At Michigan, Maize and Blue Makes Green

  • August 20, 2014
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The switch to green cleaning was the bottom line

At The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, whose campus is more like a bustling metropolis than a university, the cleaning department has a huge job. In addition to being responsible for the health of more than 65,000 students, faculty and staff, there are 200 buildings to maintain. So when they decided to go green, the results were huge—saving big money, lifting custodian morale and making everyone healthier. They also, quite deservedly, snagged the Silver Green Cleaning Award for 2013.

Money Talks

John Lawter, Associate Director of the Plant Building and Ground Services division at Ann Arbor, knew that a greener and healthier operating system was the best way to save money in the long run. So his group invested in OS1, an operating system offered through the company ManageMen. While this requires a significant upfront investment, for Michigan, where the annual cleaning budget is $22 million, it was a worthwhile expense. The green cleaning program was about to save the department a whopping $2.1 million over the next five years.

Big Ten Teamwork

An important principle of Michigan’s cleaning program is cleaning for health first, then for appearance. The system utilizes a team approach to cleaning that enforces this principle. In the past, when each employee was responsible for a zone, workers would wipe tables only if they looked dirty, according to Lawter. “Now they wipe the tables off because it's part of their job. They do the task whether it looks like they need to or not.” Surfaces are kept clean and dry at all times, and the buildings and occupants are healthier for it.

Big Ten Savings

One of their goals is minimizing non-cleaning time. The department made strategic changes that allowed staff to get to work as quickly as possible. These changes, such as moving products closer to restrooms and tracking chemical use, have cut five minutes of non-cleaning time per employee. “Every minute saved in cleaning is saved money,” says Lawter. The proof is in the pocketbook: The non-cleaning time cuts alone saved the department $195,000 last year.

Big Ten Education

Lawter's team has developed a standards-based education program that teaches custodians the science behind what they are doing. They learn the answers to questions like “What is a pathogenic microorganism?” and “How does a disinfectant work?”. The idea is to establish the custodians as the experts. “Our custodians are the authoritative source,” says Lawter. “They can explain why we do what we do.” The results have been wonderful for morale and productivity, too. There are a lot of aha moments, but the staff is also using the products in the right way, managing their time better and remembering to clean for health rather than appearance—all because they understand the science behind it.

OS1 is not for everyone. It requires a significant investment upfront. But it's a good example of the way that simple, green-focused fixes like efficiency and education can go a long way toward greening your cleaning program.

The Green Cleaning Award, presented by American School & University magazine, Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) and the Green Cleaning Network, recognizes schools with environmentally minded programs and the ability to galvanize the community around green cleaning. Winners are judged based on the five simple steps to green cleaning outlined in HSC's Quick + Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools.

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