This is the third year for the Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities sponsored by the Green Cleaning Network, Healthy Schools Campaign and AS&U magazine.

There have been some exciting changes. The number of nominations and overall quality has increased. There were so many excellent nominations that we wish we could recognize everyone, but the real beneficiaries are the students and staff who spend their days in facilities that now are more healthful, with reduced negative impacts on the environment.

Another change was that nominees were using all green products, which is an indication of the mainstreaming of green cleaning. Manufacturers, along with distributors and service providers, all are embracing green cleaning. As a result, products are widely available, performance has improved, and costs have declined.

Nominees indicated their focus was on training and effective cleaning procedures and not simply the use of green products. Thus, it is hoped that the use of green products and staff training will become the standard for schools and universities, not the exception.

What set the winners apart was how their programs have progressed beyond green products. Some of the most notable activities by the winners included their focus on outreach in an effort to not only inform them of their green cleaning efforts, but also enlist their participation.

Many of the best programs used materials provided by vendors that make it relatively easy and inexpensive for others to emulate. In the near future, purchasers may require vendors to provide these educational tools, just as they require Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) or dispensers for hand towels and concentrated cleaning chemicals.

Innovative measurement of cleanliness was another trait of the winners. Many used automated quality-control and assessment devices to measure performance. These devices, historically used in the food industry, provide objective information and are relatively inexpensive. This appears to be part of the future of cleaning, as measurements will help improve performance and focus limited resources on delivering cleaner and more healthful buildings.

A couple of "firsts" for this year's awards: The University of Georgia repeated this year as the Honorable Mention in the higher-education category. It continued to improve its award-winning program from last year, and it is a lesson that no matter how good we are, we can get better.

Also this year, a new award category, "Best New Program," recognizes programs that were less than one year old, because it is hard to compare new programs with those that have been operating for five, 10 or more years. Thus, we hope the award will create opportunities for those new to green cleaning to be recognized for great work that is underway.

View the 2009 Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities winners.

Stephen Ashkin is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit educational organization. He can be reached at SteveAshkin@GreenCleaningNetwork.org.