Last winter, a new building opened at Calvin College, a liberal arts school spanning 400 acres in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
As with many educational facilities, which strive to serve as positive examples for their local communities, Calvin College''s cleaning and maintenance department needed to satisfy performance, image and environmental stewardship demands — all on an increasingly strict budget during uncertain economic times.
In January, Assistant Director of Facilities Ada Castle was faced with the worst economic climate in decades and a budget that wouldn''t give.
Castle faced a tough challenge since she couldn''t hire more staff.
And, not keeping up high cleaning standards on the growing campus was simply not an option.
Teaming Up For Success
In 2004, Castle turned to well-known industry veteran Jim Harris.
Harris was involved with a seminar on Team Cleaning® and introduced Castle to a way to improve both the quality and efficiency of cleaning.
Castle discovered how a backpack vacuum, when used within a Team Cleaning system, can increase productivity by up to 70 percent.
At the time, Calvin College planned to unveil their first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified building; Team Cleaning fit right in line with the college''s green efforts.
"Team Cleaning and green cleaning seemed to evolve at the same time," says Castle. "When we first started using Team Cleaning methods, our efficiency increased and our buildings are healthier because we filter the air that goes through the vacuum. With a beater-bar upright, dust goes back in the air. Our backpacks remove dust rather than letting it go airborne. We don''t clean for appearance, we clean for health."
With a staff of 30 full-time cleaning professionals, Castle and her crew cover over 1.7 million square feet in a typical day, primarily on the second shift after classes are finished.
Now, workers are no longer given a cleaning zone to tackle in full, but are assigned a set task over a large area.
So, instead of needing six vacuums and six restroom carts for six workers, one person can use a high-efficiency backpack vacuum to cover all six areas.
The amount of equipment Calvin College required decreased and cleaning productivity improved.
Getting To Work
"We easily make 10,000 square feet an hour," says Castle. "Our housekeepers are finding the backpacks much less physically stressful. They even prefer it to a central vacuum because movement is easier."
The cleaning crew didn''t always feel that way.
In the beginning, Castle recounts, "some of the old dogs said: ''I''m not gonna wear that.'' They just needed it properly fitted. Someone from [the vacuum manufacturer] came out and fitted each person for a backpack. So now, housekeepers have an assigned, properly adjusted vacuum. One of the original resistors is now retired, but I know if I had tried to switch out his backpack for an upright I would have had a battle."
The school continues to fine-tune Team Cleaning practices to better match the changing needs on campus.
To integrate more green cleaning standards, Calvin College now buys walk-off mats made of recycled materials, uses green chemicals and strives to meet most U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for post-consumer materials in trash liners and paper products.
The college now also has more than two dozen backpack vacuums, which feature high-powered suction and four filters to trap fine dust.
"We''ve had fewer complaints about people with asthma or allergies," says Castle. "I know it''s better and healthier to use the backpacks. Above all, we want a healthier environment. So we get the equipment that works the best."
New building construction continues at Calvin College, giving Castle and her crew more dust to contend with, and eventually, more square feet to cover.
This situation will surely present challenging times ahead, but the college can rely on its cleaning and maintenance crew to deliver high-quality performance that is safer for the environment.
Calvin College, by using innovation equipment and a Team Cleaning strategy, is an example of achieving sustainability with commonsense changes.
Portions of this case study are courtesy of ProTeam Inc., based in Boise, Idaho, leaders in vacuum technology.