Asumag 606 Stephen Ashkin 2013

Green Cleaning: A True Win-Win

May 1, 2008
Don't let budget cuts be an excuse for skimping on cleaning.

In an economic downturn, enormous pressure exists to reduce expenses. Those who work in school facility management probably have experienced economic downturns before. Cleaning often shoulders a burden greater than other departments because it can be considered “less essential” to the core educational mission.

But facility managers cannot ignore how these cuts affect building occupants, furnishings and the building itself. Although many things can be deferred for a short time without notice, cuts in cleaning are noticed immediately.

In times of budget cuts, changes can be difficult. When cleaning frequencies are reduced, school administrators typically can expect an increase in occupant complaints.

Thus, if change has to take place and if we anticipate a potential increase in occupant complaints, then let's use this as an opportunity to do something good. Maybe we can avoid some of the complaints.

Establishing or upgrading a green cleaning program is one way to do this. Some opportunities to consider:

  • Re-evaluate products

    Look at the cleaning chemicals, janitorial equipment, toilet tissue, paper towels, plastic trashcan liners, entry mats and other cleaning products being used with an eye to reducing costs and minimizing harmful health and environmental impacts. Microfiber products and steam vapor can reduce chemical consumption and save money.

  • Product efficiencies

    New dispensing equipment can reduce chemical use by 50 percent or more. Switch from multifold paper towels to large rolls, which can reduce paper consumption by 30 percent. And improving paper quality actually can reduce consumption, as less product is needed to do the job.

  • New technologies

    Consider technologies such as automatic floor scrubbing and carpet maintenance equipment using electrolyzed water, which eliminate cleaning chemicals altogether. And new floor pads have been introduced that remove floor finish without floor-stripping chemicals.

  • Procedures

    Re-evaluate the overall cleaning process, and begin using improved systems. After all, about 70 to 80 percent of the budget is related to labor, so instead of just reducing headcount, identify how all the new products, efficiencies and technologies can come together to meet budget mandates and address health, performance, appearance and “green” requirements.

Combining budget reductions with a switch to green cleaning allows school cleaning staffs to accomplish two things at once. But perhaps more important, switching to green cleaning gives students, staff and visitors something to be positive about. During a period when we might anticipate an increase in occupant complaints, green cleaning is one of the best proactive strategies and a true win-win.

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

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