Green Cleaning: Six Winning Lessons

By Stephen Ashkin for American School & University Magazine

Green Cleaning

The following are the “lessons learned” from the winners of the 2012 Green Cleaning Awards for Schools and Universities. These tips may make an important impact on buildings, their occupants and the environment. And most are feasible, readily available and affordable.

1) Products. In 2012, every winner used an assortment of green chemicals, paper, equipment, tools and other products, but so did every entrant. Thus, it is clear that green products are widely available, meet performance requirements and are cost-effective.

Innovations in this area included efforts to reduce product consumption by using those that have higher performance and greater durability. The use of microfiber products is expanding (although concerns are increasing about quality because of the lack of any product standards in this category). And there is growth in the use of devices that ionize, ozonate, electrolyze and otherwise turn water into cleaning solutions.

2) Training. Every program provided training to custodians; after all, it is the law. But the winners went beyond the minimum OSHA requirements and those for new employees.

Innovations included training custodians on how they can reduce energy, water and waste while increasing recycling and composting. The winners went above and beyond by engaging and providing training to students, staff, visitors and other stakeholders on what they can do to create a cleaner, safer and more healthful environment.

3) Outreach. The winners worked to engage others through their schools, districts and campuses. Posters, newsletters, competitions, events, and social and traditional media helped make green cleaning and sustainability efforts clear, visible and frequent.

Innovations included garnering the “public” support of senior leaders in the school or university, as well as in the community, to give credibility and importance to the issue.

4) Teamwork. One of the more important lessons from the winners was teamwork that includes the entire institution and not just the custodial department. Schools and universities, large and small, urban and rural, are dealing with budget and staffing cuts. So, working constructively with teachers, students, staff, parents and others was a key to success.

Innovations varied from those actually engaging students in cleaning to higher-level engagement on green teams to help administer, manage and expand programs. Just imagine what could be achieved if schools elevated participation on the green team to the same level as being on the basketball or cheerleading squads.

5) Formula. Cleaning is a process, and the winners took the concept to the next level. They had a “formula” for everything, including the process of cleaning, selecting and reviewing products on an established basis, training of custodians, outreach to stakeholders, building the team and more. This year’s winners scored high in all areas.

Innovations in this area included clear and written processes and expectations, along with efficient execution that measured progress and identified opportunities for improvement.

6) Verification. Although it was common to find the use of independent third parties such as Green Seal, EcoLogo, EPA’s DfE Program and the Carpet & Rug Institute to verify product claims, the leaders did much more. For example, several of the winners used third parties such as Green Seal and ISSA to verify the performance of the entire cleaning program, including products, training and management systems.

Innovations in this area included the use of new technologies such as ATP meters to measure soil on surfaces. The use of such measurement tools objectively determined how clean surfaces really were so resources could be applied effectively in an effort to create and maintain buildings that are most conducive to learning.