A Green Cleaning Engagement Strategy that Looks Beyond the Community

March 29, 2017 | Written By:

In a new series of blogs, we’re highlighting inspiring stories about the ways that schools and universities across the country are using engagement to strengthen their green cleaning and environmental initiatives. We recently talked to Leadership Council member and host of the 2017 Green Clean Schools Leadership Institute Merv Brewer, assistant director of the Salt Lake City School District, about the ways he is engaging his peer network within the state of Utah and across the country.

Today, the award-winning green cleaning program at Salt Lake City School District is built on a philosophy of engagement, from an education-first staff engagement policy to a supportive administration that advocates for its policies. But it’s also going well beyond the city limits to engage with the entire state (and a national network of green cleaning leaders, too). As an active member of the Green Clean Schools Leadership Council, board member at an association of custodians in his own state and host of this year’s Leadership Institute, Brewer is in constant pursuit of opportunities to engage others in his field around green cleaning.

Peer-to-Peer Learning

In 2007, the state of Utah was looking for a survey from school custodial managers to help inform proposed legislation that would standardize the way schools in the state are cleaned. From this call for input on the legislation, a group of custodial managers from school districts across Utah was formed. Today it is called the Utah School Custodial Managers Association (UCSMA) with a stated mission to enhance professionalism and efficiencies in schools across the state. It’s also helping to establish best practices in green cleaning and providing a place where custodians at all levels can engage with each other to elevate the field.

Members from 15 school districts and 600 schools protecting 395,000 students are a part of the UCSMA. Members often learn new ideas about how to enhance their green cleaning programs and better tools for engagement from speaking with their peers at UCSMA events, or visiting other schools with UCMSA members on their staffs.

“Through our participation in UCSMA, we noticed other districts had amazing training programs that inspired our district to get one,” says Brewer. “Through UCSMA we reached out to other districts to find best practices. Then we noticed what other districts were doing with their grounds and used those ideas to enhance ours.”

UCSMA does more than engage those in the custodial profession; it’s helping to establish uniform best practices that are healthier for the environment and communities they serve. Salt Lake City School District is best known for its award-winning integrated pest management (IPM) program. IPM is a pest management strategy that minimizes the use of toxic pesticides and is a hallmark of most exemplary green cleaning programs. “The neat thing about IPM is that it takes pesticides out, but it also adds value to the job of a custodian, makes them more valuable and professional,” says Brewer.

The program at Salt Lake City School District caught the interest of the state board of health, and helped to influence state legislation called the IPM School Rule, which mandates that state school districts employ an IPM strategy.

After the state legislation passed, members of UCSMA turned to Brewer and his team with questions, many asking to borrow his district’s IPM plan as a basis for their own. “So we started to put together monthly IPM trainings through UCSMA,” recalls Brewer. Now a total of five school districts throughout the state have comprehensive IPM programs, with others coming online this year. The UCSMA network and peer-to-peer engagement has made what is often a tough transition to a completely new pest control strategy rather seamless.

Everyone’s Welcome to Engage

“The big thing to keep in mind is that as we engage at whatever level and we don’t have to rely on the people in positions of leadership,” says Brewer. “Even if you’re not in a position of leadership you can be a leader. As you grow, they grow.”

That’s why, despite its name, custodians at any level (not just managers) are invited to be members of UCSMA. Membership meets regularly through organized training and mentorship, and the board, of which Merv is currently a member and past president, meets monthly. UCSMA hosts an annual conference in June that invites speakers in the field to present on best practices and industry vendors to exhibit.

“The engagement you would have with community people is all good,” says Brewer. “But the synergy that connecting with your peers and others in your profession it can be very powerful. If we truly want to be cleaning for health using the most environmentally sensitive products and processes, we need to do it as a custodial community.”

Brewer and his custodial team at Salt Lake City School District will host our 2017 Green Clean Schools Leadership Institute this July 13-14. Members of UCSMA will be present to speak about their successes in building their own grassroots peer to peer engagement body. Plus: The event itself, which will bring together members of our Green Clean Schools Leadership Council and facility managers and custodians at schools and universities across the country, is the perfect opportunity to engage with the growing peer-to-peer network of committed green cleaning advocates that are changing the profession once and for all. Registration is now open, and scholarships for representatives from K-12 school districts are also available.

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Note - updated to the HSC Newsletter list 1.3.2017 per the updated newsletter configuration