EPA, 2015.

EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools guidance has been implemented successfully in tens of thousands of schools nationwide. The Framework for Effective School IAQ Management synthesizes the accumulated learning of more than 800 schools involved in a national survey of IAQ management practices; 200 applicants for IAQ Tools for Schools awards; and in- depth interviews, site visits and analysis of five faculty school districts. The Framework provides a common language
to describe the drivers of IAQ program success; detailed guidance on the proven strategies, organizational approaches, and leadership styles that are fundamental to program effectiveness; and a clear vision of the pathway to school IAQ excellence. Its highly flexible and adaptable structure allows any school, regardless of location, size, budget or condition, to use the Framework to launch, reinvigorate and sustain an effective IAQ management program.

The Framework: Key Drivers

The Six Key Drivers are the essential elements of effective and enduring IAQ management programs. Applying a cycle of continuous assessment, planning, action and evaluation, the Six Key Drivers work synergistically to deliver effective school IAQ management programs. The Six Key Drivers are:

  • Organize for success;
  • Communicate with everyone, all the time;
  • Assess your environments continuously;
  • Plan your short- and long-term activities;
  • Act to address structural, institutional and behavioral issues, and
  • Evaluate your results for continuous improvement.The Framework: Technical SolutionsThe Six Technical Solutions define the most common issues that schools need to address to effectively manage IAQ risks. When addressed systematically
    and aggressively, an IAQ program that focuses on the Six Technical Solutions will deliver a healthier school environment. The Six Technical Solutions are grounded in the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit, the Center for Disease Control’s School Health Policies and Programs Study and the management practices of leading school IAQ programs.

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Pace and Gardner, 1997

When visitors walk through King School, they are often surprised. It is very different from the schools they attended and from others they have seen. Instead of children sitting quietly in rows facing the teacher at the front of the room, they find youngsters returning from a field study with jars and basins full of pond specimens.

They see students working in cooperative groups, creating visual aids for a day of student-led workshops on environmental issues for the entire school community. Another group is rehearsing a musical about South Africa, called Sarafina, on the stage in the performing arts center. Children of all ages are updating their digital portfolios at computer stations throughout the school to prepare for student-teacher-parent conferences.

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Campbell & Bigger, 2008

In 1992 APPA published a seminal work titled Custodial Staffing Guidelines for Educational Facilities. The work was based on a concept that was in the embryonic stage in 1986 and then grew in momentum through 1988 when the APPA Board of Directors commissioned a task force to address custodial staffing issues at institutions of higher education. The Guidelines became so popular that it was revised in 1998. The two editions addressed a critical need in facilities management at educational institutions. Even though institutions were growing in size and in delivery of services, custodial staffing budgets were either staying static, or in many cases, decreasing. In other words, each custodian was being asked to clean more square feet than ever before. The facilities managers did not have an empirical document to fall back on that indicated how many custodians were really needed to complete the tasks at hand and the impact of such on productivity or cleanliness.

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School Planning and Management, 2015

As with most schools, maintenance and operating budgets at Union Grove School District, in Union Grove, WI. were spread pretty thin. Fortunately, Kurt Jorgensen, director of Operations & Facilities at Union Grove High School, found a way to save time and money, while at the same time improving security, by specifying Special-Lite FRP Doors.

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By Allen Rathey, Keith Webb, and E. M. Wallace.

What prompts school facilities to get on board with green cleaning programs? The answers vary. For some the decision may be driven by health impact, environmental stewardship, or simply compliance.

Keith Webb, Executive Director of Plant Services, Newport News Public Schools (NNPS), Newport News, Virginia, is pleased that the NNPS cleaning program, under Custodial Supervisor Marcella Bullock, received the Green Cleaning Award for Schools and Universities’ Grand–level recognition in 2013 (American School & University, 2015), but he admits achieving this green milestone took many years and got its start through the “back door”.

“When I first started in 2007, I did nothing but observe,” Webb notes. “I saw we were overstaffed and using ineffective tools—such as cloth-bag upright vacuums, mop buckets with wringers for hard floor care, and lots of cleaning chemical—so our ‘front door’ focus was on right-sizing, efficiency and leaning operations.”

This meant eliminating about 50 FTEs—through attrition rather than layoffs—and diverting a sizable sum of money to purchase leading-edge equipment and supplies, including:

  • Backpack-style vacuums—Worn by the operator using a mountaineering-style harness balancing the approximate 10-lb. weight on the hips, and clean about two times the space that an upright-vacuum process can in the same amount of time (ISSA, 2015).
  • HEPA-filtered upright vacuums—Newer upright vacuums with proven performance, bodies that do not leak dust and filters that trap fine particles (Carpet and Rug Institute, 2015).
  • Engineered-Water Auto Scrubbers—Cordless, powered, and quiet (‘green-rated’ under 70db) (LEED, 2015) floor cleaning machines that, equipped with an electrolysis system, can generate onboard cleaning solution from facility water supplies, scrub, and dry (vacuum/squeegee) floors much faster than mopping and with better results (ISSA, 2015).
  • Wall-mounted onsite-generated engineered-water solutions—Produce a cleaning and sanitizing solution onsite using electrolysis of tap water for use in sprayers and other applications (Healthy Schools Campaign, 2015).

Embracing ionized water for cleaning reduced the use of harsher cleaning chemicals by 99%. The resultant cost savings on chemicals helped fund movement toward additional sustainable practices, such as purchasing recycled-content paper and other products. Adding a recycling program to reduce waste has saved the district about $120,000 a year in refuse removal costs.

Training was a key component to NNPS’s evolution to a green program. The value of a green mindset was infused while training custodial staff to use new equipment and products and to improve cleaning methods and standards. 100% of NNPS’ facilities reached the APPA Level 2 cleanliness benchmark. The investment in training and accountability has led to enhanced recognition, performance, and professionalism of custodial staff. (Read more about this in EFC’s 9/17/15 blog.)

Over time, Mr. Webb realized NNPS’s cleaning had “gone green” in a large way, albeit accidentally, by redirecting resources to improving department operations, methods and training that at the same time produced a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment. Green cleaning meshes with the values that underpin the work of NNPS’s Plant Services. First, the program supports the academic agenda by keeping the learning environment clean and safe for both students and staff; it also illustrates the value placed on people by creating a safer, more pleasant work environment for employees and providing them opportunities for professional growth.

Whatever the impetus to ‘go green’, Webb advises peers to start with a single innovation, phase in different green approaches over time, and maintain a long view. “Be patient, it takes time. Consider the life cycle return on investments in staff, equipment, and products and don’t just go with the least expensive upfront option.”

Green cleaning is a WIN-WIN for students, staff, schools, community, and the environment. Perhaps it matters less where schools start that journey, but that they do indeed begin to embrace it.


American School & University. (2015). Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities. Retrieved from American School & University: http://asumag.com/green-cleaning-award

Carpet and Rug Institute. (2015). Seal of Approval for Vacuums. Retrieved from Carpet and Rug Institute: https://www.carpet-rug.org/CRI-Testing-Programs/CRI-Seal-of-Approval-Program/Vacuums.aspx

Healthy Schools Campaign. (2015). Green Clean Schools Leadership Summit. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/od8vd2m

ISSA. (2015). 612 Cleaning Times. Retrieved from http://www.issa.com/education/bookstore/612-cleaning-times-book.html#.Ven3p_Rdfq4

U.S. Green Building Council. (2015). LEED EBOM Version 4. Retrieved from http://www.usgbc.org/credits/eq31


Allen Rathey is President of the Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI) and Executive Director of the 501c3 Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS). Call him at 208-724-1508.

Keith Webb is Executive Director of Plant Services for Newport News Public Schools, a 29,000- student school division in southeastern Virginia. In that capacity he oversees construction, renovation, maintenance, energy management and custodial operations of the division’s 72 buildings. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he joined NNPS as Assistant Maintenance Supervisor, eventually rising to his current position.

In 2011 his department earned the prestigious Facility Masters Award at the Platinum level from National School Plant Managers Association in conjunction with the Virginia School Plant Managers Association. In 2012 Keith earned his Educational Facility Professional designation from APPA. In 2013 NNPS received the Grand Award for the greenest cleaning K-12 school division nationally from American School & University magazine and the Healthy Schools Campaign. Facility Cleaning Decisions magazine named him a Manager of Distinction in 2015.

E.M. Wallace is a Research Associate with the Education Facilities Clearinghouse, a program of the George Washington University and the Graduate School of Education and Human Development. She has a background in community health education and enjoys cross-sector work that promotes child health and wellbeing.