Students Benefit When Schools Embrace Green Cleaning
There should be no debate when it comes to children’s wellbeing and ensuring they have a healthy learning environment. Still, in an era where budgets are tight and the public school system finds itself under intense scrutiny, it is understandably necessary to justify the “why” behind a change or shift in policy. Green Cleaning Schools, the February issue of The State Education Standard, which is published by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE, a member of the Learning First Alliance), covers the why, the how and more of green cleaning in our nation’s schools. It highlights key benefits ensuring thorough and thoughtful consideration.
So why green cleaning? Pretending for a moment that we’re solely concerned with, and convinced by, better health arguments, children are high-risk when it comes to the particles and chemicals in many cleaning products for several reasons. First, children eat, drink and breathe far more than adults do relative to their body weight, which results in higher exposure. Secondly, their tendencies, such as hand-to-mouth behaviors, means they have higher ingestion rates. And of course, their developing organ systems are more susceptible to contaminants. While it’s true that adults are less susceptible to chemical effects, a school’s janitorial staff – with prolonged exposure to such high doses – is a second high risk group who would benefit from a shift to green cleaning.
The second layer of the argument is the cold hard cash perspective. There is a basic cost savings with green cleaning materials. Ten states and the District of Columbia have regulations that encourage or require a focus on green cleaning. Schools in these states are finding the benefits outweigh perceived costs. One state has a provision that allows a school to opt out, if they can prove it is more expensive to be green, and only four of nine hundred schools have taken advantage of the provision.
Then, let’s not forget the savings that result from healthier students and staff. Asthma is the most common chronic illness for children, accounting for more lost school days than any other health condition. By reducing exposure to the chemicals and particles found in cleaning agents, a school can reduce the number of asthma attacks its students experience, reducing the absenteeism rates that affect school funding. And of course, there are environmental benefits to green cleaning, which include reducing water and ambient air pollution. In sum, given the benefits and potential savings, it makes sense that states are moving in this direction.
How do schools go green for their clean? The final articles in the report highlight districts and schools that went green. Key steps include: developing a green cleaning program, using green cleaning products, monitoring green equipment and supplies, adopting green cleaning procedures and sharing responsibility. In January 2009, the Missouri State Board of Education formally adopted a guide, “Green Cleaning Guidelines and Specifications for Schools,” published by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. It provides both a comprehensive approach to green cleaning and sets forth some best practices for implementation.
The results of green cleaning programs have been extensive. In Missouri’s Columbia Public Schools, positive outcomes include at least a 15% reduction in the overall cost of district’s Custodial Service Department program, improved staff health, increased school and community awareness, and possibly even the lower recorded rates of absenteeism.
In New York, the East Meadow Union Free School District on Long Island has reduced its costs substantially while reducing its impact on the environment with a green cleaning program that also includes an energy efficiency initiative. The program is continually expanding and now includes microfiber mops, green-certified bio-based cleaning products and hands-free soap dispensers. These two program examples are just that, examples. There are many more districts and schools who are the cutting edge of building healthy learning environments.
There are always legitimate concerns when it comes to implementing widespread changes on the district and local level. Success comes with nuance reflected in well written regulations. School Boards are crucial actors in this process and so the report closes with a resource “Making Green Cleaning Easy for Local School Boards.” Content ranges from talking points to examples of already existing policies and argues that “Today the major barrier to introducing a comprehensive green cleaning program is simply the need to overcome the status quo.” As with most long-term changes, someone must be that change agent. Who is better suited to do this than the school districts and communities that will reap the resulting health and financial benefits?
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- Actress/Mathematician Danica McKellar on girls and math
- Best Selling Author Kenneth C. Davis on engaging with history
- Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Danielson on providing health care at school
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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