Green thumb

Gone are the days when custodial departments had to defend the merits of green cleaning products and practices. In fact, thanks in part to COVID-19, there has never been a better time for facilities to establish green cleaning programs that prioritize health and safety.

“With the pandemic, people are thinking more about how the building is cleaned and disinfected,” says Doug Gatlin, CEO of Green Seal in Washington, D.C. “Right now there’s a wonderful opportunity for facility managers to invest in top-performing cleaning teams and third-party designations to validate that they’ve met industry best practices.”

Yet, despite the long-term financial and health benefits of green cleaning, many facilities still encounter resistance when pitching the idea to upper management. According to Mark Bishop, a consultant for Healthy Schools Campaign, Chicago, some organizations are merely resistant to change, while others lack understanding of what cleaning for health is all about.

“We live in a different world now with COVID, so we want our cleaning programs to meet our goals of supporting the health of our occupants,” says Bishop. “That means pathogen control, but it also means control of the toxic chemicals we put into the environment. Those objectives don’t have to compete — and in most cases, they work hand in hand.”

Garnering Support

Oftentimes it takes just one voice to spark interest in sustainable practices. The challenge then is finding like-minded people to support green cleaning precepts and make them a reality.

“You have to understand who your supporters are and engage a committee of people to prioritize what you’re trying to accomplish,” says Bishop. “Some facilities may already have a groundswell of support: It may be your leadership, or it may be your principal or superintendent in a school.”

Salt Lake City Public School District in Salt Lake City, Utah, has a sustainability committee that meets regularly to discuss green initiatives. Stakeholders include custodians and principals, as well as maintenance and food service workers.

The district’s first step toward sustainable cleaning began 15 years ago with a director who learned about integrated pest management (IPM) practices while attending a children’s health conference.

He presented the idea to the district, focusing on how IPM could help lower asthma triggers. The program was so successful that it paved the way for other sustainable practices, many of which follow IPM principles.

“The No. 1 thing you have to find in any organization is a willing party — someone who may not know what they’re doing, but they know what they want to accomplish,” says Mervin Brewer, assistant custodial supervisor. “You need people with the desire to do better and make a difference in the world; not just people who do their job and collect their paycheck.”

Fortunately, Brewer did not have to look far to find allies who fit this description. Together with custodial team members, he developed a green cleaning program that was readily accepted by upper management.

For facilities managers who encounter resistance to change, support may come from unlikely sources. According to Gatlin, human resources departments are taking on a more active role in workplace health and wellness.

“Increasingly, HR teams are becoming well-versed in indoor air quality and occupant health,” he says. “It’s only within the last few years that addressing the needs of vulnerable populations is front and center in most HR procedures. So there’s a tie-in with creating healthy work environments and the HR policies of an organization.”

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Small Steps Ensure Successful Green Cleaning