Dan Josephs is a man on a mission — a mission that his neighbors to the North (New York) and friends in the Midwest (Illinois) have already successfully embarked upon.

As general manager of Garwood, N.J.-based Spruce Industries and vice president and committee chair for the New Jersey Sanitary Supply Association (NJSSA), Josephs has been working tirelessly to make a personal goal come to fruition — develop legislation that mandates the procurement and use of green cleaning products in all K-12 schools in the state of New Jersey.

Already an advocate of green cleaning products and processes, Josephs’ interest in green cleaning legislation was piqued when in August 2005, New York became the first state in the United States to pass a law specifically centering on the purchase and use of green cleaning products in K-12 schools.

With Spruce Industries headquartered just a hop, skip and a jump from the New York state line, and schools making up nearly half of the company’s customer base, Josephs decided it was in his company’s best interest to get involved and help facilitate something in New Jersey that mirrors the legislation passed in New York.

“We are trying to take a leadership role in order to help schools create a healthier environment for their students and staff,” he says. “We want to show that our industry is not just about selling, but also about educating our customers.”

But to Josephs’ surprise, the state of New Jersey responded to New York’s green cleaning legislation…or so he thought. In January 2006, New Jersey Governor Richard J. Codey signed an Executive Order (No. 76) directing all state departments to purchase and use environmentally preferable cleaning products. However, the state departments were only encouraged to comply with the provision of the Executive Order as it relates to purchasing green cleaning products. Plus, county and municipal governments, as well as school districts were not subjected to the Executive Order’s requirements — a decision that has left Josephs and others in New Jersey puzzled.

“The Executive Order is like a recommended speed limit, nobody is enforcing it,” Josephs explains. “And it’s only for state facilities and doesn’t include schools.”

Soon thereafter, another state adopted green cleaning legislation for schools. The Green Clean Schools Act was signed in August 2007, making Illinois the second state in the nation to require green cleaning in K-12 schools. Chicago-based Healthy Schools Campaign, an independent not-for-profit organization, was instrumental in championing the bill and building a coalition to support it. The Green Clean Schools Act debuted in Illinois K-12 schools on May 9, 2008.

Other states followed suit in 2008, as Missouri and Maine both enacted green cleaning guidelines of their own. However, these guidelines are not required mandates like those in New York and Illinois. And as of early April 2009, the Healthy Schools Campaign says it is tracking 11 states that have proposed some form of a green cleaning procurement policy for K-12 schools. But if Josephs has any say in the matter, he would like to see New Jersey added to that list by the end of this year.

He has already built a coalition of key stakeholders that includes NJSSA members (jan/san distributors and jan/san manufacturers), teachers, custodians, advocacy groups and associations in the state of New Jersey to help legislators and state officials understand the importance of green cleaning in K-12 schools.

Because this issue is very political, Josephs says there is always the possibility of some organization or “rogue manufacturer” in the state that will use legislation to push its own agenda. For that reason, Josephs is doing his best to get out in front of the issue so distributors in New Jersey are not left at a disadvantage.

“Our state organization, the NJSSA, represents many distributors and manufacturers throughout New Jersey and we feel that green cleaning legislation in schools will directly affect our members,” he says.

Josephs isn’t the only jan/san distributor who is tugging on the coattails of legislators to pass green cleaning legislation in schools, however. Neenah Miller, green consultant with Knoxville, Tenn.-based Kelsan Inc., and Laura Craven, director of communications and marketing with Miami-based Dade Paper, are also leading coalitions to green America’s schools in the states of Tennessee and Florida respectively.

No Child Left Behind

Like Josephs, both Miller and Craven are striving to make the learning environment in K-12 schools green and clean in their states. But along the path to greening America’s classrooms, both have found it to be somewhat of a daunting task.

Craven and Dade Paper have been communicating the benefits of what a green cleaning program can do for the well-being of building occupants for the last three years. However, it hasn’t taken off in the K-12 market like the company initially thought it would.

“We really thought the schools would be the first to take the step to green cleaning,” says Craven. “Instead we found it was the hotels and entertainment industry (arenas, performing arts).”

So, Craven has been proactively pushing green cleaning throughout Florida in any way she can, hoping that she will soon be heard and green cleaning will soon stick with K-12 schools. But she knows she’s up for a challenge, especially because of Florida’s past ruling on green cleaning legislation. A bill proposed for green cleaning in 2007 to be required in all government agencies and public schools did not pass.

Craven has made it her own personal agenda to spend each working day drawing up the blueprints for how she can help improve the environment children are learning in. Through green cleaning, Craven says the improvement of indoor air quality (IAQ) has such an enormous impact on human health. In fact, studies show that poor IAQ can trigger asthma attacks, skin and eye irritations and headaches, which all diminish a child’s ability to learn.

Currently, Craven is reaching out to Florida’s city leaders to form a coalition statewide. She recently presented a green cleaning proposal to the City of Miami Beach and convinced the city leaders that green cleaning be adopted in its public schools. Craven is hoping that by taking baby steps and getting legislation passed city by city, that it will eventually work its way up to the state capitol and become law for the entire state.

Like Craven, Miller has also gone off the beaten path to educate industry personnel and everyday people on the benefits of green cleaning in Tennessee. With a child in school herself, Miller says improving the environment children are learning in really hits home with her.

“When I started really getting involved in green cleaning and learning about green chemicals and all of the different effects that they can have on the environment, not just chemicals, but using recycled paper, filtration on vacuum cleaners and how that affects your indoor air quality, it just made so much sense and it became a passion for me,” says Miller. “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to do these things. It’s not going to make your life any harder than what it is and it’s not going to cost you any more. So, why don’t you go ahead and do it. It’s the right thing to do.”

Over the last couple of years, Miller has been able to get K-12 schools in Tennessee to recognize her mission — that they can make a big difference in the way that they clean by the products they use. In fact, Miller and Kelsan have been successful in getting several schools to implement green cleaning programs. Although it is a small victory each time a school swaps out traditional cleaning products with green products, Miller will not be satisfied until each K-12 school in Tennessee is mandated to do so.

“There’s still a much needed mandate,” she explains. “A lot of our schools are rural and don’t really know what green is. Most people think it’s only for tree-huggers.”

Although she may have her hands full in getting Tennessee to mandate the purchase and use of green products in K-12 schools, Miller is not backing down. She continues to spread word about green cleaning in schools through her personal Web site (greencleanourschools.com), working on expanding her coalition, and has gone as far as drafting her own bill to introduce to state legislators. However, she understands if she wants green cleaning to become a mandate in Tennessee schools, she’s got to get the proper backing from others in her state.

“If I can get enough people on board with me and find somebody who’s in office that understands the importance of this issue and will get behind us and sponsor us in this, maybe we’ll be right there,” Miller says.

Can’t Go Wrong

Because the United States is in a fever pitch over everything and anything green — sustainability is being preached by President Barack Obama — there is no better time for distributors to jumpstart green cleaning legislation in their respective states.

“It is the right time to push green cleaning,” says Mark Bishop, deputy director of the Healthy Schools Campaign. “It’s a challenging time for the economy, but at the same time, people recognize the need to have more sustainable practices, healthy practices and to really do things to have a broader perspective of helping our building occupants and our communities.”

Besides being a ripe time for distributors to lead advocacy campaigns towards green cleaning legislation and being “the right thing to do,” Stephen Ashkin, president of the Ashkin Group LLC, Bloomington, Ind., says it can also be a brilliant business strategy.

“This is going to happen,” he says. “So either you can wait and have your competitor do it, let an advocacy group do it, or you can get involved right from the beginning and get credit for it. It’s just good business.”

Distributors can also use their position as leaders of a green coalition to brand themselves apart from their competition in the marketplace.

“Everyone’s looking for a differentiation in the marketplace,” says Bishop. “And if you can differentiate yourself by providing better service, better products, better health and you’re doing it in a cost-effective way, it’s a positive story that can really promote benefits in multiple areas.”

Also, when distributors are influential in creating the legislation, it typically means that customers will come to them once legislation is passed because they are familiar with what the legislation is and how to do it, says Ashkin.

“So if there’s a requirement that comes down for schools, schools typically would prefer to work with someone that actually knows what is going on,” he says. “And if distributors are able to say we’re the ones who helped put this together, it really does give them a competitive advantage in the marketplace.”

Vince Fagan, vice president of United Supply Service Inc., a Chicago-based jan/san distributor knows this situation all too well. When the Healthy Schools Campaign was reaching out to key stakeholders to build its successful Illinois coalition, Fagan was asked to share his knowledge from a distributor’s perspective.

Not only did Fagan convince opponents of the bill on the benefits of green cleaning in schools, he also got legislators to buy into the true benefits of green cleaning and understand why the marketplace is going in this direction. After green cleaning legislation passed in Illinois, Fagan’s distributorship was a popular first call for end users.

“You as a distributor get to have the limelight on your distributorship,” says Fagan. “Like for us, we were one of the proactive distributors in Chicago that got this thing going. You will definitely get lots of mileage out of it, but it should really only be considered a secondary deal.”

What If?

Josephs, Craven and Miller are all very optimistic that green cleaning legislation for K-12 schools will soon become a reality in their respective states. But if their efforts come up short, they say there won’t be any repercussions to their business — they’ll just take the disappointment in stride and continue to get schools to adopt green cleaning programs one school at a time.

“If it doesn’t get passed, I don’t see any repercussion,” Josephs says. “We will still continue to push green and educate our customers, but there is always the downside that those schools that aren’t using green products are endangering the students and staff. The sooner schools switch to green, the healthier everyone will be.”

Distributors who are already leading coalitions in their states hope that other distributors in the jan/san industry take notice and begin taking control in their states and start coalitions aimed at greening America’s schools.

“Other distributors should become involved in trying to lead the charge for green cleaning in schools in their states,” says Miller. “Our customers look to us for guidance about the products we sell. We are in a unique position of being well informed about a vast array of products, both green and traditional, and we have the opportunity to talk with manufacturers’ representatives and test the products. We are the experts when it comes to cleaning and therefore we should feel some responsibility to educate the public and help to transform the way our childrens’ schools are cleaned.”


Building From The Ground Up

Although legislation efforts related to green cleaning in schools were introduced in 17 states in 2007 and 2008, few resulted in new laws or policies, according to the Healthy Schools Campaign, Chicago. In fact, the success and failure of an advocacy effort can be traced to a particular group’s strategy and its coalition.

So, as distributors begin developing their own green cleaning campaign, they can greatly improve their chances for success by investing time in planning a solid strategy and building strong relationships with coalition members.

By working with a group that shares the same goals, distributors can show elected officials how important their coalition’s goals are. In fact, the more constituents a policymaker hears from that share the same views, the more influential it will be.

So, it is a good idea to build a coalition with people who approach green cleaning from diverse perspectives, says Mark Bishop, deputy director of the Healthy Schools Campaign. Parents, health professionals, businesspeople (cleaning product manufacturers, building service contractors and in-house service professionals), labor union representatives, educators, environmentalists and religious leaders are just some of the people who may be affected by green cleaning policy changes and may be interested in joining a coalition to promote green cleaning in schools, he says.

Elected officials will also be more responsive when they recognize that a coalition represents a cross-section of their constituents, according to Stephen Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group LLC, Bloomington, Ind. Taken as a whole, a diverse group represents a community movement and cannot be dismissed as an isolated viewpoint. Particularly on an issue such as green cleaning, a powerful strategy to advocate for change would be to bring together a coalition that includes the education, public health and business communities, as well as environmentalists.

It is also beneficial to connect with representatives from national organizations, as they can often connect a coalition with leaders from their organization’s state chapters. In fact, these state chapters often have an interest in promoting green cleaning policy and have resources or expertise that they are able to put toward the effort.

“If we can build these coalitions that include environmentalists, health groups, education groups, industry and business interest groups, there’s really no reason why in the next two years or so we’re not going to be able to get broad acceptance of green cleaning and programs in schools across the country,” says Bishop. “There’s just too much interest in it and there’s just too much common sense behind it.”