Asumag 2457 Stephen Ashkin 2013

Green Cleaning: Healthy Wins

Dec. 1, 2011
Lessons learned from the Green Cleaning Award winners.

This is the fifth year for the Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities, and it is amazing to see the outstanding work being done by so many — which often goes unrecognized. Congratulations to all of our winners and applicants; this truly is an award where everyone — students, custodians, staff, visitors, communities, taxpayers and more — wins.

The award is a joint project of the Green Cleaning Network, Healthy Schools Campaign and American School & University magazine, and is designed to help identify "lessons learned" so that the process of improvement can be shared and accelerated. Following are some of the important lessons learned:

  • Green cleaning products have become mainstream. It has become evident that green cleaning products in almost every category now are widely available and cost-competitive compared with their "old-fashioned," traditional counterparts. This was the case for nominees and winners from across the country without regard to size of the district/campus, number of buildings, students, custodians or budgets.

    Just five years ago, the awards were given to "exemplary" schools and universities primarily on the East and West coasts that were using just a handful of green products. Today, all applicants (not just the winners) are using green products in every category, and the vast majority of these are from manufacturers who are validating their products' environmental and health performance by using independent third-party testing and certification programs.

    All schools and universities should be using these products in most, if not all, categories.

  • Green cleaning requires excellent training and communications. Cleaning is not like managing energy. Success requires more than just a highly trained building engineer turning a switch or automating a process. The success of any cleaning program is highly dependent on a team of people: the custodians along with their suppliers. It was obvious from this year's award winners; most rely on training and communications programs from their vendors, which often are the unsung hero.

    Beyond providing procedural, OSHA and other training to the custodial staff, the award winners engaged and communicated with the facility's students, staff and visitors. After all, it is the occupants who have a huge impact on cleaning requirements, and it is for them that the efforts are directed to create healthful buildings.

  • Community engagement. Because schools and universities often are used by the community for a variety of events including preschool activities, sporting and music events, religious and social gatherings, and more — and because funding often is highly dependent on local support, it is essential that the community at-large understands the effort being put forth to create healthful, high-performing institutions and the value that this creates toward protecting student health while enhancing the learning environment. To this end, the winners made specific efforts to engage the community, such as speaking at board meetings.

  • Innovation and the drive for continual improvement. The award winners had specific programs to test new products, as well as to develop systems to actually measure cleanliness. Many used automated quality control and assessment devices historically used in the food industry to provide objective information. This appears to be part of the future of cleaning, as objective measurements will help improve performance and focus limited resources on delivering cleaner and healthier buildings.

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

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