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Cleaner. Leaner. Greener.

UGA: Red & Black Pioneered the “Green Cleaning” Initiative

In 2005 the University of Georgia (UGA) launched a campus-wide sustainability initiative. The overall results have been overwhelming. Among those initiatives was Green Cleaning. At the start of the project UGA used over 500 cleaning products. Now they have three: a concentrated neutral disinfectant, an all-purpose cleaner and a window cleaner. All are non-hazardous to the people using them, or around while they are being used.

“The UGA Physical Plant Building Services team has worked tirelessly to improve business process standards, incorporate workplace safety metrics, increase awareness of sustainability in the custodial process, and improving professional development,” said Kim Johnson [Thomas], assistant director of services.

What Johnson and her team did started humbly with re-dedication of its Old College building following its 200 year-renovation was game-changing. The upgraded building served as the test site for the campus’ green cleaning initiative. The UGA facilities management division whittled the 30 traditional cleaning products used in the 20,576-square-foot building down to just three green-rated products — a concentrated neutral disinfectant, an all-purpose cleaner and a window cleaner.  

After the university did the math on tracking and managing a supply chain for 500+ products vs. 3, the program was replicated to the rest of the university’s facilities. 


Other Universities Were Also Transitioning

The University of Connecticut started their Green Cleaning program about the same time based on this information from their web site:

One source of such indoor air pollution can be found in the cleaning products used in the area. These products may produce noxious fumes or leave potent residues behind. Short term health problems caused by exposure to hazardous cleaning products include eye irritation, coughing, chest pain, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. Still worse are the long-term effects, which may include liver and kidney failure, birth defects, emphysema, brain damage, and even cancer. Unintentional ingestion of toxic household chemicals in the U.S. costs almost $2.3 billion in health care per year.

In addition to being harmful to human health, many cleaning products have also proven harmful to the environment. Some of the more potent cleaners contain volatile organic compounds, phenolic compounds, or petroleum solvents and very few are biodegradable. Chemical cleaners produce 30,948 tons of hazardous waste each year and some ingredients of cleaning products are associated with eutrophication of streams and are toxic to aquatic organisms.

Source of facts: US EPA

How did the UGA Stakeholders Feel About the Changes? 

According to Johnson, “People with respiratory issues felt better not having to deal with the harmful volatile organic compounds and the staff liked the ease of using only a few cleaning products,” says Kimberly Thomas, director of the facilities management division. “Staff who were pregnant at the time were complimentary about how we were getting rid of harmful products from their office spaces.”

Key to program success was effective communication. They effectively communicated that the goals:

“UGA was going to be cleaning for health, not appearance.”

That is why Johnson’s team was able to scale the program from the 20,000 s.f. Old College building across the remaining 9.7 million s.f. of facilities. It also didn’t hurt that demand from building occupants that had not yet been transitioned to green cleaning was strong and vocal. 

“Our customers were bragging about having a green building and then everyone else wanted one, too,” says Johnson. “We couldn’t implement fast enough because we had people saying they wanted the chemicals out of their buildings.”


The Green Cleaning sustainability initiative currently saves an estimated $400,000 a year for the university, but perhaps more importantly, the school has been proactive in recognizing the connection between toxic disinfectants and aggravated respiratory problems. It truly changed its priorities: Health is the goal. Not just appearance.