Building the right team and identifying a front-line worker to include on the committee to evaluate green, sustainable options is an important aspect of any sustainability program. Choosing an insightful leader — set in his or her ways and willing to defend a position — is the best option. If a plan can be developed that meets the approval of an insider who began as the biggest critic, the program has a chance to last.

Make this critic part of the solution, instead of shutting them out and making them a part of the problem. Ignoring the views of a critic gives his or her complaints justification, which is the failure of the leader, not the worker.

When outlining a team, it may seem like a good plan to pick an ambitious, agreeable worker. But a person that is too open to new concepts may only be focused on moving up and out of their current position, instead of the needs and desires of the other front-line workers. It may make for easier agreements, but the program will soon fail as the needs and desires of the front-line workers have been ignored.

A winning team will include people that have different perspectives about green and sustainable programs, and who are willing to debate alternatives. Take products, for example. We have found that there are highly effective, cost effective, green products available on the market. Our research reveals that from the perspective of efficacy, green products work better if matched with a change in processes. But as with non-green products, all green products are not necessarily better. Some are better than others, which is why thorough evaluation of the product is key.

A strong team will debate and find a good green product to pair with the appropriate process. They will then provide training on that new process. This is important as many failed green initiatives are the result of not changing processes to match a manufacturer’s recommendations for use of the new product.

Branching Out

Although the cleaning staff has an important voice on the green cleaning team, they are not the only players. Successful facility cleaning managers will also look outside the school for key team members.

In the most effectively run school districts, there is a partnership between administration and all internal and external stakeholders. The reality is, we serve the needs of the children, and parents are the primary advocates of those children. If parents are going to support our initiatives, it is important that their concerns are heard.

Criticism of new initiatives is more often attributed to lack of transparency, not a poor plan. Absence of transparency leads to an information void, which is quickly filled by incomplete or misinformation. The best alternative is to share appropriate details with parents.
Oftentimes, what’s best for the health of students is also best for the bottom line. Through evaluation of our own program, we have found that chemicals are often over-used and misused. This leads to unnecessary exposure to chemicals for the students and staff, decreased efficacy and waste. An understanding of the cleaning process, when evaluated collaboratively, can identify safer alternatives, which happen to be more cost-effective.

While it was not the initial goal of our sustainable committee to save money (our goal was to be cost neutral), this was a fortunate by-product. Cleaning effectively can best be achieved by identification of what needs to be cleaned and then performing the cleaning correctly. This can often be completed by the use of engineered water and mechanical solutions in place of chemicals. If done properly, efficacy increases, while costs decrease.

The sustainable program at East Meadow School District is designed for the benefit of our students, with input from all levels of our organization and essential stakeholders. The success of the program is because it is our program, not the program of the administration. It provides the greenest, safest environment possible, using the best options currently available, and it has bent the cost curve down, not up, as new products were matched to new procedures. Going green has saved our taxpayers substantial money, while best protecting the health of our students and staff. 

PATRICK PIZZO, A.B.D., M.B.A., is Assistant to the Superintendent for Administration & Special Projects at East Meadow Public Schools in Westbury, New York. He is also a Lecturer at Hofstra University School of Continuing Education, and a founding member of Healthy Schools Campaign’s National Green Cleaning Schools Leadership Council.

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Tips For Managers Launching Green Cleaning Programs