Green Cleaning: Solving The Puzzle

I have been working on the issue of green cleaning since 1990 and have launched programs in schools and universities around the country. One thing I observe consistently is that the people involved with facilities and custodial operations really care about their institutions and the people inside. I also have recognized two primary reasons that green cleaning often remains on the backburner.

The first is that green cleaning can be confusing. Like a jigsaw puzzle, green cleaning has numerous pieces in a variety of sizes that fit together in different ways. And what can make the assignment more daunting is that often we don't know what the big picture looks like. Unfortunately, without a clear vision and plan that encourages cooperation, groups within and outside of the district or campus often fight over turf, resources and processes.

Another reason is that people are extraordinarily busy. Typically, the assignment to begin a green-cleaning initiative is given to someone who already is wearing 12 hats. Furthermore, green cleaning often is considered not as compelling as other programs. Far too frequently I hear statements like, “it's a good idea, but we have more pressing issues to deal with,” “if it ain't broken, why fix it?” or “nobody's complaining about what we're doing now, so why bother?”

The Healthy Schools Campaign ( and its Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools is a new tool that can make green cleaning easier to initiate. The Healthy Schools Campaign is a not-for-profit organization working to create healthier schools for kids and staff. Its guide was developed over several years working with a number of schools districts, including Chicago Public Schools, and has been endorsed by major school organizations such as AASA, AFT, ASBO, National PTA and NASBE.

The guide itself appears small, but comes with a CD that includes more than 300 pages of information. It includes policies for boards of education and purchasing departments; procurement specifications for a wide range of products including chemicals, janitorial paper, equipment and more; ideas for dealing with diverse stakeholders, including parents and unions; training and procedural suggestions; directions on conducting audits and designing plans; as well as strategies to help education institutions get started.

The guide allows schools to act rather than research. It also recommends another strategy to help address the lack of resources. In this case, the major barrier is not so much money as lack of time. The guide encourages schools and universities to use suppliers to help with the legwork. After all, most vendors promise training and other support, so it should be used constructively and profitably.

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

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