Now It’s Global: Green Cleaning Lessons Resonate Around the World

June 09, 2010

By Mark Bishop, HSC Deputy Director

In 2003, when we at HSC kicked off our first green cleaning pilot projects, I wouldn’t have thought there were international implications — but the past months have proven that wrong. As the world gets smaller and smaller, we are starting to realize that the need for healthy schools is universal.

One example: Last month I was in Calgary to speak at a green cleaning conference where I presented on the importance and opportunities for implementing green cleaning programs. At the meeting, which was hosted by our friends at Avmor, we heard experts talk about the challenges of going green; EcoLogo shared strategies for reducing green washing; and, most interesting to me, we heard stories from the Calgary School Board (CSB) about their process of converting to a green cleaning program. Two items struck me from this presentation:

  • First, the challenges and opportunities of implementing a green program aren’t that different in Canada. You need buy-in from administrators. You need to provide training to staff who are often predominantly ESL speakers. You need to engage parents, teachers and students. You need to overcome incorrect perceptions of high cost and poor performance. But also, the partnership opportunities are still there. Unions want to be engaged in providing a healthier workplace. Public health professionals will help champion these programs. And when fully implemented, these programs don’t cost more money. Chemical costs are about the same, equipment costs are about the same, and labor can actually be more efficient because of better equipment and products.
  • My second takeaway, which is a bit more dramatic, was a story of how important strategic green cleaning is during a pandemic. Calgary, like many cities throughout the world, was hit hard by H1N1 last year and their schools had to react. Because the CSB had a green cleaning program with documented strategies for infection control, they were ready. Their program wasn’t developed around increasing school-wide disinfection. Rather it focused on increasing education about prevention, continuing an ongoing green cleaning program, and finally expanding their targeted disinfection of high touch-point areas. At a period of high outbreak potential, they were able to prioritize targeted disinfection over lower priority cleaning activities. As a result, their infection control strategy did not cost additional dollars, it calmed the fears of parents, and the Department of Public Health told the school district that their documented program didn’t require any special procedures — which they were requiring of schools without green cleaning programs. Most importantly, their program minimized student and staff risk of both spread of disease AND unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals.

Kudos to CSB, and a thank-you to Avmor for the excellent green cleaning conference. It was a program that allowed experts and interested parties to learn from sharing experiences, and I think everyone walked away with a greater motivation to promote healthier environments for our kids, and their future.

HSC also recently met with an Australian organization that plans to launch a healthy schools program in January. We're planning on working with them to create green cleaning materials and strategies to assist with their rollout. Needless to say, it’s exciting to be able to share our lessons learned with schools in Canada and across the ocean.

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