The Missouri Green Cleaning Guidelines and Specifications for Schools was published in January 2009 and became only voluntary. But our district saw the value to green, accepted it as mandatory, and launched our journey. Today, it is district policy to use only cleaning products recommended in the guidelines by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

And one of the most successful initiatives of our transition to a green cleaning program was our trash receptacle replacement program.

When we started, we had various size receptacles, dented and rusted metal cans, multiple cans in classrooms, classrooms not recycling, and poor quality, conventional trash liners. Custodians were also having to tie bags to fit receptacles, which increased labor costs. So we developed a plan to significantly replace, reduce and standardize all trash cans, and we began testing liners that contained recycled content and properly fit our receptacles.

But there was still work that needed to be done before implementing the program. In order to make a district-wide change, I had to access the overall cost, which I obtained through meetings with distributor vendors and product manufacturers.

Once I knew the cost, I sat down to review the program with the district superintendent and the CFO, who granted approval to move forward. I then met with school principals and teachers to talk about the reasons for the change and to get their buy-in.

Implementation of this program took about four months to complete, but each year, it saves $30,000 and removes more than 40,000 trash bags from going back into the environment.

Boasting Benefits

Switching to an overall green cleaning program saved Columbia Public Schools more than $135,000 in the first two years, which paid for the trash receptacles, a microfiber system and new vacuum cleaners. Because we reinvested the savings back into the program, green cleaning has been cost neutral. But there are more benefits to a green cleaning program, including healthier environments, using less harmful products and sustainability.

The bulk of the changes took nearly three years to complete, but we continue to evolve and grow. We recently moved to 100 percent backpack vacuums with HEPA filtration, and we introduced an engineered water program.

You cannot become complacent in your cleaning program, and you need to be constantly looking at ways to improve and evolve with up-to-date technology. Every time we make a change in our program, we reap the rewards of financial savings and cleaner and healthier buildings.

In 2010, I gave a presentation on the success of our program to the board of education and received a standing ovation. I then asked the board not to reduce my operating budget, so I could use savings to continue the implementation of green cleaning. In the years since, numerous department budgets were reduced, but mine was never changed. We continue to receive fair annual increases, and capital funding for new equipment was rarely questioned.

It is very important to promote your successes, justify the importance of your program, and only ask for additional funding via operating or capital budgets when needed. Doing that has allowed our program to grow.

In July 2014, I was promoted to Director of Custodial Services and now report directly to the CFO/COO. My boss sits on the board of education and reports to the superintendent — significantly reducing the layers of management. We also brought in a new cleaning program, “Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools,” which helped create roughly $350,000 in labor savings. We restructured the department to include two additional custodial trainers. And recently, my custodial staff received an average 17 percent increase in pay.

Moving toward a complete green cleaning program has been a rewarding personal challenge in my life. I may not have a direct role in teaching students, but I do have an indirect role of helping them stay in school and learn in a healthy environment. If you focus on what’s best for the students, all stakeholders will be positively impacted. 

MICHAEL JONES is the director of custodial services at Columbia Public Schools in Columbia, Missouri. Under his leadership, the district has been recognized with two green cleaning awards: 2010 Best New Program, and 2011 Grand Award for K-12 Schools. Michael is also a founding member of Healthy Schools Campaign’s National Green Cleaning Schools Leadership Council and sits on the Advisory Board for Facility Cleaning Decisions magazine.

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