How Baby Steps Led this Giant to Green Cleaning Excellence

For a school district as huge as Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS), making the switch to green cleaning was a Herculean task. In any school system, getting buy-in from administrators, teachers, staff and board members can mean red tape, pushback and delays. And this school district has 96 buildings, 70,000 students and 10.6 million square feet of building space! But VBCPS used strategy, careful execution and a commitment to taking baby steps to execute a nearly flawless transition — with giant results. We are thrilled to share this 2014 Green Cleaning Award Winner’s story with you.

Baby Steps

When a new LEED-certified elementary school was built in 2005, it was a perfect opportunity for VBCPS to start a pilot green cleaning program there. Two years later, green cleaning chemicals and procedures had been fully integrated across the entire district. The key to this widespread success was the program’s commitment to taking small steps toward a common goal. “We started with one piece, then added another piece,” recalls Larry Ames, VBCPS Director of Custodial Services. “And before we knew it, the whole division was done.”

Zone Offense

The school district was split into six zones, each comprised of about 16 schools. After the new, LEED-certified elementary school’s green cleaning program was running in full force, it was time to keep the momentum going. So Zone One custodial staff, administrators and school nurses were invited to the new school where the head custodians talked about their program. These head custodians also helped train Zone One custodians on the green cleaning chemicals, equipment and procedures they had been using. “A head custodian can talk to another head custodian and they buy into the program because they see ownership in it,” says Ames.

A month after this training session at the new school, the new green chemicals and equipment were delivered to all Zone One schools (all traditional chemicals and equipment were also removed). After a month of green cleaning, the next zone was invited over to learn and train. At that point, the Zone One schools were talking about their program, educating peers in Zone Two. This continued, zone by zone, over the course of two years, until all schools were on the same green cleaning program.

Advice in Baby Steps

Reflecting on the successful transition, Ames believes his baby-step approach can be applied to different aspects of a green cleaning program, too. For a school that wants to start a green cleaning program but feels overwhelmed about where to start, Ames advises taking it slowly. “If you don’t want to start with chemicals, start with paper. Or start with soap. Then, tackle the other things as they come up.” Simple words of advice from an award-winning expert.

The annual Green Cleaning Award, presented by American School & University magazine, Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) 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? Apply for the 2015 award!