Owners, take note: The color of clean is green.
Those attempting to whitewash the decree do so at their peril, now that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has made green cleaning programs a prerequisite for LEED certification. No program, no certification. It’s that simple.
True, programs ranging from energy to water conservation are fundamental to LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (EBOM), but few such tenets target human health as pointedly – or unequivocally – as the green cleaning provision.
Green cleaning’s importance is reflected in recent revisions to LEED’s rating system. When properly implemented, green cleaning and related maintenance activities now account for as many as a quarter of the points required for LEED-EBOM certification.
Predictably, a simple mop and bucket won’t do, yet green-cleaning programs seldom cost more than conventional ones, says Alan France, director of sustainability and environmental services with New York City-based ABM Industries, a national provider of facility cleaning services. “You may pay more for materials like microfiber, but they’re going to dig deeper into dirt and withstand many more laundry cycles,” he says. One could say it all comes out in the wash.
ABM’s clients have 65 million square feet of green-certified space and another 95 million square feet with certification pending. “It’s become a competitive issue,” France says. “Do you want to operate the facility known for safe, effective and tenant-friendly cleaning methods or the one that’s not?”
Cleaning Agents and Protocols
Green cleaning encompasses not only environmentally friendly cleaning agents but also protocols pertaining to entryway systems, janitorial closets, cleaning equipment, and pest management (see sidebar), all while referencing standards from an alphabet soup of industry interests, from the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) to Green Seal, a nonprofit, third-party certifier of cleaning products.
It’s a lot to absorb, acknowledges Bill Balek, director of regulations with the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA). The good news, he says, is that green cleaning is a young but rapidly growing market, making its practices more readily available to owners starting from scratch. Owners also have access to a more comprehensive range of green cleaning products, some 2000 in all. A revised version of LEED-EBOM, known as v3, further eases compliance by consolidating all major components of green cleaning into a single section.
Owners can contract with green-certified companies such as ABM to ensure they achieve compliance. In fact, LEED-EBOM rewards them for doing so because it ensures they are partnering with a LEED-proficient enterprise rather than a “green faker.”
The ISSA-issued Cleaning Industry Management Standard – Green Building (CIMS-GB) is particularly useful in distinguishing the former from the latter. Issued in 2009, and tailored to provisions of LEED-EBOM v3, CIMS-GB requires cleaning companies to undergo a third-party assessment that includes document review, employee and customer interviews, and visits to randomly selected customer sites from a list provided by the applicant.
Some cleaning companies function as de facto partners in taking their clients green – or some gradation thereof. ABM, for instance, works with clients to achieve one of three levels: basic chemical changes; chemical, process and equipment changes; and formal green cleaning policy, which prepares companies for accreditation. Both owner and cleaner have their work cut out for them.
Among other requirements, cleaning companies must ensure that a full 30 percent of the cleaning products and materials they use are “sustainable” in order to qualify their clients for LEED points. For example, vacuum cleaners must operate at sound levels less than 70 dBA. Powered floor equipment, including electric- and battery-powered floor buffers and burnishers, must be equipped with guards or other devices for capturing fine particulates. Battery-operated equipment must be equipped with “environmentally preferable” gel batteries, while powered equipment must be ergonomically designed to minimize vibration, noise and user fatigue.
Requirements are no less prescriptive for soaps (no antimicrobial agents except where required by health codes), janitorial paper products, floor finishes and, of course, cleansing agents, for which volatile organic compounds are components non gratis. Cleaning personnel must adhere to specified dilutions in order to minimize chemical use.
For their part, owners are required to draft a “Green Cleaning Policy” that identifies scope, goals, performance metrics, procedures, responsible parties and timeframes. Additionally, they must address procedures and materials, such as the purchase of sustainable floor and carpet care products. Likewise, they must develop guidelines for hand hygiene and safe handling of cleaning agents, and must draft protocols for staffing and training maintenance personnel, including use, disposal and recycling of cleaning agents. Finally, owners must implement procedures for occupant feedback and continuous improvement in sustainable technologies and processes.