Tried and true success stories of healthy and sustainable cleaning initiatives

With another school year underway, a growing number of K-12 schools and universities are implementing greener, healthier cleaning practices. 

“We’re seeing a lot of innovation in green cleaning in schools — from technologies that help reduce chemical use, to processes and procedures that streamline our use of labor and make for more effective, healthier cleaning programs,” says Mark Bishop, vice president of policy for Healthy Schools Campaign.

The four schools profiled here have all adopted successful green cleaning initiatives that have earned industry recognition. In addition to advancing sustainability goals, these schools’ custodial services workers are educating students — the future leaders of the sustainability movement — on the importance of cleaning for health.

Testing The Waters

When the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, transitioned to aqueous ozone to clean its residence halls, custodians were skeptical of the new technology.

“It’s a paradigm shift for our staff, and that’s been challenging,” says Vicky Hueter, director of University Housing Facilities. “It looks like water, so it’s hard for our staff to realize they’re cleaning.”

But with a strong focus on training and ATP test results, the department has garnered custodial support and now uses aqueous ozone for 85 to 90 percent of its cleaning tasks.

“The dispensers filter water and air, and charge that with 45,000 volts, turning oxygen into ozone and infusing it into the water,” explains Joe Kennedy, associate director for the North campus region. “We then dispense that into spray bottles, mop buckets, scrubbers and carpet extractors.”

According to Hueter, the results have been nothing short of amazing: “There were stains in carpeting we thought we’d never get out, and the stains have disappeared,” she says. “And in some restrooms where the grout smelled of urine, the smell is gone.”

But more importantly, aqueous ozone has created a healthier environment for staff and students with chemical sensitivities.

“We’ve had staff come up to us after we made this transition and say it literally saved their lives,” says Hueter. “The cleaning chemicals we used previously made them so ill that they were considering leaving their job.”

Aqueous ozone has also cut the facility’s chemical costs in half, as well as reduced its environmental footprint by decreasing chemicals, packaging and the use of fossil fuel for materials delivery.

To further cement its green cleaning program, the housing department recently achieved CIMS-GB certification.

“Going through the certification process helps you identify areas where you may be strong and those where you need improvement,” says Darryl Betts, associate director for the Hill campus operations. “In doing so, that helps us improve our services, as well as our policies and procedures.”

Students also play an active role in driving healthy cleaning practices. “They want to see safety data sheets and know what products we’re using,” says Brian Fitzgerald, associate director of housing facilities. “If we didn’t have green initiatives, many of our students would demand them.”

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Green Cleaning Supports University Goals