GCA 2017 Grand Award Higher Education: Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Mich.

GCA 2017 Grand Award Higher Education: Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Mich.

Program Information

Total number of students: 23,914

Total square footage maintained: 4,200,000

Total number of custodians: 165

Total annual cleaning budget: $9,736,081

Green cleaning team members: Steve Gilsdorf, Director; Peter Goerne, Associate Director Nick Schmidt, Operations Manager; Indusco; Nichols; Kalamazoo Sanitary Supply; APPA; MAPPA; MIAPPA; ISSA


It isn’t easy being green; just ask Steve Gilsdorf and the team from Western Michigan University (WMU). Three years ago, the school started the journey to earn a Green Seal (GS-42) certification, and its hard work has paid off. The Green Seal marks WMU as an institution that is committed to sustainability and environmental responsibility. The process may have been long, but when asked if it was worth it, Gilsdorf answers with a resounding “yes.” WMU views the certification as only one step in the realization of its full Process Cleaning Program.

The Green Seal Standard for Commercial and Institutional Cleaning Services GS-42 are a stringent series of requirements for an organization’s green cleaning program. It requires candidates to establish systems within their organization to ensure green cleaning practices are being met across the board. It requires training programs and on-site improvements to reduce environmental impact.

The WMU Building Custodial Team is one of only four teams in higher education in the country to achieve this certification.

Across the board employees are healthier, there have been fewer complaints from building occupants, and training programs have been made consistent. On top of that, efficiencies, standardization, labor savings, product conservation, reduction in packaging disposal, recognition, and respect have increased, not only for the custodial team, but also for the entire university, including WMU President John Dunn, who has repeatedly recognized the custodial team. 


Cleaning Procedures and Strategies

Though WMU’s initial steps toward green cleaning began in 2004, the real transformation started in June 2012 when the university branded their Process Cleaning program. The new program allowed campus to become more sustainable, and to clean for health rather than appearance. This involved changing the way a custodian cleans.  Each custodian has a specific set of tasks rather than covering all duties within their area. This may seem similar to “team cleaning,” and it is, but the custodial team believed it needed to establish its own process due to the relative overuse of those words.

The new concept prioritizes classrooms/learning spaces and restrooms as the two most important areas to service. Process Cleaning assigns each custodian a “specialist” role with specific tasks and provides each role with a scheduled route. The different specialists are: Restroom Specialist, Utility Specialist, General Cleaning Specialist, and General Floor Specialist. New supplies and tools such as backpack vacuums, microfiber cloths and Aqueous Ozone helped to improve the indoor air quality and allowed for a better level of custodial service. Additionally, all areas are routed and scheduled to avoid backtracking and allow for continuous workflow.

The custodial department’s stated goal is to stay relevant to the university. One of the easiest ways to do that, it says, is by providing WMU students, faculty and staff with the cleanest and healthiest environment possible. With competition from cleaning contractors offering lower cost cleaning services, there is more impetus than ever for the department to provide the best and most efficient cleaning process it can.



For Process Cleaning, the custodians are trained on: Unger microfiber flat mops, bucket systems, microfiber rags and string mop heads. New methods are demonstrated and then observed for compliance and correct procedure by management.  Regular refresher training is scheduled throughout the year. 

With the incorporation of a new training Supervisor, the department has been able to ensure that each of its custodians is being consistently evaluated and properly trained.  From the proper use of equipment and chemicals to different cleaning techniques, consistency and safety have been greatly improved. The school’s small appliance repair team helps by properly fitting backpack vacuums to individuals who are having problems adjusting them. Due to the fact that not all custodians are created equal in size, having a team that can help adjust this equipment has helped avoid some injuries.

The department works with manufacturers, who hold on-campus refresher training courses on their products.  In some cases, the department’s custodians have helped these companies test some of their newest products and provided feedback on ways to improve them.



In January of 2013 WMU introduced chemical-free cleaning with the introduction of the aqueous ozone as a powerful natural cleaner, stain remover, deodorizer and sanitizer.  Aqueous ozone is made on site with continuous flow for spray bottles, mop buckets, carpet extractors and auto scrubbers. Resulting waste reduction included more than 243 pounds of plastic containers, 187 KwH saved, 46 gallons of oil and 1 cubic yard of landfill space. The school now has aqueous ozone systems in 46% of its buildings and has already purchased seven more units, which will bring that figure up to 60%.

The use of Super NOP 52 entryway floor matting by Mats, Inc. at all entryways captures dirt and moisture before it spreads throughout the building. This gives additional protection to floors and carpets reducing maintenance cost and improving overall indoor air quality by reducing the amount of pollutants throughout the building.



WMU Custodial Services supports campus wide sustainability efforts in the university’s offices. The occupants of offices on campus now have responsibility and accountability for their own waste stream.  Office occupants now have to take their trash and recycling to a centrally located pod that houses cardboard, plastic, and aluminum recycling along with trash.  This has encouraged office occupants to recycle more and waste less. In addition, custodians took over the hauling of the recycling to its designated dumpster from buildings, cutting the need for additional staffing.

In 2008, WMU President John Dunn signed the Talloires Declaration, a “ten point action plan incorporating sustainability and environmental literacy in teaching, research, operations and outreach at colleges and universities.” This committed WMU to be a leader in developing, creating, supporting and maintaining sustainability. Since then, Custodial Services has collaborated with the Office for Sustainability's Solid Waste Reduction Program.

The program began as a graduate research opportunity with a behavior based approach to increasing recycling rates. It included performing trash audits, new signage, and location and design of the receptacles. This program provided graduate credits for engagement between custodians, students, and faculty. The program involved taking trashcans out of classrooms and placing one designated location for trash and recycling pods in common spaces, which has encouraged people to recycle more.



WMU Custodial Services measures cleanliness daily through space audits of randomly selected areas conducted by department supervisors.  Through these audits, criteria such as the cleanliness of floors, walls, doors, and lights are checked and scored using a pass/fail system.  If the space is not up to standard, a work order or ticket is created to resolve the issue.

Along with random audits, supervisors also are required to conduct random skills checks on the custodians in their zones.  If proper, safe, and efficient use of equipment and cleaning procedures are not demonstrated, feedback and coaching is provided.


Policies and Processes

The stated goal of WMU’s Green Cleaning Policy is “to reduce the exposure of building occupants and maintenance personnel to potentially hazardous chemical, biological and particulate contaminants, which adversely affect air quality, human health, building finishes, building systems and the environment.”

Another process the university implemented and expanded upon over the last year was a web-based auditing program called Orange QC. Orange QC allows supervisors to randomly audit different areas in their zones each day.  Using a smart phone in the field, they are able to pass/fail randomly selected areas they are assigned to audit.  When an area fails, a follow up with the custodians in that area occurs, and a plan of action is determined to bring that area back to a passing status.

Custodial Services also created an online ordering process with its major vendors to enable better tracking of annual purchases, and to save space and money by ordering on an as needed basis rather than overstocking.  Each of the school’s major vendors dedicates at least one day a week to delivering to campus – or more if needed.

Communications/Community Engagement

By teaming up with the Office of Sustainability and their students, Custodial Services has been able to help out with various studies and programs that were designed to help reduce waste and encourage recycling.  Getting office occupants involved in trash and recycling greatly reduced the amount of trash bags the department purchases on a yearly basis, since office occupants dispose of their own waste on an as-needed schedule rather than a once a week.

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