illustration timeline of planting a seed watching it grow into a gree and bearing fruit

I know that technology applies to everything from creation of higher dilution rates for concentrated chemicals to new types of vacuums that allow janitors to clean under desks without hurting their backs. But for the sake of this discussion, I’m going to refer to items that have more beeps and whistles. I’m referring to three very different things: on-site generation, mobile apps and robotics.

None of the three of these technologies existed (at least in schools) in the mid 2000s. But all three are currently making huge changes in schools — or may soon do so.

On-site generation allows custodians to generate their chemicals at their school. This reduces the transport of chemicals and creates safe alternatives to traditional products.
Mobile apps are ensuring better cleaning coverage, increasing staff efficiency and — as the Internet of Things gets more ubiquitous — will completely shift how green cleaning programs can be run.

As for robotics, this isn’t used much in schools just yet, but my prediction is that it’s going to come soon. With fully driverless cars being tested this year, there is no reason driverless floor scrubbers won’t be seen in your school as the technology improves and gets less expensive. 


Paper was always one of the biggest challenges to a green cleaning program. Towels and tissues were seen as a cost, and “greener” options were often very limited. In the mid 2000s, the only options for environmentally preferable paper included recycled content or processed chlorine-free, and both were limited in the marketplace.

Since that time, though, the changes in the paper market have been dramatic. Not only is environmentally preferable paper more widely available, but options are greatly expanded. We can now purchase paper made from wheat grass, bamboo or even banana peels.

Choosing paper products today can be more tailored based on the values and priorities within a facility, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. However, there is also a recognition of the full cycle of paper products and the need to reduce the use of virgin paper, increase recycling and even improve transportation issues. All of these things are being addressed at schools across the country.

Cleaning our schools and focusing on health is such important work. Each school day, more than 60 million students and staff attend our nation’s institutions, representing 20 percent of the American population. Unfortunately, half of them are still being exposed to polluted indoor air, including lead, asbestos, fumes, pesticides, molds and other toxins at those facilities. But the other half are making great strides toward greener initiatives.

For the past several years, we’ve participated in the organization of the Green Clean Award for Schools & Universities. Each year, the award winners impress us with their innovative approaches to green cleaning, and they teach us even more about the opportunities for sustainable and health-minded cleaning in schools. It’s been incredible to see the progress in the sustainability and sophistication of school cleaning programs over the years. 

MARK BISHOP has more than a decade of experience in advocating for healthy school environments. As Vice President of Policy with Healthy Schools Campaign, he developed training programs and tools for school stakeholders to advance healthy school environments. He was instrumental in the development of the Green Clean Schools program and has run professional development programs for school facility directors and school nurses. He has also successfully advocated for state-level policies around green cleaning, school health and chronic absenteeism.

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Evolution Of Green Cleaning Initiatives