Last year, New York State became the first to require that schools use green cleaning products and recently, New Jersey followed suit, setting the stage for other states to follow (see news).

Building service contractors now face a market that’s open and interested in green cleaning. School administrators increasingly view it as an investment rather than as an expense because of the research that shows positive health, productivity and academic benefits for students and teachers.

In this year’s Market Barometer survey commissioned by Turner Construction, a leading general builder, officials at K-12 facilities rated green schools as better able to attract and retain teachers (74 percent), reduce student absenteeism (72 percent), and increase student performance (71 percent) than traditionally built schools. Forty-nine percent of respondents rated improved indoor air quality as the most important green feature.

Green-cleaning consultant Steve Ashkin, conservatively estimates that 20 to 30 percent of schools currently employ at least one attribute of a green cleaning program – buying green chemicals or using recycled toilet paper or looking at resource conservation issues – and expects that number to grow to 80 to 90 percent over the coming five years. He also expects that during this time, people will gain confidence using green products and will implement more robust, complete programs.

Based on the experience of developing a green cleaning program for the Chicago Public School District, the Healthy School Campaign has released the “Quick and Easy Guide to Green Cleaning.” If it can be done in Chicago, with its financial constraints and a huge, decentralized decision-making system, it can be done anywhere.

Cleaning contractors that succeed will offer complete services that reduce indoor air pollution, and conserve water and energy. Complete service includes truly green chemicals, efficient equipment, sustainably sourced or recycled paper and other supplies. Green cleaning goes beyond just washing floors and vacuuming to disinfecting desks, doorknobs and other “touch points,” to recommending entryway mats. It also requires proper training, staffing levels and cleaning schedules.

And it doesn’t necessarily have to cost more. Efficient vacuums trap particles, reducing the need to dust. Consolidating chemicals can reduce the supply budget by 15 percent. An East Coast school district found it could receive $225,000 yearly in state aid for every 1 percent increase in attendance, achieved through healthier cleaning practices.

Now is the time to seize this opportunity to reformulate your programs to offer the advantages that truly green cleaning can provide.

Rona Fried is founder of, an Internet community that provides services and information to companies that integrate triple bottom-line concerns — social, environmental and economic — into their core strategies.