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University of Washington Cleans Green with Innovative Efficiency

September 19, 2010
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The University of Washington (UW) is on a green mission. In 2010, the College Sustainability Report Card recently gave UW an overall grade of A minus, a distinguished achievement reserved for schools with deep-rooted, comprehensive green programs and goals.

UW has focused on improving the health of the indoor and outdoor environment since 1986, when they first began to gradually eliminate harmful chemicals from their cleaning regimen. Over 20 years later, UW won the grand award in the 2007 Green Cleaning Awards for Schools and Universities, a noteworthy designation granted by American School & University, the Green Cleaning Network and the Healthy Schools Campaign.

UW continues to break ground on the green path. A university-wide green cleaning policy mandates the use of environmentally friendly cleaning products, and sustainability is a main goal in strategic plans from the maintenance department.

"UW custodial services have been a champion in using the latest technology and procedures to become more efficient and green," says Yirgalem Tesfaldet, Manager of Program Operations at UW. "We have reconstructed our department to focus on being leaner and more sustainable."

Tesfaldet manages the maintenance of seven buildings, each with its own distinct set of challenges. The UW Tower is primarily carpeted and requires intensive detail work. The William H. Gates Law School includes carpeted libraries, classrooms and offices that all must be vacuumed before 8 am, though tile covers the connecting common areas. The Burke Museum is a high-profile space with public exhibits, and must be meticulously cleaned before opening.

"Each custodian is responsible for around 42,000 sq. ft. and usually has many tasks to complete before the buildings open," says Tesfaldet. "Having the right equipment, including equipment that is reliable, is important for the custodians to complete their work and be efficient."

Tesfaldet has implemented team cleaning in all the buildings he oversees.

"Team Cleaning creates a cleaner environment using less equipment and fewer staff," notes Tesfaldet. "We have noticed significant savings, but we have really appreciated the ability to allocate our resources better and be more efficient with our equipment and staff. Team Cleaning has separated each task and assigned it to a custodian. So now we only have to provide equipment necessary for each task to the specialist who performs that task throughout a building."

One of the mainstays and powerhouses in the Team Cleaning system at UW is the ProTeam® backpack vacuum, a multifunctional tool that allows cleaning staff to move from tile to carpet to stairwells, even elevator tracks and high detail areas, without having to stop and switch equipment.

"We cover more square feet per hour and capture more dust by using ProTeam backpacks," says Tesfaldet. "Upright vacuums don''t have as much suction and can leave debris behind, resulting in more detail work."

Studies have shown ProTeam backpack vacuums are 43 percent more effective in removing soil, and more than three times as productive as commercial uprights. When used in a system like Team Cleaning, the ProTeam backpack cleans up to 10,000 square feet an hour without placing significant strain on the operator.

"I manage 25 custodians, all of whom are very different in size and shape. Backpack vacuums provide an ergonomic advantage over upright vacuums," says Tesfaldet. "Uprights have been known to be strenuous on your back and arms by requiring continual pushing and pulling. They''re also only able to clean carpeted areas, whereas backpacks can transition from carpet to tile to stairways, which makes them a multifunctional tool."

Indoor air quality is also a concern at UW, so the maintenance department now uses backpack vacuums with HEPA filtration. Each ProTeam backpack features Four Level® Filtration that traps 99.9 percent of particulates measuring 1 micron or larger, like dust mites, dander and other allergens. With the HEPA filter included, the backpack captures 99.97 percent of indoor allergens measuring 0.3 microns and more.

Quality assurance inspections at UW show that the overall level of cleanliness for the buildings is up. Detail work is getting done, and dust bunnies are disappearing from high-traffic common areas.

"Staff and customers are happier because we can help those who have allergies," Tesfaldet comments. "The HEPA filter has been a great benefit."

Tesfaldet has transitioned all seven buildings to a dayshift routine, which saves on energy consumption and provides sunlight to show areas that might otherwise be missed on the swing shift. Now common areas, entrances, lecture halls, classrooms and other high-profile spaces must be cleaned at the beginning of the shift. The daunting task is made easier with the backpack vacuums.

"I''ve been able to keep up and improve old buildings that have difficult detail work and bad indoor air quality," Tesfaldet comments. "The backpack vacuum is something I encourage everyone to use because of its versatility and convenience. The equipment has also been reliable, which keeps my crew working and not performing other tasks."

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