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Penning The Law In Green Ink

May 05, 2011
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It seems as though nearly everything is a certain shade of green these days.

Inescapable, green pervades life — especially in the commercial cleaning and maintenance industry.

The notion of mandated green initiatives began with former President Bill Clinton''s Executive Order 13101, which directed facility managers of more than 100,000 federally-owned buildings to begin purchasing and using green cleaning products in their daily cleaning and maintenance.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors where, according to estimates, the air is up to five times as polluted as that outside.

In knowing this, Executive Order 13101 was a pioneering piece of legislation that set precedence for green efforts in years to come.

Because of the real and perceived value of being green — in essence, operating sustainably with management best practices in place — some states, municipalities and various other entities have instated green legislation mandating sustainable construction, cleaning and maintenance of the built environment.

These various pieces of green legislation take several forms, including: Requiring third-party recognition of sustainable construction projects; mandating that green roofs be installed in place of traditional roofing membranes; insisting that less toxic cleaning products be used in government buildings and in schools; and numerous variations of the preceding.

These obligatory standards generally come to fruition following successful pilot programs that not only show improvements in indoor air quality, reductions of absenteeism and increased morale of building occupants, but also help businesses and organizations realize cost savings.

Institutionalizing Green

According to the Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC), children miss more than 14 million school days each year due to asthma exacerbated by poor indoor air quality.

In recognizing this, and knowing that the health of today''s youth directly correlates with the future state of wellbeing for our populace, it was decided to seriously explore green cleaning with the possibility of making it necessary.

In 2005, New York State stood out on a limb and became the first state to require environmentally preferable product procurement and procedures in schools.

Since then, more than a dozen states have either written mandated green cleaning in schools into the law books or have strongly recommended the practice be adopted.

According to The Quick and Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools, published by the Healthy Schools Campaign, there are five simple steps to greening a school cleaning program:

  1. Switch to greener cleaning products

  2. Introduce greener equipment and supplies

  3. Adopt greener cleaning procedures

  4. Use greener paper and plastic products

  5. Share the responsibility.

Copies of the guide are available online at

An important part of the green cleaning puzzle is the way in which the less toxic products are used.

“The way buildings are cleaned is as important as the products used to clean them,” notes Steve Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group LLC. “It is not enough to just substitute greener products; the products are just part of a broader process designed to protect human health and to protect and maintain the facilities.”

The Green Movement Grows

Last year, Toronto became the first city in North America to propose the installation of green roofs on most new construction projects.

The legislation, which went into effect on January 31, 2010, requires green roofs on all residential buildings over six stories, schools, affordable housing developments and commercial and industrial buildings.

As with any forced regulation, there was an opposition claiming that costs would increase, making the initiative fiscally unfeasible.

While the upfront costs are somewhat higher, studies have shown that green roofs have a longer useful life than traditional roofs; save on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) costs; provide a habitat for plants, animals and insects; and help increase the overall sustainability of a building.

While the idea of vegetative roofs and walls is relatively new in the United States and the rest of North America, similar projects have been around for decades in parts of Europe, paying for themselves many times over.

Follow The LEEDer

Third-party certification is an industry-accepted benchmark for performance and efficiency.

The city of Seattle began the twenty-first century as the first municipality in the nation to mandate that Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards set forth by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) be achieved for all civic buildings.

Other American metropolises quickly followed suit, and places such as Los Angeles, Chicago, the District of Columbia and Dallas now require similar benchmarks for both private and/or public buildings.

“The USGBC has supported efforts to mandate LEED, and now, over 200 localities and 34 state governments have adopted LEED into some form of legislation, ordinance or policy,” states Brendan Owens, vice president for LEED technical development at the USGBC. “Because LEED is written as a voluntary standard, however, it can be difficult to mandate or enforce.”

Some claim that, because there are many facets to maintaining certification, it can place an unfair burden on building owners and facility managers.

In certain cases, capital is not available to pursue often expensive certifications and to purchase the chemicals, tools and equipment necessary to clean at such rigorous standards.

Additional Mandates

A growing trend is municipalities requiring a contractor be certified under the ISSA''s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) before being eligible to submit a request for proposal to perform cleaning and maintenance tasks.

While there is no direct mandate to be CIMS-certified, such requirements are forcing companies to achieve third-party recognition in order to successfully bid on projects.

Another development on the rise is similar to that of LEED mandates, only it pertains to the EPA''s ENERGY STAR label.

While ENERGY STAR certification mandates are typically applied to residential applications, we are seeing the requirements added to the growing list of progressive green building measures for commercial facilities.

Some places, notably the state of California, have enacted their own proprietary green mandates.

The California Green Building Standards (CALGreen), which are applicable to both residential and commercial buildings, are designed “to improve public health, safety and general welfare by enhancing the design and construction of buildings through the use of concepts that reduce negative and increase positive environmental impacts.”

While such projects are rather ambitious, it is high time we stop taking the low road and truly address the issues that mandated green regulations can help solve.

Aaron Baunee is the managing editor of Cleaning & Maintenance Management magazine. He can be reached at In his years with the publication, Baunee has amassed numerous articles, columns and commentaries pertaining to commercial cleaning and maintenance. Baunee encourages readers to communicate editorial ideas to him and welcomes discussions on pertinent industry happenings. Connect through social media:, and

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