Asumag 2460 Stephen Ashkin 2013

Green Cleaning: Training Challenges

May 1, 2011
Schools are taking on green training obstacles.

Today it is relatively easy to convert to green cleaning. This especially is true if the conversion is limited to a switch from traditional cleaning products to effective and cost-competitive green alternatives. And in most cases, the green products will be delivered from the same janitorial products supplier or product manufacturer with little disruption to a school’s purchasing department or strategic relationships. Although replacing products is easy, it often is difficult to achieve the intended performance goals. After all, the real goal of a green cleaning program is to create high-performing buildings that are protective of occupant health and conducive to learning, while reducing impacts on the environment.

When a school converts the paper used in copier machines from 100 percent virgin fiber to a greener alternative, the process of loading paper in the machine or making copies usually does not change. But converting to a green cleaning program may require different processes. And if green products are used incorrectly, they may increase health risks and require more time to work, thereby increasing costs, and result in greater negative impacts on the environment.

Furthermore, if traditional products do not effectively clean the space—whether it is because of poor-performing products, inappropriate processes, insufficient staffing levels or a variety of other causes—simply switching to greener products will not meet the goal of a green cleaning program. When converting to a green cleaning program, schools and universities must re-evaluate the processes used and how personnel are being trained. Even when the process of cleaning has been defined clearly, a gap often remains between what is written and what cleaning personnel actually are doing.

Although most cleaning products vendors offer training as part of the cost that schools and universities are paying, far too often the quality of this training is inadequate. The written training materials developed by a corporate training or marketing department typically are good, but the training often is conducted by a local sales representative who has been trained to sell products and often has little experience training workers or cleaning.

Furthermore for a sales rep, time is money. The more time sales reps have to train, the less time they can be selling. Thus, an incentive often exists to minimize the time spent on training; this often is achieved by focusing only on the nuts and bolts of a single product or two. In some cases, the "training" is supplemented with a box of doughnuts and concluded with a meaningless piece of paper simply acknowledging that the cleaning personnel attended the class—whether or not they learned anything useful.

Some things to consider for an effective vendor-provided training program:

•A walkthrough of the facility and an audit of existing cleaning procedures. This will help ensure that the training is focused on what actually is needed.

•An evaluation of the training materials, including whether it is appropriate for the language and learning issues of the people being trained.

•A determination that the person who actually will do the training has the experience to conduct the needed training.

•A pre- and post-test of the training should be administered. This will help ensure that the training was effective and identify areas of weakness or issues that require additional reinforcement or clarification.

•Take the time to determine if there are other areas in which training of cleaning personnel can help meet facility needs. For example, train them to help reduce the consumption of energy, water, transportation and supplies. This can help them feel that they are making a more important contribution to the greening of the organization and can help save money.

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

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