Create a Green Cleaning Strategy for Your School

Six steps to jumpstart your program and get it off the ground

Create a Green Cleaning Strategy for Your School

A successful and effective green cleaning plan is collaborative and requires initiative—especially in facilities like schools that have a variety of community and administrative stakeholders involved in the decision-making process.

Green cleaning efforts—the use of products and practices that minimize health risks, reduce pollution, and conserve resources—cannot be stand-alone activities; they must be incorporated into a comprehensive system for achieving indoor environmental health. Effective green cleaning is more than simply purchasing and using specific products—it relies on teamwork to establish practices for using those products and to develop policies that ensure those practices are followed meticulously.

Embedding green cleaning practices into an established system or comprehensive indoor environmental management plan, especially one that has a strong indoor air quality (IAQ) management component, is one of the best strategies to implement an efficient green cleaning program for education facilities. This article describes specific strategies for implementing green cleaning efforts and making them practical, healthy, and sustainable for your school community.

Step No. 1: Identify Team Leaders

Teamwork and initiative are integral to a strong IAQ program. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) IAQ Tools for Schools guide recommends beginning your green cleaning program by identifying a coordinator and forming a team that includes a wide range of stakeholders from the school or school district.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s School Health Policies and Practices Study of 2014, 66 percent of school districts had a schools health committee, and nearly 80 percent of those committees addressed the physical environment. Involving diverse team members—such as administrators, health officers, facilities staff, custodians, teachers, and parents—increases buy-in and commitment to your green cleaning efforts.

The Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) Green Clean Schools program expands on these strategies. In the 5 Steps to Green Cleaning in Schools guide, HSC recommends focusing the efforts of existing environmental health teams on green cleaning, which will ensure that any improvements include green solutions. In schools without an established environmental health program, forming a “green team” can help unify and strengthen indoor environmental health efforts.

Step No. 2: Communicate With Stakeholders

A successful green cleaning program ensures all stakeholders have a sense of shared accountability. Communication is key to enforcing that accountability factor.

Good communication creates a sense of community and a commitment to shared goals, and discussing major green cleaning activities before they occur fosters transparency and inclusivity. It also builds trust throughout the community. Commitment to green cleaning principles, collaboration with your community, and comprehension of effective strategies can put you and your school or school district on the road to healthier indoor environments.

Successful implementation of a green cleaning policy also requires clear support from the school administration. Use the EPA’s School Officials Checklist— found here—as a guide for soliciting, documenting, and communicating the endorsement of green cleaning policies by school officials. This checklist helps school officials understand their roles as liaisons and champions when establishing, backing, and monitoring policies and procedures.

Step No. 3: Perform an Inspection

Launching a green cleaning program requires facility managers and other stakeholders to understand the current conditions in their schools. Performing a walk-through inspection of the school facility and assessing the cleanliness level of the space will help to establishing baseline measures and benchmarks for improvement—a strategy that directly aligns with the ISSA Clean Standard: K–12. Baseline measures are essential to prioritizing actions, making a detailed written plan, and evaluating success to determine future activities.

Here are five tips to keep in mind before starting your walk-through assessment:

  1. Identify the cleanliness parameters, specifications, and standards that will be used to evaluate your program.
  2. Once you have identified your benchmarks, use appropriate technology to assess and record the data you wish to track, such meters and swabs that indicate the level of biological contamination through the presence of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
  3. Comprehensive walk-through assessments should take place at regular intervals throughout the year; these inspections are the cornerstone of any thriving green cleaning program.
  4. Classroom desks, cafeteria tables, walls, chairs and bathroom surfaces all are designated as “high-touch” and likely to harbor significant concentrations of bacteria and bio-contamination. These areas require both frequent cleaning and frequent assessment.
  5. Checklists to help guide your walk-through assessments are available in the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit and in EPA’s School IAQ Assessment Mobile App. The checklists will help ensure that you are identifying and evaluating critical areas.

Step No. 4: Set Product Policies

Policies that address identification, selection, and use of appropriate green cleaning products contribute to a well-run green cleaning program.

Selected products must meet your district’s particular goals for cleaning; most state and district policies that address green cleaning require chosen products that are safer for occupants, environmentally friendly and—most importantly—effective. Many policies also call for products to be certified by a third-party organization, such as Green Seal™, UL ECOLOGO® or EPA’s Safer Choice program.

A report prepared by the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, Perspectives on Implementation and Effectiveness of School Green Cleaning Laws, found that products brought into the school by students, staff, and faculty were a major factor in “limiting the effectiveness of green cleaning policies.” A comprehensive green cleaning plan should include policies that both encourage use of appropriate products and discourage those behaviors that undermine the goals of the plan.

Step No. 5: Provide Training

A strong green cleaning program depends on cooperation and compliance from all school occupants, including teaching staff and students. Comprehensive, yet accessible, training can help all staff members recognize their roles in supporting green cleaning programs and creating green, clean, and healthy learning environments.

EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools guide provides strategies to promote specific actions that will help occupants implement green cleaning practices. It can help to describe desired actions and behaviors, such as reducing clutter to make it easier to clean classrooms, and suggest ways to reduce behaviors that hinder green cleaning practices.

Step No. 6: Evaluate ROI

During the EPA IAQ Master Class Professional Training webinar Clean Bill of Health: How Effective Cleaning and Maintenance Can Improve Health Outcomes in Your School, Michael Jones, the Assistant Director for Facilities and Construction Services at Columbia Public Schools in Missouri, detailed how his district used documented changes in products and practices to save US$90,000 in just 3 years. That savings was invested back into their green program to help fund new products and equipment.

One of the most important parts of determining the success of a green cleaning program is establishing the measures, criteria, and standards by which to judge the program. As mentioned earlier in this article, a walk-through of school facilities can help to identify the benchmarks and methods for tracking progress early on.

The program’s return on investment (ROI) can assuage worries about perceived costs and help build and sustain support for green cleaning. HSC recommends including the following items in green cleaning ROI evaluations:

  • Percentage of funds spent on green purchases versus non-green purchases
  • Amount per student spent on cleaning products and equipment
  • Amount per square foot spent on cleaning products and staff.

In addition to technical measures like ROI and the results of surface ATP testing, important health and performance measures to consider include asthma incidence and attendance rates, reductions in occupant complaints, effectiveness of integrated pest management, and improvement in IAQ.

Keep the Momentum Going

Once you’ve begun to evaluate the effectiveness of your green cleaning program, you can share the program’s progress and benefits with your stakeholders and adapt the program to your school community’s needs.

Posted On April 6, 2017

Tracy Washington Enger

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Tracy Washington Enger works for the Indoor Environments Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For 20 years she has worked with communities around the country and internationally facilitates events that generate action to address critical health and environmental issues.

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