A 2014 survey of almost 8,000 CEOs, conducted by Accenture, shows an interesting trend: More than 84% of the enterprise leaders surveyed said that sustainability is regularly discussed in their board meetings.
As sustainability becomes an executive-level discussion, the role of facilities managers is similarly elevated. Once an afterthought, facilities management is becoming a strategic focal point in terms of sustainability, green cleaning and the impact of chemicals on learning and workspaces.
As a result, facilities managers are no longer simply expected to keep restrooms, floors, carpets, and other surfaces clean. Senior leaders are looking to facilities professionals to develop and execute proactive strategies that measurably contribute to the overall brand health of the enterprise. This is especially true in education institutions, where evidence of sustainability strategies — as well as the visual appeal of learning spaces and grounds — are critical considerations in the battle to attract incoming students.
Critical Consideration for Attracting New Students
The importance of sustainability as a growth strategy for colleges and universities is perhaps even greater than for most consumer or business-to- business brands. The 2014 Princeton Review surveyed more than 10,000 college applicants for its “College Hopes & Worries Survey.” Specific sustainability questions revealed that 61% of respondents said evidence of a institution’s commitment to the environment would impact their decisions to apply to or attend a particular school.
With students consistently citing climate disruption, resource depletion and other environmental issues as the key challenges facing their generation, the role of sustainability in college selection choice will only increase.
The Sierra Club has evaluated sustainability at colleges and universities around the United States the past six years. For 2013, the University of Connecticut, Dickinson College and UC-Irvine headed their list of the top 20 schools. The list also includes Stanford, Georgia Tech, Harvard and other schools known for their ability to create brand cache and attract incoming students. The criteria used by the Sierra Club and the descriptions of the sustainability efforts for each of these schools all points to something more than incremental steps towards being “green.” They point to the presence of a strategy that goes beyond making small improvements in terms of the selection of cleaning chemical brand or decreased use of foods that come with lots of packaging.
The schools that score well in the Sierra Club ranking — and presumably with environmentally-minded students — clearly seem to have stepped back and developed thoughtful sustainability strategies that go far beyond incremental improvements.
Fresh Thinking for Cleaning
A rapidly emerging sustainability strategy for education institutions is the deployment of on-site generation (OSG) technology. OSG uses an electrolysis process to convert water, electricity and a small amount of salt into cleaning and disinfecting/sanitizing solutions. It eliminates the need for most conventional packaged chemicals that have been used to clean floors and carpeting at education facilities.
Uncomplicated OSG devices can provide a relatively low total cost of ownership. Some connect to a facility’s tap water supply, drain and a standard electrical outlet. They combine softened tap water and salt, directing the mixture into an electrolytic cell. In systems like this, the water electrolysis process creates two separate streams: a cleaning solution and a disinfecting/ sanitizing solution. Built-in sensors measure critical output parameters in both solutions to ensure efficacy.
The solutions are dispensed into automatic scrubbers, mop buckets and carpet extractors for cleaning crew use. Instead of a cluttered closet full of chemicals, cleaning crews have two simple choices — cleaning solution or disinfecting/sanitizing solution. These solutions contain no dyes, buffers, chelating agents or complicated dilution processes associated with conventional packaged chemicals.
In addition to enhancing a school’s green reputation, early adopters of OSG have found it helps minimize the environmental impact associated with packaging, shipping and disposing of conventional packaged chemicals.
Also, OSG can enhance the health and safety of students, visitors and cleaning staff because the solutions generated contain no VOCs and no fragrance, which can reduce unwanted odors and improve indoor air quality. Further, OSG solutions leave no surfactant residues and can actually remove residues left behind by conventional cleaning chemicals.
In addition to lowering the cost to clean in most cases simply by eliminating the need to purchase, reorder and manage many multi-colored packaged chemicals, OSG also simplifies the cleaning process. It reduces the burden of training cleaning staff on how to safely dilute and apply multiple conventional packaged chemicals.
Johnson is director of product management and marketing for Orbio Technologies, a Tennant Company Group.