NOT LONG AGO, GREEN CLEANING WAS ONLY OF interest to a fringe group of people. Today it’s mainstream, says John Kennedy, vice president of operations support at UGL Unicco and a contributing member of the company’s “green team,” which helps in the efficient ordering of environmentally sustainable chemicals and then training employees to use them. As many institutions are now doing, UGL Unicco’s GreenClean Program takes a comprehensive approach to core functions, such as by considering the effects of cleaning operations on energy usage.
A major motivation behind green cleaning programs is, of course, environmental responsibility. Rich Middleton, director of facilities services at Eastern Kentucky University, recalls no other Kentucky universities had adopted green cleaning when the EKU program launched during the fall 2007 semester. “We sort of wanted to lead the way and try to establish ourselves as an institution that would be a leader in those efforts,” he explains.
The decision provided an opportunity for Middleton’s department to revamp its entire program, and reenergized staff found “a sense of ownership in the areas they are responsible for maintaining.”
Green cleaning programs can also be a recruiting tool. Leslie Reichert, who is known as “The Cleaning Coach” and encourages people to green their cleaning, points to the “long-range bonus” of these programs?the health of students and employees who are doing the cleaning. While it’s “a priority to make sure the dorms and other areas are clean,” the fumes from cleaners such as bleach and ammonia can cause problems such as eye irritation and breathing difficulties, says Reichert, who speaks to student and faculty groups. Fortunately, converting to green cleaners doesn’t have to break the bank.
“When we initially looked at implementing a program, ran our numbers, and put our figures together, we thought we could perhaps come in a little cheaper than the conventional products we were using,” Middleton says. What helped is that their current distributor allowed for credit on full, unused cases of cleaning materials the campus had in stock.
So far, EKU has not actually saved money since the switch, which included not just cleaning products but paper products used in cleaning as well, but “it was pretty darn close to being a wash,” Middleton shares. Plus, as the availability of green products grows, he suspects the costs will come down. “It’s very much a growing market.”
“If you go about it correctly, it should have a minimal investment,” Kennedy says.
There are different levels of green cleaning commitments higher ed institutions can make. Kennedy says often the use of green cleaning in a new building is the initial seed for the idea, which then migrates from there. “It’s much easier to have a standard process, a unified program across campus,” he explains, adding that green cleaning is the standard operating procedure at most UGL Unicco client schools.
A migration strategy is preferred, to maximize the use of products currently owned. After all, Kennedy says, “it doesn’t do any good to say I’m green and then fill the landfills with equipment.” Greener choices include high-efficiency vacuums and floor maintenance equipment with dust collection capacities, low moisture, and rapid dry time. As for supplies, it’s all about trying to eliminate aerosols and ready-to-use products and looking at concentrated solutions instead.
The current economy is accelerating the need for green cleaning programs, Kennedy says. For example, campuses are maximizing the use of their facilities by scheduling classes from early morning until late in the evening, compressing the time available for cleaning and meaning that cleaning must be done in occupied areas. Quieter vacuums, less invasive procedures, and safer cleaning products are all key.
The need for efficiencies can also mean a new focus on prevention and containment rather than just restoration. For example, where does dirt get into a building? Would it be more efficient to sweep walkways and building entrances more often and put out walk-off mats and service them throughout the day? Kennedy explains that “it’s much easier, much more effective and efficient, to catch the dirt at the door rather than chase it through the building.”