For Parkway School District, Change Is Good

Award Winners

Change isn’t easy. But it’s also an essential part of adopting healthier and greener cleaning policies. For Missouri-based Parkway School District, Green Cleaning Award Honorable Mention winner in the K-12 Division for 2013, the change to green cleaning was graceful thanks to a well-thought-out plan and strong commitment from team leaders.

Most of the school district’s custodians had been doing their jobs the old way for years—sometimes even decades. Supervisor Darin Varble anticipated that changing this up would be difficult so he started small, making sure he had buy-in from his staff of 205 custodians every step of the way. First he made the move to microfiber—being sure to find microfiber mops that resembled the old ones. Microfiber seems like a small detail, but the results of the switch were tremendous for Varble’s staff. “A cotton mop may get three or four washings but then you have microfiber that can do up to 400 washings,” he says. “Microfiber itself is doing the work for [my team].”

Still, there was pushback from custodians who didn’t understand how a flat microfiber mop could possibly be more effective than the larger, familiar cotton one. Overcoming the visual changes associated with the move to green cleaning became one of Varble’s biggest challenges. He used this as an educational opportunity, showing staff very clean rooms that were maintained using green procedures and equipment. Inevitably, his staff would ask, “How did you get this room so clean?” This prompted an opportunity to discuss the new equipment and procedures in depth.

It was even harder to get buy-in from other school staff. Some teachers would bring in their own bleach to clean, while others argued the switch to recycled paper products. A clear and open dialogue including a frequently updated custodial department website and informative newsletter helped to educate teachers and school staff over time.

The best tool in convincing the school community about green cleaning lay in the evidence of its clear health benefits. Making a switch to a carefully metered dosing system along with Green Seal certified PH-neutral cleaners has allowed custodians to remove their masks and rubber gloves. But there’s more. The students are breathing easier too. “Knowing how harsh chemicals can affect students makes doing this even more important,” says Varble.

The department’s website states very clearly in a message from Erik Lueders, Parkway Sustainability and Purchasing Manager: “Here at Parkway we understand that students are more susceptible to respiratory ailments and we take it very seriously and understand the impacts that dust and chemicals can have on their breathing.” This is a wonderful example of how the school is not only creating a healthier environment for its children, but also educating the community about it.