Beyond products, managers should consider adjusting processes that improve sustainability. For example, flooring is often the largest single surface to maintain. Can you move away from stripping and waxing and polish the floors instead? This will depend on the type of flooring, but when renovations or upgrades are needed, is there an option to install non-wax flooring as much as possible? If you need to continue waxing floors, look at using products recognized as sustainable.

Many people think specifically about chemicals that are used or cleaning methods that are implemented when they think about sustainability. While it may not be considered traditional, ergonomics plays a critical role in a sustainable program. Providing ergonomically correct tools and equipment helps with the physical sustainability of staff.

Workplace accidents and injuries cost thousands of dollars annually, so supporting the physical well-being of staff is critical to operations. Here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we introduced ergonomically correct mops to help reduce the physical strain on wrists, elbows and backs.

If you aren’t able to provide equipment or tools that are ergonomically correct, at the very least provide training in ergonomics. Show staff the proper methods for lifting, moving supplies between locations, and how to organize supplies in storage rooms, for example.

If your current cleaning program already includes things like sustainable products, equipment and tools, as well as ergonomic training or equipment, ask yourself where else you can grow your program. Has your facility transitioned to LED bulbs, as opposed to fluorescent? Is this an option? LED bulbs can be more expensive up front, but they can save money in the long run, both in energy and labor costs.

When we considered the switch, we compared the costs of the two bulbs, as well as the frequency and labor necessary to change those. We also looked at the energy costs between LED and non-LED options. This past year, we were able to change the top three used bulbs in our buildings to LED.

Big Picture

Whether exploring or expanding programs, there is power in numbers. Making sure that your sustainable team includes stakeholders from all areas is extremely important. Your expertise in cleaning will be strengthened by individuals who provide outside perspective.

For example, I specifically oversee housekeeping staff. However, I include my maintenance colleagues in conversations, decisions and implementation of changes that directly impact their area of work, such as indoor air quality. This is an area that I can impact through the use of cleaning products, but I can’t adequately speak to changes in the HVAC systems.

Expanding the team should guarantee that you don’t limit your options for sustainable growth. There are constant changes and improvements being made to cleaning products, delivery methods, supplies and equipment. Think big. Take a look at hands-free units, for example. Soap dispensers, sink faucets, hand dryers — these can include Internet of Things (IoT) technology that notifies you when they need to be refilled, which can help save labor costs.

Similarly, think about both the interior and exterior design of your facilities. For example, UW-Madison Housing has installed solar panels on the roofs of a few buildings to help with energy costs. The hope is that we can continue to increase initiatives of that nature.

It isn’t easy, especially during a time when we are addressing a national pandemic on a daily basis. However, sustainable change is possible and even more important during times such as these. Seek out and use the resources available to help you get started down the path to a sustainable program. Start small and bring together a solid team of contributors to help in your journey. Celebrate even the smallest successes because they all make a difference. If you’ve started down the path already, keep going and encourage others to do the same.

Jodi Krause is the Assistant Director of Housekeeping for University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Housing. She is also a founding Steering Committee member of Healthy Green Schools & Colleges, a verifiable program created by Healthy Schools Campaign and Green Seal that promotes healthy and sustainable facilities management, procurement and practices for schools and universities nationwide. Jodi is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Establishing Sustainability Programs