Saving Water Through Green Cleaning in Northern California

Congratulations to Folsom Lake Community College for its Green Cleaning Award Honorable Mention in 2017! This small community college, serving 8,500 students in Northern California, has a trailblazing team heading its facilities department. Not only have they created a greener, healthier cleaning program for their school, but they are also leading the way among a network of community colleges in California. It’s inspiring to see how one school’s green cleaning successes can inspire a chain reaction among other schools, creating environmental and health benefits that reverberate across a region.

Christopher Raines, supervisor of custodial and receiving services at Folsom Lake Community College, has been in the custodial side of education for 19 years. He had always been interested in green cleaning, choosing the healthiest options available for the schools he has served. So when he attended the 2016 Green Clean Schools Leadership Summit in Seattle, he realized that those healthy decisions actually added up to a comprehensive green cleaning program.

“As I was chatting with my counterparts and listening to panels at the Summit, I realized I was doing most of this already but wasn’t articulating it,” says Raines. When he returned to Folsom Lake he started putting the elements of his green cleaning program down on paper. Last year, he applied for the Green Cleaning Award, and received an Honorable Mention.

“We are hoping to springboard that recognition into the next thing,” he says. “It’s amazing how quickly people start listening when you have official recognition of your program.”

The school’s cleaning program has always been moving as far as possible away from the use of harsh chemicals. For Raines, it’s about the staff as well. “I focus on the health and safety of my staff just as much as I focus on student health,” he says

The school has moved toward using engineered water in auto-scrubbers, eliminating the need for a variety of different cleaning chemicals. They have also invested in encapsulation carpet cleaning machines, sometimes referred to as dry carpet cleaning, which uses a polymer to form a crystal that captures soil and can then be vacuumed. This has allowed them to save approximately 1,800 gallons of water, while also cutting back on the production of 2,500-3,000 gallons of wastewater every year. “Any time you’re saving water in California, that’s a good thing,” says Raines.

They’ve saved water by simply switching over to microfiber mops, too. Raines also likes the microfiber mops because they are so much more ergonomically friendly for his staff. “When we made the switch, my staff went on and on about how lighter the new mops were, and they’re able to cover more ground and do more with them,” he says.

They also converted to microfiber for whiteboard cleaning. In some classrooms on campus, there can be up to six whiteboards, which amounts to a lot of repetitive movement. “Being able to use a microfiber mop on the boards saves a lot of wax-on/wax-off exercises,” says Raines.

Folsom Lake Community College is the newest and smallest member of a network of four community colleges serving 86,000 students. Recently, the head of custodial services at one of those colleges reached out to Raines to find out more about his green cleaning program. They talked about vendors, innovations and water savings. “I’ve always looked at what I’m doing at Folsom is to get enough recognition so my sister colleges to jump on board,” says Raines. He hopes it sparks a chain reaction that brings greener cleaning to the entire region, and so do we!