In October 2006, Ohio State University (OSU) embraced a campus sustainability program that included an emphasis on recycling and energy savings. In both areas, OSU facilities and operations staff plays a huge role.

Carl Bowman's, assistant director of operations — custodial services operation at Ohio State University, meets twice annually to review its campus sustainability efforts and plan updates moving forward.

"We talk constantly about ways to save energy and the importance of making sure we don't use anything in excess," he says.

There's also a staff member on Student Life's Facility Operations team whose sole job is campus sustainability. This individual looks at the department's carbon footprint and considers everything from the types of trash liners and chemicals being used to ways to save energy.

"They talk to us about those things and we convey it back to the rest of the staff," he says.

This open communication keeps everyone on the same page and initiatives moving forward. For strategies outside their realm of expertise, the department seeks outside help.

For instance, to boost recycling efforts, OSU tapped into the expertise of a student-engineering group to study how recycling might contribute to campus sustainability. As a result of this study, the department color-coded collection bins to designate recyclables and trash. Individual desk-side recycling bins were also added to every residence hall room to make it convenient for residents to recycle.

The move to recycling saw success immediately. In fact, in its first year, from July 2008 to June 2009, Ohio State University recycled 118.6 tons at its Columbus campus residence halls alone, an increase of more than 40 percent over the previous year.

"Our campus sustainability efforts have had a tremendous impact on our budgets," says Bowman. "It's allowing us to save money because it has reduced our chemical use as well as our trash liner use."

Tap Into Training

Bowman is quick to credit beefed up staff training for the success of OSU's technological, chemical and environmental changes. In fact, he laughs at how he once believed the switch to green chemicals would be a no-brainer that everyone would embrace without a second thought.

"I have since learned that whenever I do anything that changes the culture within, it's a lot like turning an aircraft carrier, I don't turn it on a dime. I have to go way out and turn it back," he says.

For instance, when he originally told housekeepers the department was cutting the chemical inventory to just four products, many felt certain that other chemicals were still necessary to do their jobs.

"We realized we would need to do a better job of explaining what we were doing and why," he says.

This process started OSU down a path of enhanced staff training on the benefits of campus sustainability. Every staff member now receives six hours of training annually.

"When I started asking questions about staff training, I found out there wasn't a formal training program," he says. "It started me on a quest to get my staff trained."

Bowman took a train-the-trainer program and brought that training back to building managers. Then he handpicked four members of the staff who were well equipped to train others and sent them through the same program. Today, Bowman is a master trainer and has four train-the-trainers on staff.

To date, 90 percent of the staff has received this training. And by years end, there will be an additional hands-on training component available — currently in development by Bowman.

"If staff members participate in this formal training, that information will be added to their personnel files for proficiency and performance evaluations," he says.

Bowman notes he's seen tremendous increases in efficiency and productivity of the department. He attributes that directly to the advances in training.

"We've seen our chemical use go down," he says. "They now know why when they take a chemical and don't dilute it properly, their floors don't look as clean as they should, or the chemical doesn't clean up mildew in a bathroom like it should. They now see that if a chemical is mixed correctly it will do its job correctly."

All of these things combine to carry out the Student Life Facility Operations team goal, which states the operation "will be innovative, responsive and proactive to create premiere physical environments and services to meet the changing needs of our students, staff and guests in order to become the benchmark for other universities."

RONNIE GARRETT is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.

For more information about preparing Ohio State University for a new year, click here.
For more information about the products and technology used to maintain Ohio State University, click here.