We love to hear about new schools making green cleaning work for their communities—and finding innovative ways to do so. Blount County Schools, a rural Tennessee school district 20 miles south of Knoxville, with more than 2 million square feet of buildings and 11,000 students, has made significant changes to its cleaning program that have helped keep its buildings, people and environment healthier than ever. We’re thrilled to report on their Green Cleaning Award Honorable Mention in the K-12 category!
Distributors Can Be Key Players (for Free)
Blount County Schools tapped into its supplier for advice, planning and training support as it began to make a switch to greener cleaning choices. “You can have an idea of what you want to do,” says Gary Farmer, maintenance and facilities coordinator at Blount County Schools. “But you need someone who educates you and helps you go forward. Our supplier had the expertise to do that. All we had to do was ask.”
How did that conversation start? Farmer simply told his distributor’s sales rep that his team was interested in going green. The distributor then brought in a consultant who reviewed the school’s chemicals and processes and advised on greener choices. Next, that consultant helped the district set up two pilot sites. The consultant met with the head custodians at those pilot sites, discussing in detail the changes that were going to be made and still comes in twice a year to conduct in-depth training for all custodial staff.
“We are very proud of the fact that we use green-certified chemicals except for our disinfectant,” says Farmer. “We also started a microfiber program and were able to greatly reduce the amount of floor finish and stripper used each summer by incorporating a floor care program into our daily routines.” In addition, the district switched to a chemical management system and has been turning over to water-charged equipment.
Many schools don’t realize what a practical resource their suppliers can be for making green changes to their cleaning programs. These suppliers are motivated to help their customers find the best solutions for their environment and budget, and usually have someone on staff with extensive knowledge and training in green cleaning. Distributors almost always offer supplementary help in the form of program assessment, planning, education and training, free of charge. All a school needs to do is ask.
The Proof Is in the Sewer
“We didn’t have the finances to go out and buy a bunch of new equipment,” recalls Farmer. But floor equipment eventually needs to be replaced, and so the school implemented an attrition replacement program where all outdated equipment was replaced with water-charged floor equipment that has slowly decreased the need for chemicals. The first locations where the new equipment was implemented were district schools that had self-contained sewer plants. “It immediately made a difference,” says Farmer. “I’m no longer having to get rid of detergents we cleaned the floors with [that sit and pollute those sewers].”
Farmer’s team includes people who are responsible for maintaining and testing those self-contained sewers, which are also submitted to state testing. They’ve been able to collect significant data that shows the environmental impact of the new cleaning equipment. “At first, this was for students, faculty and staff but now it’s also benefitting the environment and the community around us,” says Farmer. “This is where we all live.”
The annual Green Cleaning Award, presented by American School & University magazine, Healthy Schools Campaign and the Green Cleaning Network, recognizes schools with innovative health-focused and environmentally minded cleaning programs. Winners are judged based on the 5 Steps to Green Cleaning in Schools.
Is your school interested in being recognized for excellence in green cleaning? Be the first to find out when the 2016 award application is released!