Green Cleaning, Sustainability Related, But Not the Same

 When it comes to green cleaning, many administrators and custodial crews are now sitting back, comfortable that they understand it and have properly implemented it in their facilities, making their schools much healthier with a reduced impact on the environment. Well, get ready for a little jolt. Green cleaning is evolving. Now, healthy well-operated facilities need to be not only green but sustainable as well.


Some administrators may believe that the two terms address the same issue. However, although they are related, they are not the same. The concept of green cleaning focuses on reducing the negative impacts on health and the environment associated with conventional cleaning products.


Sustainability goes far beyond this. It includes green, but also encompasses more aspects of how a facility is operated and its impact on the community and the environment. This is often referred to as the triple bottom line: planet, people and profit. As to a school facility, which is often government owned or operated, profit would refer to cost savings because becoming more sustainable is typically a way facilities reduce their costs.


Defining Sustainability

When the term green cleaning was first introduced, there was considerable misunderstanding as to what it actually meant. A similar problem is occurring with sustainability right now, even though it is actually a very old term.


Some say the word dates back to the 18th century, when foresters in Europe were becoming increasingly concerned at how fast the continent was being deforested. At that time, wood was used for just about everything from making homes and buildings to powering factories and heating homes.


To address the problem, some foresters developed what was then termed “scientific” or “sustainable forestry.” They realized that if enough trees were planted to replace the wood provided by the trees harvested every year, the entire forest could be better monitored and managed.


This is all well and good when it comes to trees, but what about oil, ore or other natural resources. In 1987, the Brundtland Commission, formally the World Commission on Environment and Development, officially defined the word sustainable to mean the using of natural resources in such a way “that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is the definition in use today.


Making a School Sustainable

With your school already much greener as a result of green cleaning, how can you take it to the next level and make it sustainable? This requires school and college administrators to consider virtually every aspect of their daily operations. Some examples include the following.



  • Finding ways to reduce energy and water consumption, from adjusting heating and cooling to replacing urinals and toilets with high-performance systems that use less than half the water of older fixtures.
  • Reducing waste, increasing recycling and implementing purchasing policies that require the selection of products that are packaged in recycled and recyclable materials.
  • When building or retrofitting facilities, requiring the use of construction materials that are green certified and are derived from renewable, reusable or recycled resources.
  • Buying locally whenever possible to reduce transportation costs, which reduces fuel consumption and the emission of greenhouse gases.



  • Emphasizing greater social responsibility as to the impact your facility has on local neighborhoods and the larger community.
  • Ensuring workers are provided adequate wages, benefits and training opportunities for advancement.
  • Having nondiscriminatory practices.
  • Encouraging volunteerism and philanthropic efforts of the organization and its staff, as well as increased community involvement.



A business is in operation to make a profit. But as touched on earlier, this is not necessarily a goal for an educational facility. Instead, something quite interesting has been noted: sustainable facilities can save money. And the reason is simple. A sustainable building tends to operate more efficiently, and this greater efficiency leads to cost savings. In addition, sustainable buildings tend to have lower utility bills along with decreased maintenance costs when compared to conventional facilities.


The triple bottom line has transformed the way institutions and corporations conduct business. With these factors in mind, becoming sustainable is very much a winning proposition: the planet wins, people win and, with the cost savings, school administrators win as well.



Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in greening the cleaning industry, as well as Sustainablity Tool LLC, an electronic dashboard that allows jansan companies to measure, track and report on their facility’s environmental impacts. He is also coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies. For more information, visit