At Western Michigan, Green Cleaning Is About Taking Care of Staff

  • July 10, 2017
1H1A5740 Blog

The cleaning program at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich., includes a few big-impact practices that have greatly reduced the university’s environmental footprint and made the indoor environment healthier. In addition to these sustainable steps, the program has implemented new procedures that are engaging staff and improving worker morale—added bonuses that are going a long way to ensure the green cleaning program’s success. We would like to congratulate the entire team at Western Michigan for winning the Green Cleaning Award Grand Winner for Universities in 2017! Read on to learn what this university is doing to lead the field.

Elements of a Winning Green Cleaning Program
Western Michigan has introduced two new types of equipment that have had a significant impact on indoor air quality and the environment. These include backpack vacuums with HEPA filters and the aqueous ozone, a system that converts water into a cleaning solution on site. HEPA filters have an immediate effect on indoor air quality because they remove more dust particles from the air, while also removing more dirt from the carpet. By switching to an on-site engineered water system, the university was able to streamline the chemicals being released into the air, protecting the health of staff and building occupants. The move also resulted in significant waste reduction: more than 243 pounds of plastic containers, to be exact.

The choice of ergonomic backpack vacuums has other effects on the university’s cleaning program. This equipment is much more lightweight. That makes handling them much easier for staff, minimizing back injuries and streamlining work. Still, introducing them was a challenge for Peter Goerne, Associate Director of Custodial Services at Western Michigan University. “It’s really a new way of vacuuming,” he says. “And our folks had to adjust to moving away from upright. To be honest, not everybody was a big fan of the backpack vacuums.”

The first issue staff complained about was comfort. So, Peter worked with the vacuum manufacturer to train his appliance repair team to make adjustments to the backpacks to custom fit them to the operators. And for any staff members who had back problems, they invested in vacuums that go around the hips. By really listening to the complaints from staff and coming up with individual plans to fix the problem, Goerne was able to get his vacuum operators excited about their new mobility after the initial transition period. He also showed his staff that they are integral in the green cleaning process, and valued.

A Winning Approach to Staff Engagement
The custodial services department at Western Michigan includes 166 staff members. “The custodians are the foundation for us to go green and continue to clean green,” says Goerne.

The department employs process cleaning, where each custodian performs a specialized task. Since switching from zone to process cleaning, the department has seen a positive shift in morale as well as significant energy reduction. Custodians don’t have to lug all sorts of equipment around with them throughout their days. Now they have one piece of equipment that they are in charge of—plus, it’s a more efficient piece of equipment. The morale boost that comes from being better equipped to do a good job has helped, too.

“We provide custodians with the tools they need for the day and a scheduled route they need to follow,” explains Goerne. The routes are printed out as color-coded maps and daily task lists, and everything goes through a centralized software system. “That’s to make sure everyone knows what they need to get done by the end of the day and how to go about it efficiently.”

By implementing a system that is built around efficiency, the department is setting its staff members up for success. Training is another important element for success that Western Michigan takes seriously. “We involve our folks in a lot of industry certifications throughout the year,” says Goerne. “In the summertime we have refresher training for the whole department.” This summer, they will be adding customer service, to provide custodians with the tools they need to engage the entire university community, whose health they protect every day.

Staff is rewarded for going above and beyond and for attendance. Once an employee earns a certain amount of chips, they can leave early while still getting paid. “We want them to know they are making a difference in their community,” says Goerne.

Many in the custodial field know that the only feedback from building occupants usually comes in the form of complaints or work orders. Not at Western Michigan. “We receive a lot of positive feedback generally in emails to our department thanking the custodians for a great job,” says Goerne. “And yes we share that!” Whenever an email like this comes in, the team prints it and posts it in a common area where the custodians can see it.

Applications Available this Fall!
Applications for the next round of awards will be available in September. Sign up to be notified when the application is posted. For more information check out the American School & University website. We look forward to learning about your green cleaning program!