Green Cleaning In Schools: A Guide for Advocates

Why Green Cleaning in Schools?

Why should you care about how classrooms are cleaned at your school?

One in five Californians spend their day at school, including students, teachers, and staff. Alarmingly, the California Air Resources Board found significant environmental health concerns in many of California’s classrooms. Some of these concerns stem from the very products used to keep the school clean. As a result, school children and staff are unnecessarily exposed to chemicals commonly found in traditional cleaning products, chemicals that have been linked to asthma and other respiratory problems, cancer, reproductive and neurological harm, and hormone disruption. Additionally, these products are known to have negative impacts on the environment, including contributing to water pollution, smog, and damage to the ozone layer.

Why this is a particular concern for those with asthma?

Asthma is a major problem for school-aged children and school employees. One in six children in California has been diagnosed with asthma. It is the leading cause of school absences due to chronic disease in the country, costing children their education and their schools resources in attendance-based funding. Work related asthma is high for school employees, including custodial workers who have one of the highest rates of occupational asthma in the country. Studies have linked the cleaning products used in schools to both the cause of asthma and the trigger of asthma attacks.

How are parents, students, and staff responding to this issue?

Schools are becoming increasingly aware that healthy and environmentally friendly facilities foster academic achievement and staff well-being. Proactive parents, students, and staff across the state have examined their school’s cleaning practices to develop strategies for improving student and staff health and reducing their impact on the environment. Developing healthy cleaning practices in schools is one strategy that has repeatedly proven successful across California. Some schools have adopted the exclusive use of certified green cleaning products. These products have been proven to effectively clean offices, schools, and other institutional facilities while meeting a number of health and environmental standards, including special consideration for exposures to children.

To read more about the experience of three school districts in California, see our report, Breathing Easier: School Districts Make the Switch to Certified Green Cleaning Products (www.rampasthma.org/2009/05/breathing-easier/)

What are environmentally preferable, green cleaning products?

Conveying a clear solution is as important as outlining the problem. “Environmentally Preferable” and “Green Cleaning Products” are terms often used to describe the newly formulated cleaning products that are alternatives to conventional cleaning products. Recognizing that neither of these labels eliminate all health and environmental risks, switching to third-party certified green cleaning products provides schools with a straight forward way of identifying and using the least toxic products available.

Third-party certifiers establish health and environmental standards for products though a transparent process that includes stakeholder involvement. Products must meet these published standards in order to receive the certified label. Two certifiers with standards for institutional cleaners used in schools are Green Seal (www.greenseal.org) and EcoLogo (www.ecologo.org). Each certification program is different, so it is important to familiarize yourself with the various standards if you are going to suggest that schools use them.

What can you do?

Change does not happen on its own. Committed parents, students, teachers, staff, and other advocates must choose to get involved with their schools and support them in making the switch. Follow the guidance in the Taking Action section below to see how you can help reduce environmental asthma triggers and create a healthier school.


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