Promoting Green And Sustainability Through Campus Engagement
(L-R) Aaron Uresti; Gena Lozoya, Custodial Services Manager; Rey Varela, Custodial Services Supervisor; (front row) Franci Rave, Facilities Services Administrative Assistant; Hassan Ghamlouch, Director of Environmental and Resource Services

Gaining support for sustainability from building occupants

Over the years, I have had many conversations about the work we do with fellow coworkers and colleagues within the cleaning industry. The general feeling that I get among them is that what we do is underappreciated, undervalued and overlooked. Yet keeping a building clean is one of the most important components to maintaining that building.

Much of this thinking can be attributed to a lack of communication.

If you have a green cleaning program in place with a commitment to sustainability, often times, very little information is shared outside of your department as to what you do, how you do it, why you do it, and the positive impact that your team has on the environment and the wellness of others.

Communicating that commitment can go a long way in gaining support from building occupants and improving employee morale. But getting the message out isn’t always easy.

One way we have overcome this challenge at the University of California Riverside is by participating in events on campus where we can introduce, promote and share our green story. Members of the team are on hand to discuss their contribution to the overall sustainability, health and safety initiatives on campus.

These events have proven to be quite successful, and for multiple reasons.

Cleaning On Display

Last April, the Facilities Services Department participated in a campus-wide Earth Day Celebration. This gave us the opportunity we needed to showcase the custodial and housekeeping green cleaning program. It also gave us an opening to share the efforts our Refuse and Recycling team is making to enhance the current collection program and where we stand in meeting our waste diversion goals.

We set up a booth at the event and displayed samples of some of our green cleaning products in use throughout campus. We also showcased a model of the zero waste station that we are currently piloting.

By participating in this event, we found that many of the students, faculty and staff already knew what green cleaning was, but they were not aware that we were practicing this on our campus. This created a chance for us to engage and connect with the campus community, as well as educate them about the green cleaning products and methods that we use to support the environment.

I specifically recall having a conversation with a student who expressed how relieved she was to hear that we are prioritizing healthy initiatives through the use of products with third-party certifications. At the end of the discussion, she asked for my contact information so she could learn more about what we do.

The zero waste station that was displayed also sparked a lot of interest and curiosity from the people that visited our booth. They wanted to get a better understanding of how the station would work compared to the current collection process.

While engaging with visitors, we also learned that having our campus logo on the zero waste station gave people a sense of pride. It increased awareness and a willingness to sort materials and place them in the correct receptacle. On several occasions we heard feedback like, “This looks fantastic!” We were also asked questions like, “When am I going to see this in my building, so I can start using it?”

At the conclusion of the event, our team felt a sense of reward and accomplishment by having an open platform to promote and discuss what we do.

I think that in the last five years, the overall awareness of sustainability has grown throughout the human population more than ever before. I felt that sharing our green story with our campus community gave people a sense of comfort and relief. They now know that the Facilities Services Department is dedicated to providing a healthy, safe and clean environment through the use of environmentally friendly products and practices.

Sharing and promoting your green story and your passion for what you do will create awareness, curiosity and optimism about your program, as well as the critical role that your team plays in the overall maintenance of your campus.  

AARON URESTI is the Assistant Director for Custodial and Housekeeping Services at the University of California Riverside. He is a LEED Green Associate with over 17 years of experience in the commercial cleaning industry and has worked in education facilities for the past 12 years. In his current role at UC Riverside, he is responsible for leading a department of over 150 employees that clean approximately 6 million square feet of building space daily using sustainable products and methods. Prior to his role at UC Riverside, Aaron was the Senior Superintendent of Custodial Services at the University of California, Irvine where his department won two Green Cleaning Awards: Best New Program in 2013 and Honorable Mention in 2015. He is also a member of the Green Clean Schools Steering Committee.

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Using Earth Day To Promote Cleaning