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Green Cleaning: Learning on the Job

June 1, 2016
Use creative methods to train custodians to reduce energy and water consumption.

Training is provided to all workers, but in far too many cases it covers only the bare minimum required by law, such as OSHA requirements for personal protective equipment, blood borne pathogens and right-to-know information associated with chemicals in the workplace.

Many could benefit by receiving more training on “effective” cleaning (as opposed to “efficient” cleaning), as well as ways for cleaning personnel to contribute to reducing a building’s overall environmental footprint by decreasing energy and water consumption.

Green cleaning has come a long way over the years. Estimates indicate that green products now make up more than 30 percent of the institutional and commercial marketplace. This is remarkable considering that comparable green products in the consumer marketplace (those found at grocery stores or mass merchandisers) have reached only 3 percent!

A debt of gratitude is owed to schools and universities that have made the effort to convert to green cleaning; this demand is what drove the supply side of the market. Today green cleaning chemicals, sanitary paper, plastic can liners, high-efficiency equipment, and other products contain less toxic ingredients, more recycled content and an accelerating focus on resource efficiency and durability. The race to “out-green” the competition is off and running!

Now as schools and universities continue on the green cleaning journey, one of the greatest opportunities for improvement is tied to the activities of the cleaners themselves.

As it turns out, cleaning personnel can do lots of things if they are taught what to look for and provided with a clear process for the appropriate response. This is a huge opportunity to help reduce a building’s spend on energy, water and waste. That’s right. Training can help save money!

Schools and universities deal with language, cultural and other issues every day, but far too often the same amount of educational thought and instructional design isn’t used to help cleaning personnel. This is especially true when training has been delegated to suppliers whose objective is to keep their customers happy, sell more cases of products, and complete the training as quickly as possible; and not to drive effective cleaning or reduce the building’s environmental footprint.

The training itself has to be given in a language that cleaning personnel can understand. Although some people learn well by viewing PowerPoints, listening to a lecture or reading a book, others simply don’t respond to these methods. The best results are achieved through a combination of classroom and “hands-on” learning. Exceptional training programs include exercises and make learning fun by incorporating key concepts into games such as a Jeopardy-style competition, card games, or a scavenger hunt to find burned-out lightbulbs and malfunctioning flush valves.

Opportunities for innovation abound. So make sure training programs address all legal requirements and are delivered in a language whereby the learners can actually learn. But start this year by including courses that go beyond efficient cleaning procedures and the “how to” of cleaning products and processes.

Add simple steps such as turning off lights in unoccupied spaces; reporting malfunctioning fluorescent light fixtures, automated faucets and flush valves; cleaning coils of refrigerated beverage machines; reporting electrical equipment that runs unnecessarily; cleaning with cold water and using processes that require less energy, water and chemicals and which produce less waste. And for some of these issues, consider working with the vendors of electrical and plumbing supplies; they can help train cleaning personnel to reduce the environmental footprint and save money at the same time.

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