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Green Cleaning: Ways of the Winners

Dec. 1, 2015
What can be learned from the Green Cleaning Awards.

Congratulations to Clark County Georgia School District, Blount County Tennessee School District, the Georgia Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, Montgomery College (Maryland), Northwestern University, Texas Tech University, the University of California at Irvine, and the University of Tennessee. 

The Green Cleaning Awards for Schools & Universities is now in its 8th year. Over the years the number and quality of the nominations have continued to improve and this year was the best yet! Here are some of the lessons that can be learned. 

Third-Party Certification. The winners all used an extensive selection of “green” products including chemicals, sanitary paper, plastic liners, cleaning equipment and more, which was made easier as they took advantage of third-party certifications from the likes of EcoLogo/UL, Green Seal and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice program. Not only did this make it easier for them to buy with confidence that the products in fact reduced health and environmental impacts compared with traditional products, but they were able to find certified products in every category. 

Innovation. Typically working closely with their vendors, the winners were intentional about testing, and when appropriate, using innovative products. For example, although all used toilet tissue and paper hand towels with post-consumer recycled content, some winners considered other issues such as forest management practices and how their purchase of paper products from sustainability managed plantations could help reduce deforestation in the rainforest. Numerous winners used devices that convert tap water into an effective cleaning solution, eliminating the environmental impacts from the manufacture and disposal of billions of plastic bottles and cardboard shipping cartons. 

Annual Auditing. The winners all used the nomination package to review products, training staff, dealing with vendors, engaging occupants and more. Benefits of the annual audit included identifying opportunities to improve their products and process, specific tracking of cleaning quality and performance, and maintaining or increasing the overall visibility of the facilities department, which is especially valuable during budgeting time. 

Green to Sustainable. The winners showed a strong effort to evolve their programs beyond green cleaning to a greater focus on sustainability. These programs often connected to their recycling and composting efforts, healthy food and wellness, energy and water conservation, pest management, as well as using the information and tangible understanding of how cleaning affects health and the environment in curriculum. Ultimately these efforts helped teach complex sustainability issues and helped the institutions themselves become more sustainable. 

Engagement. The winners used a variety of methods to engage staff, teachers, students, families, visitors and the community-at-large. These methods included a wide range of presentations, posters, videos, newsletters, contests and more. Keeping people involved was a key to success especially when resources were limited. And many winners found ways to get students involved. 

Training. Whether training was conducted internally with vendors or through the hiring of consultants, winners placed emphasis on keeping staff trained. Common themes included ongoing as opposed to annual training, training in multiple languages, and a combination of both classroom and hands-on training. Winners also measured the outcomes of their training so they could continually and objectively determine how they could improve.

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