This is the first part of a three-part article about how distributors can help schools with green cleaning.

When UL Environment and the Healthy Schools Campaign wanted to know the status of green cleaning in the schools, they went straight to the source.

They surveyed the custodial executives at select K-12 schools and colleges, as well as consultants and educators for the cleaning industry. The survey asked some very specific questions: What do you think the top three challenges are when implementing green cleaning? Looking at your green cleaning program, what are you doing well that other schools can potentially learn from? Where do you think green cleaning programs will be five years from now? And finally, what do you think is the most important success? The survey found that both schools and the industry faced similar green cleaning challenges.

“That’s what we were hoping for, because it tells us that the industry is attuned to what is happening in our schools; that they have their fingers on the pulse of green cleaning in the schools,” says Mike Sawchuk, UL Environment commercial sector business manager out of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. “The other interesting thing we learned is the challenges of today were the same ones people identified as challenges for tomorrow.”

Those challenges include educating and training staff; calculating return on investment (ROI) and demonstrating success; product availability; consistent implementation and continued product improvement; and budget constraints.

The good news is these challenges already have solutions, and distributors play a key role in pointing green cleaning programs toward a better future.


Communicate The Value

The first step in improving or implementing a green cleaning program is to identify the stakeholders in the school. They may include the cleaning staff, principal, school administration and manager of environmental cleaning services.

The next step is to communicate the program’s value, which is different for the custodian than for the administrator.

“You need to communicate the value first to the stakeholder, or the custodian, because if they have the attitude that ‘I’ve been cleaning for 20 years, I know everything,’ they won’t have the passion to learn,” says Sawchuk.

Distributors can provide important assistance when trying to communicate the value of a green cleaning program, says Steven Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, Los Angeles, an advocate for green and sustainable cleaning. But to understand the value, stakeholders must know the current status of cleaning within the school. Distributors can help schools perform a full assessment of a school’s cleaning practices.
“With the rapid innovation that’s taking place in the cleaning industry, having a third party, such as a product distributor, perform an assessment to see where they are at is probably the No. 1 thing they should do,” says Ashkin.

It’s important that schools measure against themselves.

“You need to do a baseline survey that helps schools understand where they are today,” Sawchuk says. “You could have a school that is fairly green already when you analyze the products they are using, or you may have one that is using a lot of nasty cleaning chemicals and products that aren’t sustainable.”

The baseline assessment helps the school develop realistic objectives, and it helps the distributor calculate ROI in a number of ways. One way is to look at the cost of the products themselves. The perception is that green cleaning products cost more, but that isn’t usually the case, says Sawchuk.

“To overcome the perception that green cleaning costs more, [schools] need to calculate the cost of green cleaning products over a similar period [of time],” he says.

Distributors can also look at ROI by considering attendance. If attendance increases after green cleaning goes into effect, the school now has documented evidence that the program impacts student health and improves absenteeism.

If purchasing a higher percentage of greener products is their goal, schools might set their standards based on the LEED rating system, which uses a percentage as a baseline.

“They can say, in 2014, 40 percent of our products were green, but in 2015, 60 percent were,” says Ashkin. “We can easily see which products met those standards and track the purchasing as it moves up and down.”

next page of this article:
Sanitary Supply Distributors Can Educate Schools On Sustainability