Green Schools

The Three E's of Green Cleaning


Work to engage, educate and empower cleaning personnel.

In 2013, one of the more important areas that schools and universities should consider is what to expect from their cleaning personnel. Make no mistake, cleaning is vitally important to the health and performance of students and staff.  Learning is adversely affected when student or staff health has been compromised, and absenteeism can hurt the budget when funding is based on attendance.

But cleaning personnel can do much more than just clean. They often are in the buildings before others arrive, as well as after they leave. Their work places them in every part of the building at least once a day. Thus, cleaning personnel are in a perfect position to turn off electrical devices, including lights, projectors, printers, monitors, vending machines and even personal devices such as space heaters, fans and desk lamps. They also can close windows and perform other tasks that reduce energy consumption and save money.

Although the cost for cleaning is a significant expenditure, typically in the range of $1 per square foot, cleaning personnel can help address waste of all kinds (including energy, water and cleaning supplies). This can result in savings that can be reinvested in facilities, educational materials, salaries and other opportunities. For example, using cleaning personnel and staff to conserve energy, which typically is in the $2 per square foot range, can have significant payback, especially considering the evidence that energy can be reduced by 10 to 30 percent (20 to 60 cents per square foot)—this is significantly more than what can be squeezed from the cleaning budget.

So, in 2013 consider using the 3E’s (engage, educate and empower) to achieve financial and other benefits:

•Engage. Good intentions alone achieve nothing. It doesn’t matter how good an educational or training program is if people don’t use the information to change their practices and behavior. It is important to consider a variety of ways to engage custodians, staff, students and others in 2013 plans. Lots of opportunities are worth considering, such as participating in Earth Day events, resource “challenges” and other ways to increase the visibility of the facilities departments. Also think about tactics and opportunities to engage staff, science teachers, the parent-teacher association, student council and others.

•Educate. Beyond using the right products and training on effective cleaning, cleaning personnel need to be educated on what they can do to help reduce the waste of resources. This has to be done in a way that does not conflict with their cleaning duties. They can be educated on which lights, electrical devices, vending machines and personal/staff devices such as coffee pots, space heaters and fans can be turned off as they are going about their normal cleaning tasks, and when they should be turned back on. A simple method to reinforce the education is to apply color-coded labels to indicate which devices should always be left on, which can be turned off if not in use or the room is unoccupied, which should be turned off only on Fridays and before breaks, and which should result in a call to inform the facility manager that a device has been left on. In addition to the facility manager, engineer or principal applying the labels, give staff the opportunity to apply the labels to their own devices and those under their control or responsibility.

•Empower. Once cleaning people, staff and others have been engaged and educated, the last part of the equation is to empower them to act. Provide them with feedback so they know how their efforts are working. This can be as simple as compiling monthly reports on the consumption of energy, water, cleaning supplies and the production/disposal of waste and recycling.

Make sure their input is considered and valued; they can make a positive impact to the health of the building and the department’s budget.

Ashkin is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit educational organization. 

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Mar 15, 2013

Energy conservation is a large part of achieving overall building sustainability, and the author’s suggestion of having staff monitor energy usage throughout the building is good way to perverse some valuable dollars. However, if a facility is going to be counting on its maintenance staff for energy-efficiency, they should begin with equipment that is designed to minimize the use of resources, such as energy, water, chemicals and labor, for a truly sustainable, efficient clean.

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What's Green Schools?

Commentary and analysis on sustainability issues in education, including green design and green cleaning.


Stephen Ashkin

Ashkin is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit educational organization.
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