Campus & Community

Jason Luke

3 min read

You might not know Jason Luke ’94, but you know his work.

He’s associate director for custodial and support services at Harvard’s Facilities Maintenance Operations. That makes him the Commencement superintendent who every June transforms the campus into a well-oiled machine for merriment (and solemnity).

His team sets up 80,000 chairs, 7,500 tables, 120 tents, and all the signage, pole hardware, and sound equipment to go with it.

During most of the year, Luke’s work takes a quieter path, but one that you see every day. He supervises a crew of 250 Harvard staffers who wash, buff, and shine 40 percent of Harvard’s 5 million square feet of building space.

The onetime Leverett House English concentrator worked on the Harvard cleaning staff as an undergraduate. In the past 13 years, Luke has traded a head full of Shakespeare and Melville for grittier (but still important) stuff. These days he puzzles over things like the life span of mops and what polishes work best on stone, slate, and marble.

While doing that, the father of two goes for the green. Ten years ago, Luke sensed a shift in his line of business, and started evaluating environmentally sound cleaning products. In the past five years, what was once a fringe fraction of the marketplace has emerged into the mainstream. As green products got steadily cheaper and better, he said, “we started to see this was the future of the whole cleaning industry.”

A 2003 pilot program at Harvard Divinity School turned into a blessing. For two years, Luke and his crews tested nonpolluting cleaners based on hydrogen peroxide, reusable microfiber rags, HEPA-filter vacuums, and nonammoniated glass cleaners. They used nontoxic floor strippers, adopted exact-measure dispensers for cleaning products, installed nonaerosol dispensers for restroom soap, and replaced toweling with unbleached brown paper.

Products and technologies like these improve indoor air quality, reduce waste, and minimize toxins and carcinogens.

By 2005, Luke said, the Divinity School had reduced the number of its cleaning chemicals from 40 to four, and the FMO’s Green Cleaning Service was ready to roll out University-wide.

He credited the Harvard Green Campus Initiative with co-developing the program. The University’s sustainability principles are important, said Luke, but the HGCI “creates excitement around participation.”

Low-tech and low-toxicity brands are his staff’s “default products,” he said, and comprise 75 percent of all the general-purpose, glass, and floor cleaners used. These safe, multiple-use products are certified by Green Seal, a nonprofit organization that identifies environmentally friendly cleaners.

Green products are gradually edging out their aggressively chemical counterparts, said Luke. “We’re continually trying to look at what’s out there, to stay on the cutting edge.”

— Corydon Ireland