Young children are not the only people who are susceptible to illness in schools. Locker rooms and shared equipment, such as gym mats or communal showers used by older kids, are also breeding grounds for germs.

Students are equally as vulnerable to the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitting from cleaning chemicals, and dust stirred up by outdated cleaning methods, making a green program a smart choice in these facilities. Executives at Commercial Cleaning Corporation were early adopters of a green cleaning approach.

“We chose to go green more than eight years ago as a way to differentiate ourselves from our competition,” says Andrew Rosen, vice president of the family-owned company based in Trenton, N.J.

The program started with green chemicals, but slowly almost every aspect of the janitorial program transitioned to an environmentally friendly alternative. From microfiber cloths and mops to HEPA filtered backpack vacuums that capture dust particles rather than shoot them back into the air, says Rosen.
“We remove dust daily; we don’t take dust and move it around, we capture and move it out of the building,” says Rosen.

The company uses different green programs for its 15 private school clients depending upon the size of the facility. In total, the company uses only about five chemicals, making it simpler for employees and more cost-efficient for the client.

Janitors only use microfiber cloths, which Rosen says are “mandatory.” They are washed out after each use, usually on site. To limit VOCs, employees are instructed to spray chemicals into the cloths rather than directly onto a surface.

“We feel by using less toxic chemicals we are not putting dangerous fumes back into the indoor environment,” says Rosen. “In addition, our chemicals are safer for all of our employees. We have had less medical issues with our own staff.”

While green products are an important aspect of school cleaning — and in some states, including neighboring New York, mandatory — BSCs still have to keep students healthy. That means applying disinfectants, which are not considered green by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Commercial Cleaning uses an electrostatic spray disinfecting system, which, when sprayed, wraps around all surfaces, including the backside and underside of objects. Manufacturers say this technology prevents overuse of chemicals and limits exposure to workers and occupants, giving the process some environmentally friendly attributes.

“When an outbreak occurs, people panic and send 20 people in to literally wipe everything down,” says Rosen. “We’ve eliminated that by sending in two to three people and using a couple of these machines to disinfect with.”

During flu season especially, the company focuses on certain touchpoints.

“We know in schools that desks are lot more important to disinfect nightly, as well as door knobs and light switches; there are hot points we spend a lot more time on in schools than in other buildings,” says Rosen.

Their efforts seem to pay off. Last year when there was an outbreak of norovirus in the area, none of Commercial Cleaning’s schools were affected.
“We feel strongly that if we weren’t there doing what we do to help protect the students there could have been a better chance that the schools would have gotten it,” says Rosen. He adds that there haven’t been any other major outbreaks in the schools in which his business services.

Commercial Cleaning works with the schools to put together techniques to promote hygiene, including putting up posters and installing hand sanitizer dispensers.

Despite opinions to the contrary, going green is actually cost-effective in the long run, and that savings can be passed along to the school.

“For example, we’re saving quite a bit of money from investing in the microfiber system,” says Rosen.

Hilary Daninhirsch is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh, Pa.

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