The New York Times recently devoted an entire special section to “The Business of Green.”
Just a few years ago, most of the articles would have been unimaginable: Industrialists partnering with activists? McDonald’s and the Rainforest Action Network mentioned in the same sentence?
But today — faced with rising energy costs, global warming, and diminishing natural resources — the business community can''t afford to ignore environmental concerns.
Fortunately, green building — designing and constructing buildings that are healthy for people and the environment — is an immediate, measurable way to have a positive impact both on the environment and on the bottom line.
Green building includes every aspect of a building, from the beginning of the design phase through ongoing maintenance, which means that cleaning professionals have an important role to play in this movement that is transforming the building industry.
LEED-ing the way
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is the nation''s leading nonprofit working to promote environmentally responsible, healthy and profitable buildings.
Founded in 1993, USGBC now has more than 6,300 members representing every sector of the building industry, from Fortune 500 companies to federal agencies to architecture firms to major university systems.
In 2000, USGBC launched the LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System™, a voluntary design and construction guideline.
In just six years, LEED has become the nationally recognized benchmark for green buildings; more than 500 million square feet of building space are in the process of becoming LEED-certified, and more than 50 cities and states have adopted LEED as a building standard.
LEED evaluates a building in the five key areas of energy, water, indoor air quality, materials use, and site selection, and provides building owners and occupants with independent, third-party certification of a building''s features and performance.
LEED-certified buildings are good for the environment and good for business: They reduce greenhouse gas emissions, consume fewer materials and resources, create substantial energy and water savings, and have healthier and more productive occupants.
The LEED Rating System encourages a “whole building” approach, which takes into account every aspect of a building, from the insulation to the carpet to the air conditioning.
Cleaning plays key role
Cleaning strategies are no exception: The selection of cleaning products and chemicals, janitorial paper, cleaning equipment, training, recycling, pest management, exterior maintenance, and landscaping are all integral to the overall health and performance of a building.
Among the many benefits of green cleaning are improved indoor environmental quality, reduced ventilation requirements, improved processes and training, and decreased waste and pollution.
Like other aspects of green building, green cleaning also makes economic sense.
As Stephen Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group and a leading proponent of green cleaning, notes, “Green products are generally considered cost neutral as the improvements in technologies have reduced costs and improved product performance.”
It is not uncommon to find 50 percent or more of products being wasted in a traditional cleaning program.
When green cleaning products are used in conjunction with the appropriate dispensing systems, training, procedures and work loading, we have seen significant reductions in wasted labor which can save significant sums of money, as well as reducing the actual volume of products used which further reduces the overall product costs.
Fueling the demand
The growth of USGBC and the green building movement over the last few years is remarkable, but it is just the beginning.
Several initiatives currently under way promise to drive the demand for green building even higher.
For example, USGBC recently partnered with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) to develop a new minimum standard for green building.
Proposed Standard 189, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, will draw upon LEED to create a baseline for high performance buildings.
The intention is to create a standard that can be incorporated into building codes in order to drive green building into mainstream practice.
At the other end of the market, USGBC is also at work on LEED Version 3.0, which will incorporate the latest scientific and technological advancements, such as life-cycle analysis and bioregional weighting.
Additionally, USGBC recently made a series of major refinements to the process of applying for LEED certification.
These refinements include LEED-Online, a new workspace where project teams can complete the entire documentation and application process online.
By making it easier for organizations to apply for LEED certification, in addition to providing tools for the full spectrum of the market, USGBC is helping the building industry transform itself to sustainability.
A green building is much more than a physical structure, and the impacts reach far beyond the building''s walls.
In addition to transforming physical landscape of the built environment, green building is transforming the way the building industry thinks about that landscape.
Green building drives economic development, spurs technological innovation, and brings communities together; the ripple effects are engendering a fundamental shift in the way we do business.
A future is coming in which calling a building green will be redundant, and in which business as usual is good for people and place, as well as profit.
Tom Hicks is vice president of the USGBC’s LEED program and oversees the development and implementation of all LEED rating systems.