By Daniel Daggett
Staff and students are in school between 175 and 180 days each year, where the air pollution levels can be 2-5 times higher than outdoor levels. Additionally, the prevalence of asthma is over 10 percent in some U.S. public schools, making good indoor air quality (IAQ) a must in these environments. Poor IAQ in schools has been linked to student absenteeism and reduced performance. In a school environment, the use of harsh or potentially harmful chemicals that may exacerbate respiratory problems or negatively impact building occupants cannot be ignored.
One way to support good IAQ in learning environments is through careful selection of effective and safe cleaning products and tools. Developing a green cleaning program that incorporates these products and ensures proper procedures will create healthier environments for students, staff and visitors.
Building a Green Team
The first step in establishing a healthy learning environment is to ensure buy-in from top to bottom. Teachers, administrators, custodians, unions and more share the responsibility of providing a safe and supportive environment for students.
There are numerous opportunities for facility managers to increase awareness, learn best practices and establish leadership skills to improve their green cleaning efforts. For example, the Green Clean Schools Track at the ISSA Show North America is a two-day program that provides facility directors and their teams at schools and universities the knowledge and tools necessary to support healthier, safer cleaning programs.
Selecting the Right Products
When purchasing a product that claims to be environmentally-friendly, you assume that you’re supporting a responsible organization. Unfortunately, “greenwashing”—communicating disinformation to promote an environmentally responsible public image—is more common than you might think. In fact, a 2010 analysis of nearly 5,300 home and family products found that 95 percent made problematic green claims. With many consumers in search of environmentally friendly products, it’s troublesome that some companies’ claims are exaggerated or unsupported.
With so many “green” labels and claims in the marketplace, some of which are manufacturer-created, buyers must understand how to decipher which ones are truly credible. Common certifications for cleaning products include Green Seal®, EcoLogo®, and Safer Choice. Those multi-attribute standards cover several health and safety parameters, but do not require IAQ tests. Additionally, those certifications do not cover a cleaning system of methods, procedures, and tools. In contrast, a GREENGUARD Certified system consists of products, tools, and cleaning methods that have been rigorously tested in air sampling studies and proven to result in good IAQ.
Studies demonstrate that maintenance programs designed to improve the school environment and air quality and reduce asthma exacerbations are more likely to improve health, reduce absenteeism and enhance academic performance.Once the proper products and tools are in place, custodial teams should:
- Conduct regular training so that all employees understand the proper cleaning procedures for the facility. Even the best products can cause harm if used improperly.
- Commit to daily cleaning in high-traffic areas, and weekly cleaning for lesser-used spaces.
- Focus cleaning efforts on high-touch surfaces, such as water fountains, desks, keyboards and door handles to help curb the spread of germs.
- Correctly apply the recommended amount of product to reduce the risk of potential health complications and damage to surfaces.
- Conduct deep cleaning during school breaks or in the early evening to increase ventilation time and reduce chemical exposure for building occupants.
Adhering to these best practices creates a healthier environment for students and staff and helps to hold teams accountable for their environmentally-friendly routines.
Green, Clean and Committed
Schools should set clear goals, review progress regularly, and be communicative and proactive with key stakeholders when adopting a green cleaning program. By leveraging the necessary tools and expertise, facilities can build a comprehensive and effective program that will help keep students and staff healthy and maximize their potential while protecting the environment.
Diversey is proud to offer green cleaning products, tools and programs for schools and to sponsor Healthy Schools Campaign’s (HSC) Green Clean Schools program. Together, Diversey and HSC focus on establishing a vibrant network of school facility managers who are dedicated to environmentally-friendly cleaning practices.
For more information about Diversey’s Facilitators for Life sustainability strategy and goals, visit the annual Sustainability Report at www.diversey.com/sustainability/sustainability-report.
Daniel Daggett is the Executive Director, Sustainability and CSR with Diversey, a leader in smart, sustainable solutions for cleaning and hygiene. To learn more about sustainable solutions from Diversey, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org visit www.diversey.com/sustainability.