cleaning products being used.

Also, calculators from vendors and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can translate specific usage information such as the amount of recycled paper products into the number of trees "saved," reductions in water and energy used in manufacturing.

Use headlines such as "Did you know?" and "You can make a difference in our schools and at home," to engage students and others and show what individuals and institutions can do to make a difference.

Tabletop presentations can showcase green products such as cleaning chemicals, hand soaps and sanitizers, janitorial paper, equipment such as high-efficiency and back-pack vacuums, tools such as microfiber cloths and mops, chemical-free cleaning devices using ionized or electrolyzed water (if being used), non-toxic pest products and traps, and other innovative products.

If space exists consider showcasing a large piece of equipment such as a riding scrubber or better yet, ask vendors if they can provide one of the new robot scrubbers that college students find fascinating. Vendors typically are helpful when given enough advanced notice to pull things together.

Finally, it is important to accept that many people don’t appreciate the importance of cleaning and other facility services. So, along with all the interesting posters, pictures and products for "show and tell," make sure to explain some of the important facts. For example, the cleaning industry consumes:

•6.2 billion pounds of cleaning chemicals (made from nonrenewable natural resources).

•4.5 billion pounds of janitorial paper products (equates to about 30 million trees if all of it were made from virgin tree fiber).

•1 billion pounds of tools and equipment (which would fill 40,000 dump trucks affecting our landfills).

•4.5 million janitors/custodians (hundreds of thousands of which work in schools and universities).

Altogether, Earth Day can be a great opportunity to showcase green cleaning and other issues, as well as what students, staff and visitors can do to make a difference every day.


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

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