Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Out with the old, in with the new

September 19, 2010
Sustainability manager Sarah Surak might not be an actual member of the cleaning staff for the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, but her green thumb has played an integral role in establishing the university as the first in the nation to be certified for its green cleaning practices.

Working closely with Teresa Farmer, a green programs specialist, and Gordon Brooks, former superintendent of building services at the university, Surak has helped revolutionize the university’s cleaning program by exclusively using environmentally friendly products and processes.

Surak began her career at the university as a recycling coordinator, which proved to be a starting point for her eventual starring role as the orchestrator of a new green cleaning system.

Surak explains that, while she might not be a cleaner, she is definitely a “green person” because she is aware of the green cleaning process and how it encompasses everything — from how employees are trained to the types of cleaning chemicals used.

The entire process began in the summer of 2006 when it was decided that the in-house building services staff would convert the cleaning operations of the seven academic and administrative buildings they service into a green cleaning program.

“UT is committed to being a leader in the greening of institutions of higher education,” says Surak. “Once we made the change to green cleaning products, the next logical step was to green our process.”

Therefore, all new cleaning products would have to be purchased, employees would have to be re-trained, and Green Seal certifications would have to be obtained.

In addition to restructuring the in-house cleaning operation, the university also worked with contract cleaners, who service other buildings on campus, to use Green Seal-certified products.

The end result was a campus-wide GS-42 Green Seal certification, the first of its kind for an institution of higher learning.
“The university made the decision to go green to protect the health and safety our employees and the community we serve,” says Brooks. “We chose to certify under the GS-42 certification because of the comprehensive guidelines and standards.”

The Green Seal certification is valid for one year, at which time it must be renewed.

Before a renewal of the certification is granted, the cleaning operation is evaluated to ensure compliance with Green Seal standards.

“We are very proud to be the first university in the country to be certified with the GS-42 standard,” remarks Surak. “We will continue to strive to green our products and process.”

Communication is a major factor in any green cleaning operation.

Keeping everyone — from students to staff — informed about the changes and trends of the green movement will ensure the University of Tennessee at Knoxville remains on the fast track of environmentally preferable green cleaning.

If you know of someone who you think should be featured in A Clean Sweep, e-mail Aaron Baunee at