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Big Clean on Campus

Two Michigan universities school us on clean environments


In the next two weeks, millions of students will return to college campuses across the nation. Top of mind for them are their classes, schedules, and upcoming weekend fun. For the college and university facilities managers and their teams, charged with maintaining a clean and healthy campus for those students, it’s a far different story.


The Grand Valley State University campus in Michigan won the gold award this year for being a Green Clean School in the area of its sustainability efforts and health-minded cleaning. In a conversation with Ed Wierzbicki, the Facilities Supervisor of Grand Valley State University, he explains further what sets Grand Valley apart in its facilities managements’ sustainability and green cleaning efforts.


Grand Valley State University has received extensive acknowledgment on its achievements in the area of sustainability, and has been named one of the country’s most environmentally responsible colleges by The Princeton Review for its eighth year. Sierra Club, the largest national grassroots environmental organization in the U.S., named Grand Valley in 2017 the highest-ranking Michigan institution on its list of the country’s greenest universities.


Ed elaborated that, “When tracking the history of the university, about fourteen years ago, the university included modeling sustainability in its campus operations as one of its strategic values. In the early 2000s, it was almost a mandate to start focusing on green issues in each department, since it was written down as a strategic value. If you want to point to an initiation of the green focus in the custodial operations and the facilities operations, this would be the point when everything began to change at our university.”


When asked about any obstacles that may have come up when trying to establish green cleaning practices in his department, Ed stated, “I have been at the university for eight years, but I haven’t felt any real obstacles that needed to be overcome, other than what’s involved when introducing new technology to our staff. In this process, there are different learning curves, but there’s, in general, such a commitment at our university and in the region of West Michigan on sustainability efforts that it has been pretty easy to justify new endeavors in this area.”


On the topic of any difficulties when training a large student body in sustainability practices, Ed explains that his university has implemented a Sustainability Department that has created education tracks for sustainability measures. This Sustainability Department has also done work to raise awareness through educational efforts among the student body in the form of student coalition groups. He explains, “These student coalition groups help to educate incoming freshman on recycling and composting, and other efforts on campus. That office has been a great collaborative partner with us in that regard.”


On the other hand, Michigan State University’s Residence Education and Housing Services was recently awarded the Silver Standard of Excellence Healthy Facilities Award from the Healthy Facilities Institute in collaboration with School Planning and Management and College Planning and Management magazines.


MSU’s REHS team explains that some of the key challenges that needed to be overcome in order to achieve this award was specifically the process of “standardizing cleaning equipment and tools.” They explain further that, “We have had great success with the Kaivac, a pressure washer and wet vacuum combo, and using Tersano Aqueous Ozone, ionized water, to reduce our carbon footprint and increase our healthy cleaning. The challenge we had was getting all of the 150+ full time and 500+ student trained in how to use it after getting the equipment and chemical dispensers implemented. This required creating time to demo all the equipment, create buy in and train everyone to use and take care of the equipment and tools.”


Furthermore, the REHS staff mentioned that some of the major challenges when trying to manage and train a large staff at a university with a large student body is the issue of “time and consistency.” In order to do this, REHS staff has had to “standardize our cleaning equipment, tools, and cleaning chemicals, but each of our six neighborhood zones are very different in the layout and use of the spaces, the types of materials, and the frequency that they need to be cleaned. Much of our after hours cleaning is completed by student and part-time team members and scheduling training time can be a challenge, especially during times of high turnover.”


Yet, MSU’s REHS team is certain that “in order to maintain healthy living and working environments our facilities need to be as clean as possible. With so many people living and working together, illness can spread quickly through our community if we do not do our jobs properly. Our team prides itself on our ability to mitigate these potential outbreaks.”


The team explains that, ultimately, in order to succeed in their profession’s endeavor, “cleaning will always be a necessity in our university facilities, but the equipment, tools and process will always be changing and improving with the emerging technology to face new challenges and that is what makes this profession so exciting.”

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