By taking a close look at how its custodians clean and what they use, the Sustainable Cleaning Program at Boston University (BU) is cutting costs for the school and offering several environmental benefits for its campus and students.

Thanks to the program:

  • Students are breathing indoor air that is virtually free of toxic contaminants.
  • The campus has increased water and energy savings by reducing material consumption and packaging waste.
  • BU has reduced the amount of hazardous materials entering the waste stream.

So how has BU achieved such success, and what can others learn from its experience? Earth911 took a look inside its eco-friendly cleaning program to find out.

How It All Started

The university began its Sustainable Cleaning Program in the 1990s to increase efficiency and address concerns for worker safety.

A major first step was installing “cleaning command centers” to better manage chemical use, minimize packaging waste, reduce the carbon footprint and lower the chances of chemical-related injuries — all while meeting the cleanliness goals of the university.

The program has evolved over time as safer and more effective cleaning products became available, and it’s proved that even the most stringent cleaning standards can be met with 100 percent of the products certified by Green Seal and EcoLogo, the highest standards available for sustainable cleaning products.

The program was so successful that the university has since rolled it out campuswide.

Cleaning and Greening

BU has several methods to keep the campus squeaky-clean while protecting the environment and indoor air quality.

Its Custodial Services department follows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing policy, which is designed to protect human health and reduce the environmental effect of materials used to operate and maintain buildings.

All cleaning equipment used on campus either limits or eliminates the use of hazardous materials, improves indoor air quality, minimizes environmental impact and allows for the healthy reuse of space and materials.

“Improving the quality of [students’] indoor environment is something we take very seriously, so we are cleaning our environment one building at a time,” the university wrote on its website.

Like all well-designed initiatives, the program supports continuous improvement. The university allows building occupants (both students and faculty), as well as custodians, to give feedback on the program’s effectiveness and assess new sustainable-cleaning technologies and procedures.

Takeaways and Best Practices

Indoor air quality management is a concern for nearly every large institution — even those not particularly interested in sustainability. While this may seem like an easy thing to overlook (especially in tough economic times), forward-looking institutions like BU recognize its positive effects on bottom lines, as well as the benefits for human health.

“Indoor environments have a significant impact on human and environmental health, learning outcomes, and productivity,” the university wrote on its website.

While specific cleaning and maintenance needs vary from building to building, the ever-expanding portfolio of nontoxic cleaning alternatives is surely a good place to start, and the BU program is proof positive that it can be done — and done well.

By Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.