Green Cleaning: Getting Started

May 1, 2007
Green cleaning is here to stay.

Last month's column introduced the Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools produced by the Healthy Schools Campaign. This tool can help schools and universities establish a green-cleaning program. You can request a free copy at

This month I want to share some of the keys to a successful green-cleaning program as schools begin or continue their “journey” toward becoming greener.

When I talk about a green-cleaning program, I use the term “program” as opposed to “products.” Although buying and using products are an important part of a green-cleaning program and frequently one of the first steps, it is important to begin by thinking about the overall program to achieve the best results.

A successful program has multiple pieces. The two most important: a successful initial “pilot” (if the first pilot fails, it may be hard to get another try) and establishing a process for continual improvement. These are especially important in schools and universities with a diverse stakeholder community (staff, parents, visitors, alumni, vendors, etc.), multiple buildings and differing building types.

Begin by building a team, often named the Green Team. This team should include the facility manager and head of custodial operations, as well as an array of building occupants and stakeholders.

One group to consider for the team is vendors — janitorial product suppliers and outside cleaning contractors, if applicable. These people can help with data gathering, assessments, training, communications and more.

The second step is to identify the initial pilot site. Because the first pilot is so important, look for a building that offers the best chance of success. Some of the keys are having a good cleaning supervisor who will follow directions and make sure that new products and processes will be adhered to; a good cleaning crew; a building with few problems (roof leaks, IAQ problems, faulty HVAC system, labor unrest, occupant health issues, etc.); and willing occupants.

The next step is to assess the building's needs. Typically, schools should establish a baseline that can include a simple assessment of cleanliness, information on cleaning chemicals, paper products, equipment, entryway mats, and waste and recycling. A good tool to help with custodial audits is APPA's Custodial Staffing Guidelines for Educational Facilities (

With this information, the Green Team can complete a simple plan. Inevitably, schools will find many things that are easy to do, other opportunities may be more difficult or costly, and some will fall somewhere in the middle. Remember that there is no right or wrong plan. The key is to get started, and have clear goals and a plan that has group “buy-in” that leads to continual improvement.

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

About the Author

Stephen Ashkin | Executive Director

Ashkin operates the Green Cleaning Network, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit educational organization.

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