Goodwill Goes Green

October 28, 2005
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GRANDVILLE — West Michigan is a burgeoning capital of “green building” technology, so it should stand to reason that local businesses would want their facilities to be cleaned and maintained in a manner that is equally environmentally friendly. Responding to that demand, Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids has just begun a new janitorial training program that teaches the ways of “green cleaning” to individuals with physical, mental or emotional barriers to employment.

“If we’re going to train people to have real jobs in the community, then we need to be with the times,” said Jackie Thomas, Goodwill’s vice president of workforce development. “There is a higher-than-average percentage of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings in this area than in other areas of the country … If you’ve got a LEED building, you should be using environmentally friendly cleaning.”

The new program has just begun its first 10-week session. Dave Bouck, Goodwill’s manager of janitorial programs, hopes to move about 350 individuals through the program in its first year. When those Goodwill-trained workers hit the job market, they will have a very marketable set of skills — ranging from general cleaning to advanced floor care techniques. They also will understand that “getting a good clean” doesn’t have to involve powerful and toxic chemicals.

“People think you need to use straight bleach and all kinds of caustic things to kill germs. There are all kinds of other chemicals out there that are environmentally friendly and really do a better job,” said Thomas. The solutions used in Goodwill’s program are all approved by Green Seal, an organization that promotes the use of environmentally friendly chemicals.

In addition to the less harsh chemicals, things like HEPA filters on vacuum cleaners and low-decibel motors on floor buffers also add to the overall mix of green cleaning technology.

Thomas said that green cleaning is not simply a fad. All federal cleaning contracts must observe green standards by 2007. The state of Michigan has just signed similar legislation.

“It’s just going to keep going to county, city,” said Bouck. “We’re just a step ahead of everybody right now.”

Gaining that step on the competition meant spending a substantial sum of money on new equipment. Fortunately, Thomas said, Goodwill had a balance of grant funds and charitable gifts that allowed it to move forward with the acquisition of a new walk-behind floor buffer, “backpack vacs,” and the KaiZen No-Touch Cleaning System, complete with chemicals in containers with self-portioning nozzles. All of these items are “cutting edge” in the green cleaning business.

“I fully expect that we’ll soon be in a position where we’ll have other companies clamoring to hire the participants before they’re through the program,” said Thomas.

Right now, Bouck is implementing the green clean program throughout all of Goodwill’s stores. He and Thomas are looking for companies to act as off-site training facilities. That doesn’t mean free cleaning service, Bouck pointed out. Instead, the companies would receive competitively priced janitorial service through Goodwill, as well as some bonus work. Since participants would be learning to refinish floors, for example, a training site might have its floors scrubbed and polished more frequently than necessary. Plus there is always an instructor supervising the work, so it’s kept to the highest of standards.

Adding some new training sites might help Bouck cut down on the waiting list to join the program. Currently, participants have to wait up to three months for a slot to open. Of course, the new specialized green cleaning skills have only made the program more successful, as graduates are receiving higher-paying jobs.

“Every Monday these guys are all excited because they read the Sunday want ads and they’ve got carpet-cleaning companies looking for people with no skills at all for $400 to $500 a week. And they’re like, ‘I can make that kind of money?’ And the answer is, ‘Yes, you can,’” said Bouck. “So the wages are there. And when they come out (of the program), they’re hitting the pavement running.”

In fact, finding decent jobs for the participants is not a problem at all. In Bouck’s first green floor-care class, for example, he was down to just one participant going into the third week. Five of the participants found jobs and left the program.

Thomas said that she has just introduced a new uniform for participants in the green clean program. It has quickly become a bit of a status symbol for the program trainees.

“We’ve got everybody wanting the green shirts,” she said.    

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