In a green cleaning program, the goal is to promote your vision for a clean and healthy campus across the school community so that each stakeholder group — administrators, staff, teachers, students, visitors and vendors — takes personal responsibility. Here are some ways you can start:

Understand your school’s power structure.
Every school has its own system of checks and balances, an elaborate matrix of groups, administrators, volunteers and officials who work together to make things happen. Understanding who reports to whom, the roles and goals of each group, and how to communicate with them all is an important step in figuring out how to lead the school forward. Make it your mission to meet with the head of each group of stakeholders, starting with your school principal, to understand what their priorities are and how to work with them.

Break down barriers. Sometimes you just need to lead the way. There are countless obstacles preventing us all from making changes in schools, and rather than feel impeded by them or overwhelmed, why not devise a plan to carry on anyway?

For example, when the University of Washington made a switch to day cleaning shifts as part of a plan to conserve energy, resistance was huge. For many school custodians, working the night shift was a way of life, and some had day jobs they did not want to give up. The school pushed through that resistance and made a 100 percent switch to daytime cleaning, even though the majority of their staff was not on board and the state of Washington was entering a recession. The department’s funding was reduced by 26 percent, and this switch meant the department could save money and jobs, and make a sustainable change that conserved energy, too. The change was tough, but eventually the school’s persistence paid off.

“The switch to day cleaning meant a different morale and a new outlook for how our team perceived their role at the university,” says Gene Woodard, director of building services at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Position yourself as the expert.
One way you can do this is by setting up meetings to make the case for green cleaning to the separate groups of people in your school, and share your hard work. This is a time for you to shine — share ATP data, scientific evidence for new cleaning ideas and even information that you collect with the help of school nurses about asthma and absenteeism. Make the link between indoor air quality and decreased asthma absences, for example. Lean on your network of distributors and manufacturers for information to disseminate that will establish your expertise in the eyes of your peers.

Patrick Pizzo, assistant to the superintendent for administration and special projects at East Meadow Schools in New York, educates the teachers in his school on the recommended green products that they could bring into their classrooms. Pizzo knows that he and his staff could be making all the right product choices but if teachers are still bringing in unapproved, unsafe products, student health would suffer. So he educated teachers, provided them with a list of approved products and their SDS. He took it a step further and included a list of local stores and links to websites where these products were available for purchase.

“I really try to advocate that people can be informed themselves,” says Pizzo. “My word isn’t the final say. I provide information for them to make the decisions themselves.”

Include students in the conversation.
Students are conscious of environmental issues, and can be your best advocates. Get them excited about your green cleaning program and watch word catch on quickly. Some of the easiest ways to include students are with publicized recycling programs, contests, through social media and in the science lab. Once you gain their trust, the rest will be easy.

“Every other year, we put a challenge out through the art department to create a recycling poster that will be used around all our facilities,” says Keith Webb, executive director of plant services, Newport News Public Schools, Newport News, Virginia. “We choose a winner from the elementary, middle and high school levels. Each winner selected is given a $100 gift certificate. It’s been a great way to increase awareness, as well as showcase our students’ talents.”

Every year we meet more inspiring, motivated champions of green cleaning at schools all across the country — through our Leadership Council, in the applications that come in for the Green Cleaning Award and at our peer-to-peer networking events. These ambassadors for health are taking their roles to the next level, using their expertise in public health and green cleaning to make the case to those in charge to switch to greener methods of cleaning.

It’s our hope that more of these individuals will realize their own strength and power and take up the case. We’re ready to move the needle on the green cleaning moment, and in the process, elevate the role of school custodians in schools, communities and across the nation. 

ROCHELLE DAVIS is the president and CEO of Healthy Schools Campaign. She works closely with the Green Clean Schools Leadership Council members to promote healthy, green cleaning programs.

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Implementing A Green Cleaning Program