Green Cleaning: Winning Green

Dec. 1, 2013
Lessons learned from this year’s Green Cleaning Awards.

The Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities now is in its seventh year. Over the years, the number and quality of the nominations have continued to improve, and this year was the best year yet. It is clear that the bar continues to be raised, and here are some of the lessons that can be learned:

Annual auditing. Custodial and facility departments are busier than ever because of budget cuts, resulting in fewer people to do the work. As a result, the nomination package served as a kind of annual assessment, keeping the changes in context when reviewing products, training staff, dealing with vendors, engaging occupants and more.

Some of the benefits of the annual audit included identifying opportunities for improving products and processes, specific tracking of cleaning quality and performance, and maintaining or increasing the overall visibility of the facilities department.

Prevent backsliding. The challenge faced by many facility departments is change, whether dealing with budgets, staffing or other requirements. As conditions change, it is common for new programs to backslide, and the improvements gained over the years can be lost. The winners have used the awards program as a self-evaluation tool to help them prevent losing momentum.

Advances in green products. Several years ago, green cleaning programs focused primarily on chemicals and the use of third-party certifications such as those from Green Seal or EcoLogo (Underwriters Laboratories). Today, green products and third-party certifications exist in almost every category of cleaning products and from hundreds of manufacturers. As a result, green products are widely available, and the competition among suppliers has reduced costs and improved product performance. What’s more, innovations are accelerating, and the award winners all had formal programs to continually test new products.

Success in the details. All of the entrants achieved the big objectives, such as using green chemicals, paper and equipment, along with appropriate training on product use and overall processes. But the winners drilled further down into the details. For example, they considered other issues, such as the forest-management practices used to produce the remaining virgin fiber content. 

Another example was the attention paid to the disposable bags used in vacuum cleaners to ensure that they really were capturing the fine particles that cleaning personnel, students and staff can inhale. In general, the winners didn’t stop at the minimal requirements found in the Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools; they went further to generate even greater benefits to health, environment and bottom line.

Green to sustainable. Many of this year’s winners have evolved their programs from just a focus on green cleaning to thinking more about the overall institution and how to integrate the program into a larger discussion with students and staff. These programs often connected to their recycling and composting efforts, healthful foods and wellness, energy and water conservations, as well as the curriculum. Ultimately, these efforts helped teach complex sustainability issues and helped the institutions themselves become more sustainable.

Engagement. The winners made green cleaning more than just a facilities department issue by using a variety of vehicles to engage staff, teachers, students, families, visitors and the community. These engagement strategies included a wide range of presentations, posters, videos, newsletters, contests and more. Keeping people involved was a key to success, especially with limited resources.

Training: In tough budgetary times, training often gets cut. But the winners all found ways to maintain and often expand training, relying heavily on vendors to get the necessary training completed.

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