Green Cleaning Programs for Schools

The studies are convincingly positive: green cleaning programs in schools benefit both students and the administration.  With the implementation of successful indoor air quality programs, schools can see an increase in productivity and overall higher test scores.

Defined as “cleaning to protect health without harming the environment,” green cleaning programs employ processes that promote health, safety and social consciousness, and include the use of environmentally-friendly janitorial products and equipment.  From preschools to colleges, green cleaning and indoor air quality programs have been gaining in popularity and producing outstanding results.

Charles Young Elementary School in Washington, D.C., for example, addressed total environmental quality with these types of programs.  Through attention to general sanitation, air quality, noise control, lighting, and general comfort (temperature and climate), the following remarkable benefits were achieved:

  • School attendance increased from 89% to 93%
  • Math scores at basic or above levels increased from 51% to 76%
  • Reading scores at basic or above levels increased from 59% to 75%

Research shows that high performance schools manifest many common traits, including an inviting appearance; the retention of good teachers; reduced stress through consistent temperatures and low noise levels; clean and sanitary conditions which convey a caring message; and a small risk of adverse health effects.  The cleaning and maintenance of schools is vitally important, but often under-emphasized.  Sanitation in elementary schools is particularly critical, as young children face unique health hazards, such as respiratory infections, asthma attacks, skin diseases, and diarrhea outbreaks.

Green cleaning programs focus on improving air quality because, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, contaminants are typically at least two to five times worse indoors than outdoors. In another school study, the implementation of new indoor air quality programs, equipment and supplies had the following positive results:

  • Airborne dust inside the building decreased by 52%
  • Volatile organic chemical (VOC) concentrations decreased by 49%
  • Bacteria decreased by 40%
  • Fungi colony-forming units decreased by 61%

Related research at a different school indicated that improved green cleaning programs were responsible for reducing total illnesses by 24%, doctor visits by 34%, courses of antibiotics by 24%, and days absent by 46%.

Thorough green cleaning initiatives take a holistic view of the school facility, with each aspect of building operations and maintenance viewed in the context of goals and benefits the school expects to derive from the programs it wishes to implement.  Basic principles to consider include:

  • Focus on both inside and outside entryways, as most pollutants enter the building on people’s feet
  • Minimize particles and chemicals in the air by mechanically capturing dust and dirt, using course spray for chemicals, and applying cleaners to cloths rather than spraying the surface to be cleaned
  • Use environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals and chemical management systems for accurate product dilution
  • Ensure proper vacuuming, extraction, rinsing and drying, as carpets can be a host for moisture problems and mold growth
  • Focus on preventive measures and quick clean up of accidents so fewer and milder chemicals can be used
  • Mechanically capture dirt and remove it instead of just pushing it around
  • Focus on touch-points such as door handles
  • Apply disinfectant in restrooms properly, allowing for proper dwell time so that soil is thoroughly removed using less product
  • Promote safety and prevent cross-contamination through the proper use and storage of chemicals, and the use of color-coded tools that ensure pollutants don’t get carried from one area (such as a restroom) to another
  • Use green paper products, such as recycled tissues and towels bleached without the use of chlorine
  • Implement an effective recycling program
  • Create a communication program so that building occupants understand they are part of the process and will comply with proper spill notification, food clean-up and clutter reduction

Although some schools and universities have successfully implemented their own green cleaning programs, others will find it more effective and cost-efficient to hire a janitorial company that specializes in these.  Such experts can conduct an assessment and suggest a plan that meets specific goals and budgets.  If the school needs to start small, the cleaning company can suggest basic changes that can drastically improve the quality of the indoor environment.  The company will also know the latest practices and products, its cleaning staff will have proper training, and it may even be able to offer posters and other communication materials regarding the responsibilities and benefits of the new program.

Many schools now understand the benefits of green cleaning programs when it comes to attracting and retaining teachers and students.  They can also reap the benefits of being known as environmental stewards and achieving higher averages on standardized tests.  These recruiting and marketing advantages—plus the possible savings on teacher sick leave and insurance premiums—can equate to a healthier bottom line.  A school may spend more upfront on launching green cleaning programs, but the benefits are great.

The author of this article, Bob Clarke, is the senior vice president of sales and marketing for OneSource, a leading provider of outsourced facilities services in the United States.  He has more than 18 years of experience in the building services industry and serves on the board of directors of the International Downtown Association (IDA), which works to create vital and livable urban centers throughout the world.  

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