Honorable Mention K-12/School Districts: The Willow School, Gladstone, New Jersey

Program Information

Total number of students: 145 

Total square footage maintained: 40,000 

Total number of custodians: 1 

Total annual cleaning budget: $35,000 (labor/supplies)

Green cleaning team members: Amy Swenson (Interim Head of School); Daniel Pagaduan, Head Custodian; Emmett Kresge; Facilities Dir.; Mark Biedron, Co-Founder; EJ’s, Cleaning Contractor; Casey Cullen, Sust. Coord.

The Willow School has applied a green cleaning policy since its founding in 2002 and was documented formally in 2011. The policy is one element in the continuing commitment to improving the health of the living systems in their place, their watershed, and their community. With this philosophy, the green cleaning policy hopes to minimize negative impacts on the ecological and social systems that support the school and maximize resource efficiency in all campus buildings.

They believe green cleaning will improve student and staff health and well-being by reducing the environmental hazards that negatively affect children’s growing and developing bodies. As well as protecting students and staff, these practices will protect the health of the custodial staff. A healthier indoor environment is statistically proven to show increased occupant satisfaction, improved morale, decreased absenteeism and increased productivity. Additionally, the intent is to increase the lifespan of facilities. Proper maintenance and effective cleaning extends the longevity and performance of school building materials and furnishings by preventing damage and premature aging, which ultimately reduces waste. They also hope to promote a “less is more” mentality, creating a simpler process/procedure. Altogether, the green cleaning policy intends to add value to the “triple bottom line”--balancing economic, environmental and social bottom lines, making the program sustainable over time.

The policy is grounded in the mission of the school, and its focus on virtues and the ethical relationships between humans and the ecological systems that support them--one which models ethics as the basis for all relationships. The school is committed to actions designed to conserve, protect, heal and improve health. For each decision, the goal is to add a net benefit to the human, environmental, social, ecological and economic systems, and continue to do so over time.

Documented in The Willow School’s Green Cleaning and Custodial Policy, there are clearly stated procedures for treating soiled areas and maintaining a clean, healthy school. To treat soiled or contaminated areas, the school attends to spills and stains immediately, determining if the surface can be cleaned with just water; if not, then determining which product is best to clean the spill or stain.

To maintain the buildings, the school uses high-performance cleaning equipment with a low environmental impact, an important component of green cleaning. The staff uses tools such as high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration vacuum cleaners, microfiber mops and cloths, multilevel walk-off mats, and two-chamber mop buckets, which are designed to trap and remove dirt and soil more effectively than traditional products, thus reducing the amount of additional chemicals required for cleaning. They incorporate the use of cold water instead of hot water, and use the ISSA, CIMS standard as a guiding tool.

Additionally, the school uses ergonomically designed power cleaning equipment to minimize vibration, noise and user fatigue. In addition, they avoid chemicals with known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, or other hazardous chemicals that may have negative human health effects such as phthalates, Bisphnol-A/BPA, biocides, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, Volatile Organic Compounds, Formaldehyde/Urea Formaldehyde.

Throughout campus, they avoid building products with known adverse human and environmental health effects, such as commercial carpets with PVC, PBDE flame-retardants, textiles with PVC and Halogenated Flame Retardants, building wire and cable with PVC, HFR’s phthalates, and heavy metals, plumbing pipe with PVC, insulation with polystyrene and polyisocyanurate and/or that have HBCD, treated wood products with formaldehyde and urea formaldehyde. They also try to reduce or eliminate the use of products containing VOCs, skin irritants, added fragrances, and ozone-depleting substances and/or dyes. The school reuses and/or recycles product containers when empty, and places the highest value on waste prevention or wiser ordering methods overall. The campus is dynamic in its methods to achieve near-zero waste and create more healthful surrounding ecosystems.

In hiring a cleaning contractor, the school gives preference to cleaning subcontractors who have achieved ISSA or CIMS certification; this also requires a site visit, three references and a knowledge base of green cleaning procedures, CIMS safety and green cleaning training documentation, and a contract stating which cleaning products the school will approve for use. The facilities director personally trains all maintenance staff to comply their cleaning practices with the school’s standards and procedures. They are required to attend training, where they are briefed on proper disposal of all substances, the “Cleaning Team Checklist” and the best cleaning practices as outlined in the Green Cleaning Policy. To monitor the cleaning contractor, they conduct randomized monthly walkthroughs with a feedback sheet, track occupant observations and add to feedback sheet for contractors, and conduct a mid-year performance review meeting to determine goals for improvement.

Inherent in the design and function of the school buildings is a unique policy for dirt and particles tracked in by foot. At every entrance to the school (each classroom has a door opening to the back of the school) there are walkoff mats, some made of recycled materials like t-shirts, designed to reduce the amount of dirt and moisture being tracked into the school. In addition, each classroom was built with its own mudroom equipped with cubbies and storage for students to place their belongings. Willow students bring an extra pair of shoes to school to specifically be worn outside in the mud and woods. The recess activity of choice is not playing on a standard jungle gym; it is building forts and enjoying the natural environment around them. Additionally, many classroom lessons are held outdoors, making it even more crucial that we implement an outdoor shoe policy.

The Green Cleaning Policy is just one chapter in our Willow School Sustainable Practices Policy that is followed by the entire school and is used as a model by many other schools in their efforts to become more sustainable. The Green Cleaning Policy is tied into the mission and values of the school to create global citizens, who explore the wonder of the environment around them. Other chapters in the policy include energy, transportation, waste management and diversion, environmentally preferable purchasing, food service, school grounds and ecosystem management, community and curriculum.

In order to measure its success, the school evaluates attendance records, nurse office visits and satisfaction surveys from staff. They provide a means for building occupants to report feedback on the green cleaning program to the Buildings and Grounds Committee.

The small nature of The Willow School makes educating building occupants and broader community about their actions and why they choose to do them tremendously easy. Each week, the school holds “Morning Gathering,” a time for the whole school community to gather and be informed on what is going on around the school. Additionally, at the end of each week, parents and students receive an emailed update about events and changes occurring around campus. These two occasions provide a perfect media for them to update the community about policies and processes of green cleaning. The school encourages custodians, cleaning contractors, staff and the school at large to present new ideas, products and technologies to the facilities director. The school community also actively engages in various recycling endeavors. The kindergarten is continuously involved in collecting yogurt cups, bottle lids and caps since they cannot be recycled through the county recycling program.

In 2012, the school received the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School’s Award, which included a section on operational sustainability.