Asumag 2455 Stephen Ashkin 2013

Green Cleaning: Pushing the Envelope

Oct. 1, 2011
Growing a green cleaning program in schools.

Many schools and universities have developed outstanding green cleaning programs by investing significant effort identifying greener chemicals, paper products and janitorial equipment, as well as rethinking procedures and engaging students and staff. But the challenge that many now are facing is how to push the envelope, especially in a climate of budget and staff reductions. Here are some ideas to stimulate thinking and keep moving a program forward:

Ask current vendors for help. If a good green cleaning program is in place, it probably has received some significant help from the vendors of cleaning products. But the pace of innovation in green cleaning technologies is accelerating, so ask vendors to review and analyze what’s new.

Meet with competitive vendors. It is important to appreciate the work that current vendors have done, but it also is important for institutions to evaluate other vendors. This is especially true when looking for innovative products that a current vendor may not be selling. Meet with competitive vendors to see how they can help.

Meet with others beyond schools and universities. There’s no question that schools and universities share unique cleaning issues that must be addressed. But education facility workers can learn plenty by talking with facility managers in other building segments. For instance, healthcare facility managers deal with having to clean around vulnerable occupants and in LEED-certified buildings, and many of them push the envelope on green issues.

Custodians doing more. With a little education and thought, custodians may be able to further reduce a facility’s consumption of energy, water, cleaning materials and more. From turning off lights to cleaning with cold water to reporting malfunctioning faucets and flush values to repairing equipment to being more conscientious about the use of cleaning supplies, custodians can make a big difference.

Staff engagement. Although custodians are directly responsible for cleaning, others within education facilities can contribute significantly to pushing the green envelope. Often, the key to engaging them is clear and consistent communications. Whether it is asking teachers to have students rearrange desks and pick up materials from floors or encouraging their participation in recycling campaigns, turning off lights and computers, staff members need to be encouraged and educated on appropriate practices and then given feedback so they know that their efforts matter.

Student engagement. These days, kids are into green, and many schools and universities have clubs that focus on environmental issues. But far too often these activities have little to do with cleaning. Reach out to these clubs and help them understand how cleaning affects the environment and student health. If students are more aware of how their activities affect the environment, they can take steps to minimize those impacts and reduce overall cleaning costs.

Supply chain reporting.A school or university does not have to be a huge organization to ask vendors to report on their impacts. Because cleaning products are in many respects a commodity, meaning that many manufacturers make virtually the same thing, reporting on how the manufacturer makes it and how the vendor distributes it can help drive environmental efficiencies and reduce costs. Reporting can start with the basics such as the amount of energy, water, waste and transportation used to produce those products, and expand from there.

Hand washing. Washing hands has long been known to be perhaps the most cost-effective method for improving health. Typically, a lot more can be done to encourage facility occupants to wash their hands more often and more effectively. Many vendors offer excellent programs to help.

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

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