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Green Cleaning: On Schedule

Is a four-day work week coming to your institution?

Last summer, Utah imposed a mandatory four-day work week for its 17,000 employees (with exemptions for universities, courts, prisons and other "critical" offices). Since then, many county and city governments have followed. The workday is extended two hours, and the benefits for the work force and the environment are plenty.

Utah changed its schedule so it could cut costs at a time when gas prices were soaring. Utah also says the change will help its effort to achieve a 20-percent reduction in energy consumption by the year 2015.

How does a four-day work week affect the environment? A few ways: drastic reductions in crude-oil imports, greenhouse-gas emissions, employee exposure to pollutants, traffic congestion and auto accidents. Also, the programs may increase worker productivity, family time, job satisfaction and an employee's paycheck.

Some college students avoid Friday classes and seem to embrace a four-day work week. Brevard Community College, Cocoa, Fla., is in its second year of a four-day work week and class schedule. By closing buildings on Friday and turning down air-conditioning and heating systems, the school saved $267,000 during the first year.

Brevard's students have more time to study and work part-time jobs. Faculty and staff cite the savings in travel expenses, and extra time to handle family and household matters. Administrators have seen less staff turnover, an increase in employment applications, and an absenteeism rate that has dwindled to almost nothing.

Reducing absenteeism should not be taken lightly. A shorter work week is less strenuous and perhaps less stressful than a five-day schedule, and it brings other environmental benefits.

According to a recent California EPA study, 50 percent of a person's daily exposure to ultra-fine particles, which are linked to cardiovascular disease and respiratory illnesses, can occur during a commute.

Are there plans for a four-day work week at your school? Are you prepared to be at the decisionmaking table?

Classrooms and offices can be moved to a four-day week, but other facilities — residence halls, food service, athletics, healthcare — likely will continue on a traditional schedule.

Staff, including custodial workers, may prefer the new schedule, but some will be working a longer day. In addition, the potential savings likely will come from reducing energy costs associated with heating, cooling and lighting, and not from cleaning, which likely will be reduced on some days and increased on others.

Creating a healthful, high-performing school environment through rethinking schedules, operating hours and other strategies is filled with opportunities and risks. Be involved, so that your institution has the benefit of your expertise.

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

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