This article first appeared in Facility Cleaning Decisions and is republished with permission from Trade Press Media Group.
When the Wisconsin-based West Allis-West Milwaukee School District first learned about the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges (HGSC) initiative, it was easy to wonder if this was just another idea that sounded good in theory, but would be too costly or take too much time to implement. After some careful research — various emails and utilizing some online resources — it became clear that this approach might be realistic. In fact, the goals of the program and the ease with which they could be accomplished were user-defined and could be done at a non-stressful pace.
As it turned out, the focal point of the comprehensive program centered around the standard for healthy and sustainable facility management. One of the first things to complete was the suggested points-based scoring self-assessment.
The assessment was incredibly involved and consisted of four areas of reflection:
- Procurement of Facility Operations and Maintenance Products
- Facilities Operations and Maintenance
- Building Systems Operations and Maintenance
- Ongoing Monitoring, Evaluation and Training
After completing and submitting the questionnaire, the facility staff waited anxiously for the results. The worry was that not every question was able to be answered in a positive way and the fear was great that the facility score might be too low to join the program.
When the results arrived, suspicions were confirmed. The scores were poor — 11/100, to be blunt. Collective thoughts now turned to the next question: What did this mean in terms of being allowed to join the program?
Going through the assessment was a revelation for the district. Though the prevailing thought was that everything was at least okay district-wide, the assessment and subsequent score revealed a wide variety of issues and several opportunities for improvement. Also, as it turned out, not only did the low score not disqualify the department from participating in the HGSC initiative, it made the district a perfect candidate for participation in the program.
The assessment proved there was a lot of work to be done, so the next step was to decide which of the four principal areas of assessment would be targeted first. After careful consideration, Procurement of Facility Operations and Maintenance Products was chosen as the first major area of focus. There are numerous subcategories under this section of the assessment, ranging from general purpose cleaners, specialty cleaning products, snow and ice removal products, receptacles and dispensers, generators, and powered equipment. The assessment looked to determine whether or not the district could meet the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges minimum certification criteria.
Due to the 0/16 score the department received in this area, the answer appeared to be “no,” but further analysis was necessary. After a closer examination of these categories, it was discovered that the main reason for the low score was that the suppliers had never been asked one important question: Were the products purchased from them environmentally preferable consumable goods?
Obtaining an answer to this question was just the start. Even with that knowledge, the district had to determine how they would measure compliance. What requirements needed to be met?
This is one of the benefits of the HGSC initiative. Throughout the program, criteria are provided for each category and subcategory. Therefore, it became clear which questions needed to be addressed by the suppliers. It was also easier to identify what to look for when purchasing products or equipment.
Shortly after the district received the results of the assessment, work began on building a list of custodial equipment that the department would need to purchase. Prior to learning about this program, these items would typically just be purchased without a second thought beyond financial considerations. Now — armed with the assessment score and specific criteria to measure the proposed equipment against — buyers were able to ask specific and knowledgeable questions about the equipment that was intended for purchase.
Surprisingly, most, but not all, of the proposed custodial equipment already met the criteria and standards as outlined in the HGSC program. At this point, the vendor was contacted and it was explained that the district was now working to meet new goals and would be following this program moving forward.
Meanwhile, the equipment on the list that did not meet the criteria required further evaluation. In these instances, management discussed the specific pieces of equipment with the vendor, explained the needs, and directed them to research and identify comparable pieces of equipment that fell in line with the HGSC program. After only a couple of days, they came back with equipment that met the new environmentally preferable standards.
These items were added to the list, and with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, purchasing proceeded as usual. Not only was everyone across the district happy with the purchases being made, but the vendors also got in on the excitement. Their enthusiasm stemmed from the fact that they were now aware that the majority of the equipment they offered to school districts and other organizations met the HGSC program standards and criteria.
Another great part of this program is that it reinforces the concept of documenting team efforts. Not only does this program arm the staff with the questions that need to be addressed before making environmentally sound purchases, but it also encourages documentation of efforts to ensure and verify the smart and environmentally preferable choices being made.
Healthy Green Schools & Colleges provides the tools facilities need to make an even bigger sustainable impact. The three-step process identified in the HGSC program (Assess, Commit, and Improve) is easy to understand and easily obtainable. Now when we make facility decisions, the first question is whether or not it meets the spirit of the program, and if so, what criteria need to be met. With that in mind, the staff goes about their business with a sense of pride that increased sustainability is within reach.