With a handful of states having already passed legislation regarding green cleaning in schools and many more now jumping on board to create and propose legislation of their own, building service contractors should be paying close attention to any changes in their service territory. Whether a contractor cleans schools or not, staying educated on legal recommendations and mandates will not only put them ahead of the curve, but could also drum up additional business.

BSCs that operate in public and private K-12 schools and other educational facilities in New York and Illinois have had no choice but to adhere to the rules outlined by those states, which have developed lists of approved products. Maine and Missouri have passed laws strongly urging schools to adopt green cleaning and a Maryland law is awaiting its governor’s signature.

Schools contain children and adolescents, a group that is considered a vulnerable population, so special attention needs to be paid to their health and wellness. For that reason, green cleaning in schools has been at the forefront of the green cleaning movement. In the handful of states that have passed legislation, those BSCs who had been working with school districts prior to the passing of legislation discovered that it wasn’t much of a change from what schools were asking for — and what green-minded BSCS were providing — in the first place.

Easy transition

When the Illinois mandate was passed in 2007, Environmental Solutions & Services in Champaign, Ill., checked the list of required products against the products and procedures it had been using at a large school district, says President Paul Taylor.

“I think we actually made no changes when the law went into effect,” Taylor says. “When we read through the law, we were pretty much doing everything that they were requiring.”

Pure Environment Maintenance in New York opened its doors right after that state’s legislation went into effect, and because of the BSC’s emphasis on green cleaning, adjusting to the law has been no problem, says CEO Ilene Shaw.

“We found absolutely no resistance, no problems,” Shaw says. “I do think that when it comes to good health, people are very eager to change. We found, in general, that the community, parents, teachers, faculty and administration have been really 100 percent on board with these regulations.”

Many BSCs have been practicing green cleaning at some level for years, and for those that already use green certified products, the transition’s difficulties were minimal. For those that needed to make bigger overhauls in their cleaning programs, not only did they have to take products into consideration, but they had to train workers to use them correctly. Some changes required an investment as well as some getting used to.

John Pieske, CEO of ABBCO Services Corp. in St. Louis, says there was a cost associated with a change from the pour-pack chemicals that are standardized throughout the large company to dispensing units at a large account in Illinois.

“I think now that we’re almost a year into the switchover, the cost difference doesn’t seem that great,” Pieske says.

ABBCO services K-12 schools in Missouri, where legislation recommending — not requiring — green cleaning in schools was recently passed. Aside from the major metropolitan areas in that state, most school districts rely on in-house staffs. But the legislation coupled with the economic crunch brought on during this school year has opened some doors to new accounts.

“Just in the past couple of weeks, we’ve been putting together some more K-12 bids in the state of Missouri,” he says.

While there is cost involved in changing any cleaning program, the laws gave a grace period for BSCs and in-house cleaning departments to finish their existing supplies of products before having to purchase the specified products. The partnership that BSCs have with school districts usually allows contractors to choose the products based on the school’s preferences or specifications.

Because the level of concern for children is so high, the use of green products just makes sense as the right thing to do, Shaw says.

With some green products, BSCs may have to use a little more elbow grease to go over certain applications a few more times, or invest in special machinery to best utilize the green products, but the extra effort is minimal and worth it, she says. Generally, green products work just as well and don’t cost more than traditional products.

However, change is always difficult to embrace, says Mark Bishop, deputy director of the Chicago-based Healthy Schools Campaign. The biggest threats to green cleaning are misinformation and ignorance, he says. Technology has enabled the development of better products, equipment and processes possible. As a result, there has to be change in how buildings are cleaned as well, and that’s the hardest part for any BSC or customer who has not transitioned to green cleaning.

“Change is always a challenge, even in a situation where it makes so much sense,” Bishop says.

Even though school districts won’t be fined if they don’t comply with the legislation, BSCs have been happy to have regulations on green cleaning because it forces the market in the direction they’re already going in. Contractors don’t want to have to fight to convince customers that green cleaning is the right way to go, Bishop says, and the mandates help direct the discussions they have with schools.

Opportunities abound

When a state passes green cleaning in schools legislation, the issue is put on the radar of customers in other markets, potential customers and members of the general public.

BSCs can use mandated green cleaning as opportunity to talk to school districts and other customers about how they are experienced, knowledgeable service providers.

“It not only broadens our market to make others aware and conscious but it makes it easier for us because there are going to be more and more products available for us to choose from and that’s the great thing about legislation, it ensures that many, many companies — the manufacturers, the suppliers, the vendors — are all working in this direction as well,” Shaw says.

Other states considering legislation include Hawaii, Iowa, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada and Oregon.

“We push very hard for mandating this, because once people see what they’re doing, they recognize that it’s not hard and it doesn’t cost a lot of money,” Bishop says. “The market’s changing and we should use that to our advantage and get these schools cleaned in healthier and safer ways.”

Green Cleaning Mandates, By State

New York: Legislation passed in 2005, requiring the use of environmentally sustainable and sensitive cleaning products in public and private K-12 schools. The state has provided a list of approved products, Green Seal or Ecologo certified, that meet specifications in five categories: cleaning products (glass cleaners, general purpose cleaners, carpet cleaners and bathroom cleaners), floor finish products, floor finish stripper products, soaps and vacuums.

Illinois: Legislation passed in 2007; Public and private K-12 schools are required to use environmentally sensitive cleaning products in six categories: bathroom cleaners, carpet cleaners, general purpose cleaners, glass cleaners, hand cleaners and soaps, and paper products. The products need to be certified by Green Seal, Ecologo or the U.S. EPA’s DfE program. The legislation also recommends the use of green air fresheners, tissue products, degreasers, floor care products, graffiti removers, disinfectants, chrome cleaners and plastic bags.

Maine: In 2007, rather than mandating the use of green cleaning products in schools, the state is promoting the implementation of green cleaning programs in schools by providing a list of environmentally preferable, third-party certified products to schools as well as cleaning procedure recommendations that reduce the use of toxic chemicals and improve indoor air quality.

Missouri: In 2008, the state outlined green cleaning guidelines and specifications in schools and educational settings that recommend cleaning supplies that have been third-party certified by “any of several eco-labeling organizations.” The guidelines also recommend purchasing criteria and best practice policies.