Making the Grade in School with Green Cleaning

September 24, 2010

Today we have a guest blog by Donna Duberg, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University and a member of the Tork® Green Hygiene CouncilTM. Tork is Leader level sponsor of HSC’s Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, studies show that one-half of the nation's 115,000 schools have problems linked to indoor air quality. Students are at greater risk because of the hours spent in school facilities and because children are more susceptible to pollutants.

One of the factors contributing to health risks in the classroom includes the use of conventional cleaning products, which contain as many as 80,000 different chemicals. These products may contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are released into the air through evaporation and can affect indoor air quality. They have been shown to contribute to health problems such as eye, skin and respiratory irritation as well as asthma, which is the leading cause of absenteeism from school in the United States.

Knowing that the health and comfort of students and teachers affects the ability to perform well and has an impact on missed days due to illness, schools leaders benefit from seeking ways to avoid poor indoor air quality in their facilities. By implementing a green cleaning program, administrators  can help keep students and faculty healthy while reducing their impact on the environment.  Everybody wins.

What is green cleaning? According to green cleaning expert Steve Ashkin, co-author of HSC’s Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools, green cleaning helps ensure a clean and healthy environment both inside and outside the facility.  It involves selecting products and protocols that reduce or eliminate the hazardous effects of cleaning chemicals.  Over the past few years, many green cleaning resources and tools have become available for schools, such as HSC’s Quick & Easy Guide and the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) for Schools Rating System that recognizes the unique nature of K-12 schools.

As a prerequisite to receiving LEED Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) credits, participating organizations must develop strategies for promoting and improving hand hygiene, including both handwashing with soap that does not contain antimicrobial agents and the use of alcohol-based waterless hand sanitizer. LEED credits are also given to facilities that purchase sustainable cleaning materials which are100 percent recycled and third-party certified.

Beginning a green cleaning program does not have to be difficult or overwhelming. HSC’s Quick & Easy Guide outlines five simple steps to going green:

1. Develop Your Green Cleaning Program. Whether you’re just getting started or have been making green changes for years, you can take steps to make your school’s cleaning program more green. Developing your program also includes bringing together stakeholders and creating or revising your green cleaning plan.

2. Use Green Cleaning Products: Purchase certified green cleaning products. The marketplace is full of green products that work well and are cost-comparable to traditional products. This stage also includes training or re-training cleaning personnel regarding proper product application, mixing, dilution and disposal.

3. Introduce Green Equipment & Supplies. Equipment selection is a huge part of a green cleaning program. Today's tools can reduce chemical use and increase productivity. Improvements in ergonomics can help custodians avoid injuries from repetitive strains. Green equipment and supplies can also reduce exposure to dust and chemicals while cutting energy and water use.

4. Adopt Green Cleaning Procedures. Change the frequency, technique or time when cleaning is performed. For instance, spray product on a cleaning cloth rather than on the surface being cleaned, or adopt integrated pest management to cut down on pesticide exposure.

5. Share the Responsibility. Educate custodial staff, administrators, teachers, students, union representatives, vendors and visitors about what they can do to promote a healthy school environment, such as recycling paper and plastic, conserving water, maintaining uncluttered classrooms and work spaces and handling food and potential contaminants properly.

If you have not incorporated green cleaning products and techniques into your school, now is the time to start. Green cleaning is good for the environment, good for your students and faculty and good for achieving the best results in the classroom.

 To learn more or order your free copy of The Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools, visit www.greencleanschools.org.