Green Cleaning: A Day for All

Stand up and be recognized on Earth Day.

Earth Day is April 22, and many schools have been planning events to celebrate. This day is not just a time to celebrate and refocus for the journey ahead; it's also an opportunity for schools and universities to recognize their maintenance and custodial departments for their contributions to environmental improvements.

Earth Day provides a unique “learning moment” for students, staff, parents or visitors to learn what the maintenance department does and to appreciate contributions from those in custodial services.

Some ideas to include a school's custodial staff in Earth Day programs:

  • Have custodians participate in a school's event. Far too many custodial operations take part only by physically setting up the event and cleaning up after it is over.

  • Develop a simple flier that communicates the huge effect that the cleaning industry has on the environment so the school community will better value and appreciate green-cleaning programs. And don't forget to tell others what they can do in their own offices, classrooms or residence-hall rooms to reduce potentially harmful health and environmental effects from cleaning.

  • Provide an article for the school's newsletter about how cleaning and a green-cleaning program contribute to the reduction of environmental harm.

  • Prepare an update on what the education institution's green-cleaning program has accomplished. It can be detailed and quantitative, such as the number of trees saved by switching to recycled toilet paper and hand towels, or the pounds of toxic chemicals eliminated by switching to greener chemicals. Or it can be more subjective and describe in general terms how schools have converted to green chemicals and recycled paper products, or other improvements made by the custodial staff.

  • Staff a custodial table at Earth Day events. Exhibit product samples, especially those that students and staff might find interesting, such as microfiber cloths, high-filtration vacuums, green chemicals, recycled paper products or a steam-vapor machine.

  • Consider providing some “green premiums” that can be distributed to the event attendees. These can be bookmarks, buttons, pens made from recycled materials or bumper stickers. The premiums should be fun and inexpensive, and vendors that do business with the school may be willing to donate many of these.

  • Be creative and challenge yourself and your team to do something new. Teach a class; plant trees; set up recycling for items that normally aren't collected; set up an “exchange” among teachers or departments for items that some may not want and that others could value; set up a “clean out your office” or “clean out your classroom” day; ride a bicycle to school and encourage students and staff to do so as well, and calculate the benefit to the environment.

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

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