If you have been lucky enough to meet Gene Woodard through your work in school facilities, then you likely already know about his innovative approach to sustainability, health, and safety; his charismatic leadership style; and his vision for the industry. We have been lucky enough to work with Gene for the past 10 years as he has served as one of the founding members of our Steering Committee, helping us to build our original Green Clean Schools program, hosting our first Leadership Institute at UW and sharing his expertise in participatory ergonomics as we developed the Healthy Green Schools and Colleges Standard.
In November, Gene officially retired as Director of the Building Services Department at The University of Washington after 36 years there. He had originally planned to retire in 2019 but is grateful he was able to stay on through 2020 to help his team through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I knew I needed to stay and help the department through the pandemic, and get the university back to some semblance of normal,” he says. “This fall, when I felt we had assisted the university in reopening and students had a safe environment to return to, I felt it was finally okay to let go and retire.”
Over his three and a half decades at The University of Washington, Gene helped establish a sustainability and waste reduction program and culture that was embraced by the campus community. He was also fully committed to elevating the status of the cleaning workers on his team at the university. Gene spearheaded an effort to move his workers to daytime cleaning shifts in 1997, giving cleaning workers at UW the opportunity to be seen by students and staff.
“They finally got to go to ball games and have dinner regularly with their families, which automatically improves quality of life” he says. “When I look back at my career, elevating the people who do this important work was one of my greatest accomplishments.”
This commitment transferred to the participatory ergonomics program Gene introduced at UW, which prioritized the comfort and safety of cleaning workers in cleaning tools, applications, and equipment purchasing decisions the university made. Through this program, UW has reduced workplace injuries and made cleaning at its campus more efficient and sustainable.
When he isn’t visiting with his adult children and grandchildren across the country, Gene hopes to embark on an African Safari, a cross country biking trip, and hopefully see his favorite football team, the San Francisco 49ers, play at Levi’sⓇ Stadium. Gene will continue to advise Healthy Green Schools & Colleges as a member of our steering committee and remains dedicated to elevating the vital work of cleaning workers through education and advocacy.