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Latch on to LEED-EB

September 19, 2010
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Virtually all cleaning professionals are aware of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) programs.

Initially, LEED dealt with new construction and had no direct effect on building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house facility directors.

However, with the introduction of the LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) program in 2004, performance standards for existing buildings have been established and the cleaning industry has had to take notice.

LEED-EB establishes certain prerequisites and awards credits for specific performance measures to bring existing buildings to a higher standard of environmental performance.

BSCs and in-house facility managers are either seeking LEED-EB certification for their buildings or are using LEED-EB as a roadmap toward environmentally friendly practices as they respond to market, client, or institutional demands.

So, how do you become LEED-EB compliant or, at least, get on the road to greener building management?

LEED-EB has four certification levels. In addition to the prerequisites, the levels require:

  • Certified — 32 to 39 credits
  • Silver — 40 to 47 credits
  • Gold — 48 to 63 credits
  • Platinum — 64 to 85 credits

Cleaning practices and technologies play an important role in the certification process and reaching those numbers.

Cleaning affects operations in three of the six major LEED-EB categories: Sustainable sites, materials & resources, and indoor environmental quality. Fourteen credits — almost half of the discretionary credits for certification — are related to cleaning.

Most of the cleaning-related items on the LEED-EB checklist are relatively inexpensive, easy to implement, and easy to measure.

Here are the specific cleaning-related LEED-EB credits available.

Sustainable sites
Plan for Green Site and Building Exterior Management (2 credits): Parking lot and walkway maintenance and snow removal have significant environmental impacts.

Chemicals, equipment, and cleaning and maintenance scheduling can affect environmental quality.

Plan fertilizing, plowing and sweeping tasks for times when exterior areas are least used. This allows for efficient equipment usage and minimizes dust and air quality issues.

Also, the least harsh chemicals should be used at all times.

Beyond day-to-day operations, cleaning and maintenance should also be considered when upgrading or reconfiguring parking lots, walkways, stairs, and landscaped areas.

Consider runoff from parking lots and landscaped areas. Think about where the snow will go, where chemicals will travel, and what the most efficient layout is.

Materials and resources
Sustainable Cleaning Products and Materials (1-3 credits): There are many environmentally preferable substitutes for most chemicals.

Most major product suppliers now have a line of environmentally preferable products that are priced to compete.

There also are independent industry resources that list certified products.

Green Seal (www.greenseal.org) certifies products in more than 30 categories, including industrial and institutional cleaners, industrial and institutional floor-care products, degreasers, paper towels and paper napkins, and tissue paper.

Canada also has an ecolabeling program called Environmental Choice Program (ECP) (www.environmentalchoice.com).

Today, environmentally preferable cleaning products work as well as traditional chemicals, provide a safer work environment, and contribute to improved indoor air quality (IAQ) for building occupants.

There are also process changes that can be made.

Most BSCs and in-house facility operations already use microfiber dust cloths that cut down on the need for surface cleaners, improve IAQ, and increase productivity.

Steam cleaning is another process change that can be used for many degreasing situations with clear water replacing harsh chemicals.

Occupant Recycling (3 credits): At three credits, recycling is clearly an important component of LEED-EB certification.

But it’s also an especially difficult challenge for BSCs in multi-tenant buildings and in-house facility managers because recycling involves everyone.

Recognizing this, LEED-EB has a sliding scale for recycling awarding one credit for diverting or recycling 30 percent of the total waste stream by weight or volume, two credits for 40 percent, and three credits for 50 percent.

In addition, 95 percent of the fluorescent lights and batteries must be recycled.

Waste recycling programs require the placement of convenient recycling receptacles for paper, plastics, glass and metals, and receptacle monitoring, emptying, and proper disposal of the collected materials must become part of a regular cleaning program.

Effective recycling programs rely on communication and education to make building occupants aware of both the need and the opportunity to recycle.

Indoor environmental quality
Green Cleaning Entryway Systems (1 credit): This category specifically refers to internal and external mats, grills and grates to mitigate dirt, dust, pollens and chemicals from being tracked into a building.

Maintaining the systems — making sure mats are frequently changed, and catch trays under grates are cleaned — is the main step to earn this credit.

However, the success of an entryway program is tied to exterior cleaning and maintenance as sand, salt, fertilizers, and other chemicals affect entryways and IAQ.

Green Cleaning Isolation of Janitorial Closets (1 credit): This can be a major expense in existing buildings that were not properly designed.

The LEED-EB requirement stipulates negative air pressure, no air re-circulation for janitorial closets, and also specifies that drains be plumbed for appropriate disposal of liquid waste in areas where chemical mixing occurs.

The cost of upgrading varies as it is based on the number and the complexity of plumbing, electrical, storage, and other facilities that have to be constructed or modified.

Companies or institutions that are pursuing LEED-EB certification may have to make considerable investments, but BSCs or in-house facility directors, who only want to move toward green practices over the short term, may opt for upgrading janitorial closets during renovations.

Green Cleaning Low Environmental Impact Cleaning Policy (1 credit): Green cleaning is not as simple as swapping out chemicals.

Training is always the key to success. BSCs and in-house directors must constantly adjust and improve training programs to increase skill levels, improve worker safety, and increase efficiency.

Today, green cleaning has been added to the mix. Workers need to be properly trained in mixing chemicals (which also saves money because workers tend to err by overusing chemicals), and need to know how to apply them correctly.

For instance, dwell time is a major factor affecting performance of surface cleaners.

When cleaning restrooms, depending on the chemicals used, disinfectants should be applied first to toilets. The worker then completes other tasks and then returns to remove the disinfectant after the proper dwell time.

Many chemical vendors offer training programs for supervisory and cleaning staff on how to use their products.

However, green cleaning is a day-in, day-out affair that requires onsite supervision, regular reporting, and frequent refresher training.

Green Cleaning Low Environmental Impact Pest Management Policy (2 credits): The most effective approach is to prevent pests in the first place.

Low environmental impact Integrated Pest Management (IPM) takes a holistic view of the problem and generally includes a written pest management plan with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and Technical Bulletins on all pest control products.

The plan details barriers, traps, and the use of baits and chemical application techniques.

A key part of the plan is a schedule that balances frequency with risk and enforces the timely application of preventive measures. Facilities should also keep a comprehensive log of all pest management activities, and all toxic materials must be properly handled, stored and registered.

A well-designed and ongoing training program is an additional must.

Green Cleaning Low Environmental Impact Cleaning Equipment Policy (1 credit): As with chemicals, there has been tremendous progress made with environmentally preferable cleaning equipment.

The Carpet and Rug Institute’s (www.carpet-rug.org) “Green Label” and “Green Label Plus” programs provide guidance.

LEED-EB has specific requirements with respect to floor vacuum particulate size (capture 96 percent of particulates 0.3 microns in size) and extraction equipment (dry in less than 24 hours).

LEED-EB requirements also specify limits for sound (less than 70 decibels) and ergonomic design, to protect workers and decrease fatigue.

Full maintenance logs must be kept for each piece of equipment, to ensure that it is properly maintained.

Creating a green organization
LEED-EB certification or simply moving toward environmentally friendly cleaning practices requires a major commitment from BSCs and in-house facility directors.

Here are some strategies that will help support your green cleaning efforts:

  • There should be a well-documented green cleaning training program for new employees, supported by refresher training.
  • Green practices should be integrated into standard operating procedures. Reporting procedures for equipment maintenance, chemical usage and training logs, and other supervisory/ management tools should be put in place.
  • Communications with cleaning staff, beyond training, must be done on a regular basis to inform employees of new practices and benefits. Just as important is communicating with tenants and building occupants, to inform them about environmental, recycling and energy management issues.

Attaining LEED-EB certification or instituting environmentally friendly cleaning practices requires a management commitment, some level of financial investment, and a willingness to embrace new technologies and procedures.

Such environmental stewardship is an ongoing, ever-expanding effort that is beneficial to the environment, is good for customers and their tenants, provides better working conditions for BSC and in-house facility employees, and makes sound business sense.


George R. Lohnes is vice president of UNICCO Service Company and heads its green services program, UNICCO GreenCleanSM (www.greencleaning.com). He is also a member of the LEED-EB Core Committee.
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