Cleaning for health is more than simply purchasing and using specific products, says Ken Labbe, spokesperson for the EPA.

“An effective green cleaning plan is a collaborative effort and requires initiative,” he says. “It relies on teamwork to establish practices for using those products and to develop policies that ensure those practices are followed meticulously.”

Hawkins knows Labbe’s statements to be true. While working as a head custodian at a Provo City School District elementary school, he was asked to help implement a standardized cleaning program that prioritizes staff training as well as safer chemicals and processes. Prior to 2010, each of Provo’s schools was an island unto itself.

“Head custodians could purchase chemicals of their choice, so you could go to any of our 18 schools and find a totally different set of chemicals,” says Hawkins. “It was problematic because we didn’t know what chemicals we had and they weren’t being tracked accurately. For the most part, they were very dangerous chemicals and janitor training was inadequate.”

Now, daily cleaners have been narrowed down to the same three products for every school and janitors district-wide receive standardized training in mixing chemicals. The use of color-coded, pre-portioned chemical packets simplifies the process and allows Hawkins to track chemical usage at each school.

UNC Charlotte also uses pre-measured, color-coded chemical packets so that employees can determine, at a glance, whether or not they have the right chemical for the job. All bottle labels and safety data sheets are also color-coded to match the corresponding chemicals.

This system is part of UNC Charlotte’s standardized cleaning program that promotes a healthier environment through training, a reduction in chemical usage and improved safety for workers.

“Every employee is trained and equipped with the knowledge of efficient and effective processes that focus on cleaning for health first, then appearance,” says Franklin.

Like Franklin, Wilson-Futrell believes comprehensive training is integral to creating a healthier school environment.

“Nothing happens without our staff in place, so training them and making them feel engaged and valued is so important in our industry,” says Wilson-Futrell. “If the custodian isn’t competent, it doesn’t matter how great your chemicals or your equipment are. Without the right processes and procedures, you won’t get the results you need.”

Supporting IAQ

Older school buildings in disrepair can also compromise indoor air quality. Weatherizing these facilities is imperative to save energy, reduce moisture and mitigate pest problems.

University of Wisconsin-Madison has several old buildings, the oldest of which was constructed in 1918. But even the newer builds have issues with humidity and moisture from time to time.

“Being a healthy school isn’t just a function of the housekeeping department,” says Veselsky. “Maintenance plays a roll in managing the air quality of our facilities by changing filters and performing preventive maintenance on different building systems.”

Some schools are starting to invest in flooring options that reduce the need for stripping and recoating, or eliminate the process altogether. Alternatives such as concrete flooring and high-quality carpeting are gaining popularity in new builds.

Labbe believes creating a healthy school environment requires the support of all impacted stakeholders, including parents.

“Parents can be some of a school’s best allies and advocates for making the case to implement changes for healthier school environments,” he says. “Just like with students and staff, education and communication are the critical factors to bringing parents on board. Once parents understand and are aligned with the larger health and academic goals, they can be real champions for supporting and funding healthy cleaning initiatives.”

Many of the initiatives in the state of Wisconsin’s green and healthy schools are led by parent organizations. Several schools in the program are using microfiber and water in place of cleaning wipes for interim cleanups in classrooms, says Rydberg. At one of these schools, the parent teacher organization was responsible for raising funds to purchase microfiber cloths.

“Parents are definitely interested and they often have more time than the school professionals themselves,” says Rydberg. “Anytime we can get parents and the school to work together, it makes for a stronger school community. It benefits not only programs like this but academic achievement, as well.”

Kassandra Kania is a freelancer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a frequent contributor to Facility Cleaning Decisions.

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