Environmental Health

Clean Green - Go the Extra Mile

Keith Giles, Lead Custodian at Unity College, believes that implementing a comprehensive long term strategy for cleaning green can be cheaper than traditional cleaning approaches. He recommends the following components as part of a long-term strategy and all of these components can turn into money savers…
  • Prevent the build-up of dirt & trash in the first place. It may sound simple, but something as basic as preventing more dirt and organic matter from entering buildings can save a lot of time, energy, and cleaning products. One of the best ways you can do this is by updating your floor mat strategy. Unity College used to rent “finish mats” from a nearby company. But, the standard “finish mats” are only a one-dimensional system. Giles switched to Andersen Matting because they offered a mat system instead of just standard mats. The system consists of three very different kinds of mats: the first called a “scraper” is placed outside doorways covered by overhangs and functions to loosen the dirt on students’ shoes. The second is called a “waterhog” and is situated just inside the entrances at a place where students might stand for a moment to linger at a help desk or get checked-in at a cafeteria, and while they stand, the already-loosened dirt falls into the deep ridges along with water or melting snow. Then the students proceed into the building and walk across a “finish mat” which is flat and absorbent to pick off the finer, lingering pieces of dirt or mud and dry the bottoms of the shoes. Not only has this system made Giles’ job easier, but for the price they used to rent the “finish mats,” they were able to buy the whole three-mat system. For more preventative strategies for keeping schools cleaner, check out page 3 of the Healthy Schools Network, Inc.’s Guide to Green Cleaning.

  • Replace old mops and paper towels with Microfiber Technology. Traditional mop heads are notorious for ensuring germs are spread over a floor, while paper towels used on tables and counters create needless waste. Microfiber is a material that can solve both these problems. It is composed of fibers a tenth of the size of a human hair and can pick up 94% of germs. As a paper towel substitute for furniture surfaces, one microfiber cloth saves approximately 19 cases of paper towels because it can be washed 2,000 times before a new one is needed and it retains the same effectiveness. To further conserve, Giles recommends that at the end of its cleaning life, you should mark each cloth with an X and then give it to someone who you can extend its use, such as the maintenance staff for use on vehicles and lawn equipment. The microfiber that comes in the form of a mop can also be washed up to 2,000 times and presents a more effective way of preventing the spread of germs. It is used with a two-sided mop bucket, where one side is used for hot water to rinse off the germs that collect and the other side is then used for a neutral disinfectant that sanitizes and adds cleaning solution to the material. Before switching to microfiber technology, Giles used to pay $200 a month for a professional service to wash their mop heads. Microfiber can just be washed in a regular washer and drier, so Giles used the money he saved for the washing service to just buy a washer and dryer. Even after that, there’s still savings!

  • Sign-on with an all inclusive distributor of green cleaning products or at least buy certified green cleaning products in bulk. Check first with your current distributor because they may offer green cleaning solutions and microfiber technology, but remember to make sure they are green-certified by one of the three respected certification organizations: Green Seal, Scientific Certification Systems, or Eco Logo. If not, there are a number of respected distribution companies that offer green-cleaning products such as Sustainable Earth by Corporate Express. By purchasing most of your cleaning solutions from one distributor, it will reduce the number of trucks that deliver products to your school, therefore reducing carbon dioxide emissions. It will also allow you to save money by buying bulk items in concentrated form. Many companies offer three simple cleaning solutions that cover all your cleaning needs and come in concentrated form along with a free mixing machine that will dilute the solutions with just the right amount of water so that your custodial staff doesn’t produce needless waste. Some of these multi-purpose cleaning products such as Sustainable Earth 65 General Purpose Cleaner, used as a cleaner and degreaser, become custodian favorites because of their surprising effectiveness and versatility. Finally, a distributor will often send representatives to your school for free in order to train the custodial staff on the proper way to use their products and on how to clean more efficiently overall. By buying green cleaning products, and training the staff to be more efficient, Giles has estimated an annual savings of $3,000 over the traditional cleaning products. However, he cautions you to keep an open mind when considering different vendors and remember that they are all good at marketing and their goal is to sell you products. Only sign on with one after you feel like you’ve researched the other possibilities thoroughly, and only purchase what you actually need.

  • Clean as a team. Giles emphasizes that to begin cleaning green, you can’t just switch your styles and methods. You have to also get everyone on the custodial staff to buy into it. This requires a team approach and dedicated leadership. Giles’ staff used to clean buildings one custodian at a time. Now, five or six custodians tackle the building as a team with each person having a different task. The approach not only allows staff to feel the sense of teamwork, but they also look over each other’s work and can alert each other if something is missed. Furthermore, they can also make sure everyone is using the green cleaning products appropriately. Therefore, the teamwork approach saves time during future cleans, saves cleaning solution, and ultimately saves money. Perhaps the best benefit is that good cleaning habits will be formed and everyone can take pride in the fact that they are part of a positive change.

  • Keep brainstorming improvements. Giles is always thinking of ways cleaning tactics can be adjusted to be more effective, cost efficient, or green. For example, in order to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions from extra deliveries and help support the local economy, Giles decided to buy school trash bags from the local hardware store. However, the local hardware store was more expensive. In order to have the best of both worlds (save money and support the local hardware store), Giles wondered if there was a more efficient way to use trash bags. Then he realized that he could use a cheaper and thinner bag in the bathrooms because they collect less abrasive waste, and by doing that he could have enough savings to buy the heavy-duty trash bags used outside the bathrooms from the local hardware store. It also didn’t create any extra carbon dioxide emissions because the bags would be shipped to the hardware store on their weekly delivery truck that comes each week regardless of Giles order.
Challenge your school to initiate these components of a long-term solution. Besides making your school healthier for occupants and the environment, you will also save money and be able to set a positive example for the community.

UT Knoxville set an example by earning Green Seal Certification for their efforts to clean green. Their website on green cleaning in their buildings provides valuable information on the exact procedures they follow that earned them certification. Learn more about challenging your school to earn Green Seal Certification. In order to apply for the same certification as UT Knoxville and figure out what the next step would be in order for your school to achieve it, go to the preliminary application, and begin by typing in your school name under “Product/Service” and selecting “GS-42 Cleaning Services” from the drop-down menu of standards. If you’re interested in earning certification for other green standards, browse the list of available options.