Cleaning green

March 2011


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Schools are getting low marks for environmental awareness in their daily maintenance.

Sustainability is a key issue for organisations internationally and the number one global issue for the contract cleaning industry.

It’s also a major focus for schools. The New Zealand Curriculum emphasises that children should learn about sustainability and environmental responsibility and the Enviroschools website reveals that over 730 schools are involved in sustainability initiatives.

However, when it comes to sustainable approaches to cleaning, many schools are at the bottom of the class compared to other public sector organisations.

Schools boards are, understandably, primarily focused on costs and budgets and under pressure to put as much money as possible into the delivery of education.

Few board members will be experienced in technical matters around cleaning and their instinct may be to go for the cheapest option, with little consideration of the impact that may have on the fabric of their school and the wider environment.

If a building is not being cleaned using the most appropriate products and methods, then it will deteriorate. Savings made on cleaning will, ultimately, come back to bite in increased capital costs.

New Zealand’s cleaning industry has made huge strides towards more socially and environmentally sustainable cleaning methods.

The introduction of innovative microfibre products, which clean surfaces without scratching, reduce bacteria and prevent cross contamination far more effectively than conventional cleaning methods, have been of huge benefit.

Alternatives to chemical cleaners have been developed and automatic dosing systems introduced to ensure that products are used as efficiently as possible.

Many cleaning companies have moved from a one size fits all approach to recognising the importance of the relationship between the client, the cleaner and the supplier.

Is your school board working with your cleaner to ensure that their staff are well trained and using the most suitable and sustainable products? The chemicals used for the factory along the road may not be the most appropriate for your environment.

Nowadays most cleaning companies carry a range of different products, often including both chemical and non chemical options, and select the best for each contract based on experience and consultation with the supplier and client.

Approaches to waste have changed dramatically. While our BSCNZ members used to be responsible for removing and disposing of waste from a site, now many work with clients to find solutions involving partial or total recycling and which might even be cost neutral.

Achieving sustainable cleaning in the face of budget restraints is achievable.

The New Zealand health sector, for example, has been remarkably open to change. Despite being under extreme pressure in terms of cost cutting, DHBs continue to explore new sustainable opportunities.

Schools have a head start. Most are already cleaned during daylight hours, something

New Zealand businesses are increasingly adopting as socially sustainable, enabling cleaners to work family-friendly hours, and significantly reducing energy consumption.

I believe that schools have an incredible opportunity to be leaders in the drive towards sustainable cleaning, but this requires a change in focus within school boards and leadership from principals.

New Zealand organisations with successful sustainable cleaning and waste policies have recognised that commitment to change needs to come from the very top and be driven through every facet of the business.

You need to change your culture and bring everybody on side. Ninety-nine per cent of your staff might be recycling waste paper, but the integrity of the paper will be destroyed by a few apple cores being thrown into the recycling bins.

New Zealand schools are nurturing the young people who will ultimately work for or lead those organisations. Isn’t this the most fantastic opportunity to prepare them to do so in the most sustainable ways?

Ultimately change will come, as school boards recognise that, in the long term, sustainable approaches to cleaning are the most economical. But why wait?

By Brian Young, president Building Services Contractors New Zealand (BSCNZ).</