School leaders like to have good news they can tell parents, students, staff and the community. Making a commitment to a green-cleaning program is truly something to boast about because it helps improve learning environments. But many constituents might not understand green cleaning and the impact it can have inside and outside a school.

Green cleaning programs are about much more than switching to environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals. Green cleaning is a process that engages everyone. Creating and ensuring ongoing support for the process involves participation of everyone involved with a school and the community it serves. Hence, a strong communication program is essential to a well-managed green-cleaning program.

Education facility managers establish green-cleaning programs to help reduce the negative effects cleaning can have on the environment as well as to create a safer, more healthful atmosphere. Efforts to communicate the benefits of green to administrators, parents and taxpayers can help win support from all parties and enables everyone to contribute to the program's success.

Developing a strategy

An education institution can pursue four steps in publicizing its green-cleaning program:

  • Establishing stakeholder support. A green-cleaning program is fundamental to a school's overall green program. Creating enthusiasm and ownership among the cleaning staff is crucial. Facility managers should hold meetings with the cleaning staff to outline the concept and remind them of the critical contribution they make to a healthful and safe learning environment. Involving the staff can motivate them to participate and take pride in their work.

    Meetings with teachers and staff are equally important to develop understanding and a positive attitude about green cleaning. These meetings can cover any changes to school operations, but should emphasize the benefits and the opportunities for encouraging good environmental behavior and creating a more positive school image.

    Next, organize a meeting to establish the objectives of the green-cleaning program. Representatives at the meeting should include communications staff members, the superintendent, school board members, PTA representatives, members of the custodial staff, and environmental leaders within the community. The group should decide whether the institution should publicize its entire green-cleaning program or just one specific area such as chemicals or recycling.

    These meetings build understanding, enthusiasm and ownership, and are the first step in publicizing a green-cleaning program.

  • Developing credibility. Again, creating a more healthful learning environment is an important reason to begin a green-cleaning program. News releases, newsletters, posters and other communications should reflect this and other reasons for the program. Schools should report the results of green cleaning elsewhere and the improvements made in the school such as better indoor air quality, fewer complaints about smells, reduced asthma and other symptoms, and better student attendance and performance.

    Teachers can use a green-cleaning initiative as a way to teach students about health and safety, and how to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Students can learn the importance of handwashing to prevent the spread of disease or the value of cleaning with chemicals that do less harm to the environment. For older students, education can focus on sustainability — living within the means of what the environment and natural resources can provide. This can be a time to talk about how certain chemicals and practices affect the environment, define terms such as volatile organic compounds, or determine what products and practices are effective in combating infectious diseases.

  • Executing the program through distribution of materials and selected vehicles. The first component of carrying out broader communications is to create the necessary materials and messaging. The green-cleaning program will have different interest and appeal for each audience, so these materials should be tailored for specific groups, such as students, teachers, parents, administrators and the community. Facility managers should try to understand each group's needs and concerns, and specify how a green initiative can benefit each.

    Some ideas: Face-to-face sessions may be the most effective way to communicate with teachers, staff and administrators. For students and visitors, articles in the school newsletter or table tents and posters in lunchrooms may be best. Communication with parents could include flyers sent home with students, presentations for PTA meetings or other targeted mailings. Communication with the community may require open houses and building tours, news releases or meetings with community leaders.

  • Demonstrating leadership in environmental stewardship. The communications team must demonstrate the school's knowledge and leadership in green cleaning. It must state all messages clearly and publicize them internally and externally. However, it is not enough simply to provide the messages to the public; school officials must complete the plans and initiatives in an organized and timely fashion, and document the results in a clear manner.

Facility managers can enhance the credibility of their green-cleaning program by linking it with the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. Green-cleaning practices and proper use of chemicals can help schools earn points needed for LEED certification of existing buildings.

Publicizing the use of Green Seal-certified cleaning products or a total green-cleaning program that is GREENGUARD certified for indoor air quality is another way to give a program credibility in the community. Green Seal is an independent organization that assesses products to determine their effect on human or animal toxicity, skin sensitivity, biodegradability and performance. GREENGUARD also is an independent certifying organization, but goes beyond products to include cleaning tools and procedures, and specifically measures their combined effect on indoor air quality.

Using certified products and procedures or having a certified green building clearly demonstrates leadership. The way schools present their green buildings and green-cleaning program augments their commitment to health and the environment. Have a presentation that highlights health and environmental values, initiatives and results available for administrators to use when meeting with parents and community groups.

Adams is the director of marketing for government and education at JohnsonDiversey North America, Sturtevant, Wis., a provider of cleaning and hygiene solutions.

Partnering with local media

As part of a school's plan to publicize its green-cleaning program, facility managers and building administrators should develop strong relations with local news media. This is an important step in an overall marketing plan; local media are a primary vehicle in educating and informing the community. Creating this relationship requires planning and preparation.

Local media can visit a school to interview students and administrators about a new green-cleaning program. Reporters can be given access to any green-cleaning documents and materials they may need to write an article on the green-cleaning plan.

Administrators also can benefit from a solid relationship with local media as they try to enhance their school's image. Articles in newspapers and magazines can educate the community about the school and its leadership in environmental sustainability and green-building issues.

Coverage from local media also can assist other schools in developing green-cleaning programs. Emphasize not only the products and processes used, but also the people involved in developing the program.

To develop a strong relationship with the local media, one member of a school's green-marketing team should be the communications contact for media relations. This person should be comfortable contacting reporters with story ideas and other pertinent information and be prepared to work closely with public-relations firms and freelance writers as needed. The communications contact also is responsible for identifying key personnel who can respond to news media inquiries about specific green issues and projects.

Once a communications contact has developed a relationship with local media representatives, it is up to this person to alert all parties about developments and milestones made in publicizing the program. News releases should be issued as a school completes phases of the program; the releases should include data such as cost savings or reduced absenteeism.