Green cleaning is almost commonplace today, but 10 years ago, it was difficult to implement these environmentally friendly cleaning programs, says Mark Bishop, vice president of policy and communications at the Healthy Schools Campaign. But as the availability of green products grew, so, too, did legislation and orders mandating sustainable cleaning practices. 

On August 13, 2007, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed into law the Green Cleaning Schools Act. The Illinois statute required all public and non-public elementary and secondary schools with 50 or more students to “establish a green cleaning policy and exclusively purchase and use environmentally sensitive cleaning products.”

But Chicago Public Schools (CPS) was well ahead of the curve in terms of green cleaning. According to district reporting, CPS partnered with The Healthy Schools Campaign in as early as 2003 to launch a cleaning for health pilot program, which embraced and incorporated green cleaning initiatives.

At the time, Chicago had the highest asthma mortality rate in the nation and 70 percent of Illinois schools were reporting at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition. Piloting a program that would improve those statistics was an easy decision.

“I remember working with Mark Bishop on developing the program for green cleaning at our schools,” says McGuffage. “Mayor [Richard M.] Daley had wanted the city to be clean and environmentally responsible and he wanted CPS at the forefront of that initiative. When you saw the effects cleaning had on health and the environment, it was a great incentive to push for green cleaning. The idea of buildings being healthy is an easy concept to pick up on.”

As time went on, CPS officials continued working on green cleaning initiatives with members of The Healthy Schools Campaign and consultants such as Stephen Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group. Soon, the group had developed comprehensive green cleaning standards for the district — prior to the state implementing the green cleaning requirements — and their efforts have paid off over the years.

In recent years, the district has implemented comprehensive facility performance standards that include specific policies and expectations on indoor air quality, environmental hazards and overall physical environment guidelines. Although there are no hard numbers reporting the success of these programs, McGuffage comments that anecdotal evidence supports that since implementing the programs, CPS has seen a positive impact on indoor air quality and student and reduced staff absenteeism.


Green Cleaning Purchasing Processes

The years of hard work and open communication between district officials and distribution vendors had paid off by the time green legislation rolled around in 2007. Everyone was on the same page about the green cleaning focus and goals to meeting environmental standards.

“Over the years we have had a lot of vendor involvement, sharing the latest and greatest green cleaning options, which are also better for health,” says McGuffage. “Once our suppliers knew green and healthy cleaning was important to CPS, they were very quick to propose new ideas and options.”

As early adopters of green cleaning, CPS did have challenges wading through the options, but as time went on, processes for purchasing “green” products became simpler.

“Illinois EPA established several programs that were designed to improve the ability of schools to provide a safe and healthy environment,” says ISSA Legislative Affairs Director Bill Balek. “The Illinois Green School Programs provided access to a number of resources including a Green Schools Checklist, and the state’s Greening Schools Program.”

CPS took this one step further and went through a procurement process to set up the “Department of Procurement and Contracts Strategic Sourced Janitorial Supplies Booklet.” This outlines those products which are permitted for purchase and use within the schools, in compliance with the district’s green and health regulations.

“We just went through the procurement process to set up new contracts with vendors to get the lowest cost for the products we need,” says McGuffage. “We list recommended products and offer nice prices, but we don’t have a mechanism to stop an individual school from buying products that aren’t on that list. We do try to combat that with heavy communication, training, awareness and a team of field staff that is always talking about it and the benefits of the products we recommend.”

One of the benefits of being the third largest district in the country is distribution vendors are ready and anxious to help where they can. McGuffage comments that suppliers often raise their hand to provide services and although the district is a government entity that comes with certain restrictions on accepting services, the vendors are willing and ready to offer assistance.

“It’s no secret that we are trying to drive our costs down and we did that with our procurement process and partnerships with vendors,” says McGuffage. “We actually knocked them down about 30 percent.”

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