Custodial Sustainability Initiative enhances long-term health of campus

Monday, June 5, 2017
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Zainudeen Popoola believes that the key to sustainable futures is being able to work together towards a common, meaningful goal. As the director of Custodial Services, he sees mutual motivation from the staff to “green” custodial procedures.

“We have excellent staff in our department that look at their job as a way to do the best job because they believe in the mission and vision of this department,” Popoola said.

So it was natural when the Custodial department pioneered the Custodial Services Sustainability Initiative almost 15 years ago. The initiative had three outlined goals: to use environmentally preferred products, practice conservation and support sustainability.

Some of the earliest measures were transitioning cleaning products that had previously contained harmful compounds like sulfuric acids into organic products, as well as ridding the use of plastic liners in academic office trash cans. Long term successes of the initiative included improving the energy efficiency of electric cleaning equipment as well as consolidating the cleaning frequency in academic buildings.

While previous leadership began the Initiative, Popoola has a variety of background that includes hospital cleaning standards, as well as involvement in various cleaning associations. Popoola was even elected the President of the International Executive Housekeeper Association for a two-year term starting in 2018.

“The IEHA is a premier organization” Popoola said. “They teach you the science of cleaning, so you learn about the chemistry behind it and the proper procedure for cleaning and for health, because we clean for health.”

Cleaning for health is the uppermost goal of the Initiative, which works to protect the health of custodians as well as students and faculty. Six years ago, the University received its first Cleaning Industry Management Standard with Green Building certification on behalf of the International Sanitary Supply Association.

This certification serves as a recognition of the institution’s comprehensive framework for custodial planning to evaluate all procedures, products and administrators. NU was the first of the Big Ten schools to receive this prestigious international recognition.

“The leaders before me had foresight to move into this and educate our own staff so other people on campus can learn too,” Popoola said. “University leaders have been there for us, and we have employees that are willing to do what we strive to do, and we welcome the students that continue to push us to do that.”

Popoola said activity of environmental groups in recent years on campus motivates the Custodial department to keep improving their own sustainability, and that young people have the greatest potential to influence these dynamic issues.

“When you have young people that really believe in changing and preserving the environment for the future, they push a lot of ideas,” Popoola said. “Then the paradigm is left for us to say ‘we’ve got to change with the student!’ and it’s left for us to listen because if we do we can make a big difference.”