UC Irvine Dreams Big, Cleans Green

  • March 13, 2014

A unique approach to green cleaning earns UC Irvine the Best New Program Higher Education Green Cleaning Award

For 45 years, the custodial department at UC Irvine employed a contract service provider that handled the 4.7 million square feet of building space on its gorgeous campus in southern California. In March 2012, the school took over operations and developed a trendsetting green cleaning program. We're happy to announce UC Irvine as the winner of the Best New Program in the Higher Education category of the Green Cleaning Award for 2013.

With 28,000 students, UC Irvine is a major campus within the large University of California school system. The school has a $3.4 million cleaning budget and a directive sent down from the state: Clean green. These high expectations have pushed UC Irvine's custodial department to dream big, taking green cleaning efforts to the next level. Aaron Uresti, Sr. Superintendent for UC Irvine, is excited about the role his department is playing: “We're contributing to the sustainability efforts of the entire state organization. We're becoming a part of the conversation.”

Green Cleaning Award winners demonstrate best green cleaning practices, involving their school communities in the process. The annual award is presented by American School & University magazine, Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) and the Green Cleaning Network. Winners are judged based on the five simple steps to green cleaning outlined in HSC's Quick + Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools.

Simplifying matters

Sure, the department started using greener chemicals and overhauled its equipment with sustainability in mind. But it also took unique approaches to its green cleaning program, such as streamlining product choices. The entire department only uses three types of chemicals to perform routine cleaning across the entire campus. There is a Green Seal-certified glass cleaner, a versatile Green Seal-certified all-surface cleaner and a disinfectant for restroom care. With this short product list, they've been able to develop a simple training curriculum. Custodians don't have to look at a cart full of different bottles and decide which one to use for what. Instead, they know right away which product to pick up.

Equipment was also streamlined. Uresti invested in machines from only one manufacturer. The department also uses only one kind of floor scrubber and two different types of vacuums. Making the switch wasn't easy on the staff. “Before we in-sourced, the contractor wasn't using automated equipment,” says Uresti. “We had our hands full training employees and getting them to buy into a machine they can stand on that will clean the hallway as opposed to mopping by hand. Change is difficult for everybody.” By simplifying the cleaning process at the same time as making it greener, Uresti was able to get his team on board and smooth out the kinks.

Transparency talks

Another untraditional aspect of UC Irvine's green cleaning program is the information it shares with the school community. The department makes sure everyone—from students to faculty members—knows what's going on behind the scenes. This approach is especially refreshing in the janitorial world, where hard work often goes unrecognized in the afterhours. The department's web site details the products it uses as well as its green cleaning policies. Cleaning schedules are also posted online. This way, staff, students and faculty can check to see when their offices and classrooms will be serviced.

Lofty goals guide the way

The custodial department at UC Irvine didn't get to where it is today by thinking small. Uresti and his team have always had lofty goals. He credits these dreams for all of the progress they have made since 2012, including the Green Cleaning Award. Looking forward, the department is hoping to dig deeply into its program to identify areas for improvement. Uresti would like his staff to become certified in the best green cleaning standards across the industry. In one of the most environmentally-minded school systems in one of the most environmentally minded states in the country, UC Irvine is at the top of its game.

Read about all our 2013 Green Cleaning Award winners here.