How to Build a Sustainable Cleaning Program in Educational Facilities
Today, there are more than 60 million students and faculty in the United States. With such a significant portion of the population attending educational facilities, a growing number of schools are opting to participate in “greener” practices that benefit the students, budget, and environment.
There are many ways schools are adopting more environmentally-preferable alternatives to existing infrastructures, including everything from solar energy panels and electric buses to native landscaping. One key area of opportunity for schools that want to elevate their sustainability lies in the cleaning program. Between the dusting, daily cleaning and chemical management, there are several products available to ensure educational facilities look their best while minimizing the overall ecological impact.
To build an effective cleaning program that leaves less of a carbon footprint, it’s helpful to identify the challenges, understand the sustainability attributes and select optimized solutions to put into practice.
Cleaning Challenges in Schools
The rigid schedule and constant foot traffic in schools makes daily floor care difficult, but all the more necessary. Completing the routine cleaning in an effective, efficient manner each day is a challenge amid the chaos of situations like passing periods and cafeteria clean-up. Dusters that don’t trap debris well, for instance, can eat up time and slow down the process.
While daily floor maintenance is unavoidable, there are proactive measures that facility managers can take to extend the maintenance cycle. Utilizing floor finishes and protectors can help reduce the frequency of ongoing maintenance in addition to reducing chemicals usage and decreasing energy consumption.
Another challenge facing schools is safety. Schools have strict indoor air quality requirements, and disinfectants and other formulations can be harsh. Ensuring that the chemicals are safe for indoor use in educational facilities is critical.
Fortunately, finding products that overcome these challenges while reducing environmental impact is achievable.
There are key sustainability attributes to look for when building a “greener” cleaning program, including durability, composition, accurate dilution, and third-party certifications.
Durability dually benefits the earth and the cleaning staff, as products that last longer reduce waste and get the job done with fewer changeouts. Products that can’t hold up to the daily wear and tear of school cleaning are discarded frequently, generating higher amounts of waste than necessary and impacting return on investment.
The composition of cleaning products is another attribute to building a sustainable program. Dusting sheets or floor pads that are manufactured with recycled material, for example, are a smart choice when sustainability is concerned.
Accurate dilution of chemical concentrates is critical for cleaning efficiency, effectiveness, and safety as over-dilution can lead to unnecessary water usage and waste. In addition, inaccurate chemical usage can cause underperforming cleaning solutions and could result in needing to repeat a task. Conversely, under-dilution can create harsh solutions that may adversely affect surfaces and expose workers to unnecessary risks.
Third-party certification helps to ensure the safety of students and staff and being familiar with leading industry accreditations can help guide product selection. The NSF International, Green Seal®, USDA Certified Biobased, and The National Floor Safety Institute are a few reputable programs that can provide valuable insights into product selection.
In any supply closet, there are likely a few products in the current cleaning rotation that can be optimized in terms of shelf life and composition. A school can simply audit its product roster and re-evaluate each item to see if it measures up or should be swapped out for a more sustainable option.
There’s an abundance of cleaning products that are engineered with conservation in mind and selecting solutions with sustainable materials and formulations will elevate your school’s environmental strengths.
Furthermore, optimized solutions can help contribute to LEED certification and many products are packaged in bottles made with 25 to 35 percent post-consumer recycled content. In addition, several products can be Green Seal certified under the GS-37 standard. To minimize waste and ineffective cleaning solutions, manufacturers offer chemical management systems that are more accurate than previous generations when tested under laboratory conditions.
Floor pads are another critical component of a school’s daily cleaning program. Several manufacturers offer products certified under Green Seal’s Environmental Innovation Program (GS-20).
From dusting to chemical management to floors pads, innovative product options are available to help any school increase sustainability.
Make a Change
Raising a generation of young people that care about their impact on the planet can be influenced by the physical environment in which they learn – the schools themselves.
Finding more sustainable ways to operate educational facilities is not a passing trend and will continue to become more important to many stakeholders including parents, staff, and school boards. Ultimately, a school’s daily cleaning program presents the opportunity for increased environmental efforts. By turning to products that are longer lasting, reduce waste, have sustainable attributes and are certified, it is possible to decrease the environmental impact while still maximizing efficacy and efficiency.
Tom Neu is Marketing & Business Development Manager at 3M Commercial Solutions Division.