Lake Washington School District, located in Redmond, Wash. (a suburb of Seattle), has taken its green cleaning program to incredible heights through innovative approaches to environmentalism, engagement and cleaning. We are so thrilled to share the story of their innovation, and wish them a hearty congratulations on their Grand win!
Lake Washington is the third largest district in the state of Washington, with more than 29,000 students and a total of 43 building sites. The district benefits from an environmentally conscious and motivated community: King County has an established green schools program for all of its schools, and the school board at Lake Washington in particular shares a dedication to environmental initiatives. This network of support at the highest levels has helped Lake Washington’s custodial services department push the envelope. From inviting administration to demo new equipment to repurposing old buses to transport carpet extractors, this school has come up with truly ground-breaking approaches to green cleaning.
Buy-in From the Top
The custodial services department at Lake Washington is housed within the Health, Risk and Safety department. One key to making huge strides in environmental impact was when the department cut out floor strippers. Traditional floor strippers are some of the harshest and most toxic types of cleaning chemicals used in schools, but are often necessary to maintaining a luster on floors that get beaten up all school year.
“It’s common knowledge in our industry that the high content of ammonia in floor strippers has indoor air quality issues,” remarks Darrin Price, general manager of Custodial Services at Lake Washington. “We partnered with our equipment vendors to see what was available to eliminate strippers. The orbital machine was the final cog for us to be able to eliminate stripper completely.”
Orbital floor scrubbers can be quite costly. Still, Price and his team were able to convince leadership for a total investment of $125,000. And, it wasn’t even a hard sell. That’s not only because of the leadership’s common concern for the environment but also because the Risk, Health and Safety department used a unique approach to engage leadership from the beginning.
“We did a budget proposal and requested that we begin replacing aging equipment with not just new equipment but also new technology,” recalls Scott Emry, risk health and safety manager
at Lake Washington. “We also wrapped a capital outlay request with a layer of environmental stewardship on top of it, and we were granted a lot of money over a two-year cycle to replace the equipment and remove chemical use.”
In addition, they held an open house, inviting not only staff but also members of the school board, the superintendent and school principals to stop by their building and see the equipment for themselves.
“This was an opportunity for custodial services to educate our staff as well as our partners about the green practices we’ve incorporated and to open our administrators’ and board members’ eyes that we are taking concrete steps to incorporate environmental practices,” says Emry. “This secured buy-in, confidence and helped outsiders gain a better understanding of what that significant investment would be going to.”
The open house was held during the day, with booths and tables set up where the equipment supplier presented information on the orbital technology. Demos were also scheduled for a few times throughout the day. Emry and his team sent out broad and inclusive invitations to the open house via email and posted flyers throughout administration buildings. “The administrators were able to talk directly to the vendors without us being the middle ground,” he says. “They started their own conversations and emails and the vendors were getting answers to their questions from their own leaders.”
A winning green cleaning program isn’t just about investing money in new equipment. Lake Washington was also able to find innovative approaches to cost savings that coincided with their green initiatives. For example, it was time to upgrade an antique and inefficient carpet extractor. As the department looked at energy-efficient new technologies, they started to realize a costly component of the truck-mounted machinery they needed were the vehicles to transport the machines.
“We came up with the idea to take surplus buses that had outlived student transport life but still worked great,” recalls Emry. His team was able to work with the transportation department and their in-house mechanics to repurpose these old buses into carpet extractor transporters, which now carry the machines and custodians (which Emry jokingly refer to as “bustodians”) throughout the 43 district buildings.
“We could get these buses for free, so we got creative,” says Emry. Their creativity paid off by saving the cost of a new van, but also had environmental benefits. With the money saved, the department purchased two carpet extracting machines to mount in two buses. They can now run two carpet extractors with two wands in any shift they want. “It creates efficiency in so many different ways,” says Emry. “We use larger teams covering twice as many school as in the past and we have more efficient machines with less chemicals using existing vehicles and streamlining teams at 40 sites.”
About the Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities
The Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities is the only award dedicated solely to recognizing schools and their facility leaders for the tireless work of promoting clean, healthy and sustainable school buildings. Presented by Healthy Schools Campaign, American School & University magazine and the Green Cleaning Network, it highlights schools with innovative, health-focused and environmentally minded cleaning programs. Judging criteria are based on our 5 Steps to Green Cleaning in Schools.
Applications Available this Fall!
Applications for the next round of awards will be available in September. Sign up to be notified when the application is posted. For more information check out the American School & University website. We look forward to learning about your green cleaning program!