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Trends In Green

Initiatives Go From Novel To Norm

When National Healthy Schools Day was founded in 2002 by the Healthy Schools Network, bringing together the EPA, The Responsible Purchasing Network, Green Seal and others to promote healthier schools, green schools were a rarity — as were the products and services needed to help schools better protect their environment and the health and safety of students and staff.

But as National Healthy Schools Day 2014 (April 8) approaches, green schools are increasing and on their way to becoming the norm. With roughly half of the states currently purchasing environmentally preferable cleaning products, 10 states and the District of Columbia have enacted policies specifically for green cleaning in K-12 schools. All of these school-specific policies include Green Seal-certified cleaning products in their implementation.

Green school initiatives have also been a focus of the federal government through the Green Ribbon Schools policy, implemented by the Department of Education. Green Seal participates in that program through Green Seal-certified cleaning products and services.

Indoor environments that have been maintained with cleaners without toxic ingredients have better air quality and can enhance the performance of workers and students. In addition, the use of safer products can help reduce injuries, decrease workers’ compensation claims and lower insurance costs.

The desire to protect the health of students and staff and enhance efficiencies was the motivating drive behind the recent decision of Maryland’s Howard County to become the first public school system to receive certification for its custodial cleaning services under Green Seal’s GS-42 standard. The recent inclusion of GS-42 in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED v4 rating system illustrates the rising visibility and importance of green cleaning programs.

GS-42 requires that a cleaning service use products and equipment that have less impact on the environment and that it adopt processes and procedures that protect human health and the environment. The standard covers both in-house and external cleaning services and includes criteria for building-specific plans, products, supplies, equipment, procedures, training and communications.

How can you take the first step toward a healthier school? Let’s use as a guideline the requirements for sustainable cleaning services as outlined in the criteria of the GS-42 standard. Here’s an overview.

Planning

  • Develop and maintain a set of written standard operating procedures to be available to all cleaning personnel.
  • Have a building-specific green cleaning plan in place: communications and feedback, schedules, specifics on floor maintenance, high-traffic areas, vulnerable populations, special areas, IPM, etc.
  • Have a plan for use and quarterly maintenance of powered equipment, as well as a plan for phasing out old equipment.

Products, supplies and equipment

  • Use environmentally preferable cleaning products certified by an ecolabel or designated by a national program.
  • New powered cleaning equipment should be energy efficient, minimize emissions and produce low levels of noise pollution.

Cleaning procedures

  • Chemicals: Use efficiently to limit waste and exposure.
  • Solid waste: Reduce by minimizing packaging, reusing supplies and recycling.
  • Entryways: Use walk-off matting to minimize bringing dirt indoors and clean these frequently.
  • Disinfection: Use EPA-registered disinfectants only where needed and as directed.
  • Restrooms: Clean and disinfect; do not mingle equipment with other areas.
  • Dining areas, break rooms: Clean and sanitize surfaces daily.
  • Trash and Recycling: Inspect and pull as needed.
  • Indoor plants: Collect debris; keep away from carpet and vents.
  • Vulnerable populations: Reduce exposure to chemicals.

Training requirements

  • Provide new personnel with training on proper use, handling and procedures before allowing them to clean independently.
  • Develop site-specific training covering facility green cleaning plan, tailored procedures and hazards.
  • Provide cleaning personnel with continuing training annually.

The concept of a green school is no longer novel. Schools are taking steps to improve the health of their environment as a central component of their commitment to safety and excellence. And, as outlined above, the first steps need not be daunting.

So, resolve to get such steps underway as National Healthy Schools Day approaches, and perhaps, with a unified national commitment, a special day for such initiatives may no longer be necessary.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Arthur B. Weissman, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Green Seal (www.GreenSeal.org), an independent, science-based standards developer and certification body that identifies products and services that are environmentally responsible, and provides education for creating a more sustainable world.

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