Green Cleaning in Howard County Public Schools: Training Builds Community

  • April 16, 2013
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Congratulations to Howard County Public Schools, recipients of the Grand Award winners of the 2012 Green Cleaning Awards!

The facilities team at Howard County Public Schools, just outside of Baltimore, Md., has gone above and beyond! Since the team’s establishment of a “cleaning for health” strategy in 2005, the program keeps improving every year, from training and indoor air quality procedures to more sustainable choices in equipment.

These great efforts earned the spotlight last May when Howard County Public Schools became the first public school system in the entire country to achieve Green Seal GS-42 certification for cleaning and contributing to a more healthy and sustainable environment.

For these achievements and others, we were thrilled to announce Howard County Public Schools as the recipients of the Grand Award winners of the 2012 Green Cleaning Awards.

Every year, the Green Cleaning Award winners demonstrate best practices around green cleaning, galvanizing their school communities around the idea that all students, faculty and staff deserve a healthy place to learn and work. The annual award, presented by American School & University magazine, Healthy Schools Campaign and the Green Cleaning Network, recognizes schools with excellent and innovative programs on cleaning for health without harming the environment. Winners are judged based on the five simple steps to green cleaning outlined in HSC's Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools.

Olivia Claus, the Manager of Custodial Services for Howard County Public Schools, says the move to green cleaning has been very much a team effort, involving the whole school community. Parents in the community were concerned about what chemicals their children were being exposed to, and custodians were concerned with the current floor-stripping process, which was unsustainable, easily damaged and costly. The first step was a switch to green floor finish products. The team piloted the new products at a middle school, monitored them to show they were clean of harmful chemicals, mobilized the custodial team and kept parents in the loop with information. The program was a success and was implemented throughout the district, resulting in a 99% annual reduction of stripping requirements, an estimated reduction of non-biodegradable waste by more than 40 tons, and the maintenance staff have saved a great deal of time and money.

Claus says that educating her colleagues has played a fundamental role in the adoption of a green cleaning program. The district has grown by six schools since the start of the program, meaning the facilities staff has increased, now to 435 team members. She says many of these custodians had been working in the school system for years, who, based on previous practices and experiences, associate the “bleach smell” with effective cleaning. The key was creating a culture change, and over the course of that first year, the rest of the team understood and adapted to new practices. “We want to set the trend, and we want our team to understand that the changes are about their health,” Claus says.

Whether she’s instructing them how to use new microfibers and dusters or new cleaning procedures, Claus says training has been essential to the new means and methods being followed and integrated, to becoming common practice. All the staff received Green Seal training for that coveted GS-42 certification, and new hires receive four days of training right off the bat. She tries to motivate staff to make changes, urging them to buy into them and invest in the school. And Claus says the staff has gone on to pay that education forward to educate students in the public schools, speaking at lunch about the importance of recycling and other issues.

“Look at the opportunities you have, when you have a school with a staff who want to make a difference,” she says. “Changing the culture has a big impact.”

We at HSC congratulate Howard County Public Schools on the well-deserved recognition of its achievements! Learn more about green cleaning with our Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools or participate in our informative and completely free webinar series to hear from experts and learn about best green cleaning practices.