Our Biggest Challenge: Proper Training

Today it is relatively easy to convert to green cleaning.  This is especially true if the conversion is limited to a simple 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 the schools purchasing department or strategic relationships.

But while replacing products is easy, it is often hard to achieve the intended performance goals. After all, the real goal of a green cleaning program is to create healthy, high performing buildings that are protective of occupant health and conducive to learning, while reducing impacts on the environment.

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

Furthermore, if the current process of cleaning using traditional products is not effectively cleaning the space, whether it is due to poor performing products, inappropriate processes, insufficient staffing levels or a variety of other causes; simply switching to greener products used in the same manner will not meet the goal of a green cleaning program.

So when converting to a green cleaning program the processes must be reevaluated, as does the training of cleaning personnel. This is because even when the process of cleaning has been clearly defined there often remains a gap between what is written and what cleaning personnel are actually doing.

While most vendors of cleaning products offer training as part of the bundled cost that schools and universities are paying, far too often the quality of this training is inadequate. While the written training materials developed by a corporate training or marketing department are typically good, the training is often conducted by a local sales representative who has been trained to sell products, and often has little experience actually training or even cleaning the space for which they are training personnel to clean.

Furthermore for a sales rep, time is money. The more time a sales rep is training, the less time they are selling. Thus there is an incentive to minimize the time spent on training which is often achieved by focusing only on the nuts and bolts of a single product or two, 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.

Please know that this is not a knock on sales reps or vendor provided training. Rather it is intended to emphasize the importance of training and acknowledge that like everything else, all training is not the same.

Some of the things to consider for an effective vendor provided training program should include:

  • A walk-through of the facility and an audit of current cleaning procedures. This will help insure that the training is focused on what it actually 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 if the person who will actually do the training has the experience to conduct the needed training.
  • A pre- and post-test of the training be administered. This will help insure that the training was effective and areas of weakness or issues that require additional reinforcement or clarification.

Finally, take the time to determine if there are other areas where training of cleaning personal 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 like they are making a bigger and more important contribution to the greening of the organization, and can help save money as well.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, and the professional cleaning industry’s leading advocate for promoting sustainability. He is also CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which offers a cloud-based dashboard that allows organizations to measure, report and improve their sustainability efforts. He is the coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies