Facility cleaning managers who have successfully launched a comprehensive green cleaning program recommend starting small.

“You can’t do everything at once, so establish a roadmap and aim for some easy victories,” says Gene Woodard, director of building operations, University of Washington, Seattle.

Woodard’s efforts began with assessing daily cleaning products and eliminating hazardous chemicals in favor of greener options. Next, he worked on switching to Green Seal–certified hand soap campus-wide.

“Eventually our target was to add one green practice a year because we had already accomplished so much,” he says. Like Woodard, one of Brewer’s first goals was to switch to environmentally-friendly hand soap, but both agreed that the biggest challenge was staying within budget.

“Management wants to hear that it’s not going to cost you anything more — and that’s the hard part,” Woodward admits. “So we started with our floors and developed a program that reduced the need to strip and wax twice a year.” The new floor care regimen was more sustainable and less expensive, allowing the department to reallocate funds to the purchase of hand soap.

“We realized changing processes can be a great way to move to a greener profile — and a healthier way of cleaning buildings,” says Woodard.

The Human Element

According to Gatlin, there are three main selling points facilities should focus on when establishing green programs: improved indoor air quality, protection of the planet and social equity.

“Social equity is more important now than it was before the pandemic,” he says. “Custodial workers are often at the bottom of the pecking order, and there isn’t as much attention paid to their health and wellbeing. Investing in a green program is a way the organization can support its custodians.”

For Brewer and Woodard, involving custodians in the evaluation and decision-making process has boosted morale and eased the transition to greener practices. Additionally, building occupants now recognize frontline workers as authorities on green cleaning practices.

“Anytime you empower employees to be educators, you have a more engaged workforce,” says Brewer. “Our custodians are the ones that educate teachers and principals, and that’s something you can’t put a price on.”

No doubt custodial teams that succeed in getting a green plan off the ground feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments. Not only do they want to spread the word within their organizations, but they want to set an example for other custodial departments and the community at large.

Salt Lake City School District’s facilities services department has its own Facebook page to share and promote its sustainable practices. One of the most successful and highly publicized initiatives is the district’s paper recycling program.

“We started diverting paper to a company that turns it into attic insulation,” says Brewer. “So not only were we able to repurpose it, but we were able to reduce our trash collection budget by as much as $95,000.”

The news made the district’s website and inspired the public to participate.

“It became a community involvement piece,” says Brewer. “Anytime you can involve the community through social media, you should.”

Similarly, Woodard took advantage of the university’s newspaper to spread the word about the transition to green hand soap, as well as the department’s green cleaning award wins. Award certificates were posted throughout campus and celebrated at an annual recognition event.

“It was a source of pride for the department, and we told the world about it,” says Woodard. “I set the goal for us to be the best at green cleaning, and the staff really came to appreciate that.”

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