University earns Green Seal for cleaning operation


The WMU College of Health and Human Services in Kalamazoo was formed in 1976. Courtesy WMU

A university in the region is one of four schools in the nation to possess a Green Seal for sustainability in its building custodial practices.

Western Michigan University said last week that its Office of Facilities Management has received a Green Seal certification in the commercial and institutional cleaning services category after completing a year-long process, becoming the only school in the state to earn the seal.

WMU joins Harvard, University of Maryland and University of Virginia as schools with the certification.

Green Seal

Green Seal is a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. that uses science-based programs to encourage organizations and consumers to develop sustainable practices and offers third-party certification to organizations.

The GS-42 certification process invlolved various steps: documentation; on-site audit by Green Seal; developing a green cleaning policy; implementing standard operating procedures; and creating ongoing training practices for new and existing team members.

The Department of Building Custodial and Support Services at WMU used the College of Health and Human Services as a model to build upon and adopt green cleaning practices during the process.

Steve Gilsdorf, director of the Department of Building Custodial and Support Services, said as the university was looking and moving toward sustainability several years ago, the custodial department began incorporating green chemicals.

“For the certification, we also looked at re-inventing the whole process of cleaning for the custodians to make it easier to focus on the tasks at hand,” Gilsdorf said.

Green custodial practices

The custodial department incorporated several changes into their sustainability practices: using aqueous ozone, a water-based cleaning system; changing floor-care procedures, which eliminated the use of floor stripper and finish; and using backpack vacuums, which remove more particles in the air due to the higher level of filtration; and more.

“We are nearly 80-percent chemical free in cleaning through aqueous ozone, which acts as a cleaning agent, instead of having the regular everyday chemicals exposed to the building occupants and students,” Gilsdorf said. 

“We introduced aqueous ozone, micro-fibrous cloths and more sustainable practices, such as creating pods, or collections of bins for trash and recycling, and streamlined the process.

"We feel part of sustainability is process, as well as elimination of waste and increasing efficiency for the custodian, which allowed us to increase cleaning within buildings and removing more dirt and pathogens.”

The operation

With 168 custodians focusing on 54 primarily buildings within its portfolio, Gilsdorf said the team focuses on cleaning roughly 4 million square feet.

Peter Strazdas, associate VP of facilities management at WMU, said while the main campus has approximately 8 million square feet, there are a lot of facilities used for storage, and the sustainability practices are focused on the primary buildings.

“We are the largest building owner on the west side of the state of Michigan,” Strazdas said. “We have 150 buildings. . . . But the primary buildings are what we are focusing on. It is really kind of like a city within a city over here.”

Green impact

By removing a higher amount of pathogens, dirt and particulate in the learning environment, Gilsdorf said the custodial staff is able to provide a higher level of service to students and faculty.

“It gave our department a point of focus, as well as a point of accomplishment,” Gilsdorf said. “It highlights Western’s desire and ability to deliver sustainability and environmentally friendly service in the custodial realm. There are studies out there that show proper cleaning can actually increase productivity of the work staff by upwards of 40 to 45 percent by having a clean area.”

Sustainability mission

Strazdas added that adopting improved sustainability practices within the custodial department and receiving the certification is a significant achievement for WMU.

“We have a strategic plan at WMU, and President John Dunn is very passionate about a sustainable campus,” Strazdas said. “As the stewards of the physical assets of this campus, we are involved with a lot of sustainable activities. We have built a culture around our strategic plan and our definition of sustainability, which is to leave our campus in a better shape, better condition than we found it.”

WMU has also received roughly 12 LEED certifications for its facilities and has eight buildings undergoing the approval process.

The university has also received the 2014 Climate Leadership Award from Second Nature in Boston in recognition of its innovation and leadership in sustainability.

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