Feature Article - April 2012
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Maintenance & Operations

Don't Reinvent the Wheel
Follow LEED Practices to Green Your Cleaning

By Tammy York

Whether you have an existing building, one under renovation or a completely new building, LEED certification requires sustainable green cleaning. Green cleaning is a process of cleaning the facility in such a manner as to not introduce toxic chemicals, which can affect indoor air quality. Good indoor air quality results in fewer sick days, higher performance levels and less cleaning overall.

Many of the problems with toxic chemicals traditionally used for cleaning have been brought to light in the past 10 years. By opting to go with green methods for cleaning, your organization can set a positive example for your constituents and the community to follow.

Established Systems

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has an established program for Existing Buildings Operation and Maintenance. This program is specifically tailored to existing buildings and does not need capital improvement projects to achieve LEED certification. The LEED Existing Buildings: Operation and Maintenance (LEED-EB: O & M) has specific parameters to assist with developing a green cleaning program.

The LEED for Existing Buildings Rating System helps building owners and operators with operations, improvements and maintenance on a consistent scale, with the goal of maximizing operational efficiency while minimizing environmental impacts. LEED-EB: O & M addresses whole-building cleaning and maintenance issues (including chemical use), recycling programs, exterior maintenance programs and systems upgrades. It can be applied both to existing buildings seeking LEED certification for the first time and to previously certified LEED buildings under New Construction, Schools, or Core and Shell.


Before any green cleaning program begins, it's important to assess the current situation and what changes need to be made. "Look at the effectiveness of the custodial process—is it clean and is it sanitary," said Shawn Hesse, architect and sustainability consultant with Emersion Design, an architectural design and engineering firm specializing in green building designs. "By doing a custodial cleanliness and effectiveness audit, you can determine how well the building is being cleaned and take an objective look at where you need to focus."

For example, waste stream management is an integral part to maintaining a building. Waste stream management includes paper, toner cartridges, glass, plastics, cardboard, corrugated cardboard, batteries, food waste and metals. It is important to collect and analyze information about the quantity and type of waste that is being generated.

"We have a garbologist on staff that evaluates the trash and recycling being produced by the facility," said Barbara Luna, marketing and sustainability director with FBG Service Corp., a national service company. "We evaluate to see if the company is using the right-sized collection units for trash and recycling." Plastics, glass, metals and batteries all can be recycled.

A facility can save a lot of money by not having more waste and recycling collections than necessary. A centralized area in the building where everyone takes their own recycling and dumps it into the collection area will help determine the quantity of recycling that is being produced. Often companies realize that there is more recycling than waste, and the collection cycles need to be adjusted accordingly.

"It is important to do a baseline inventory to evaluate what you're already doing that is already green," Hesse said. "Your organization might already be doing green things and not realize it. By showing what you're already doing, you can help create buy-in. What you are doing and simple things you can be doing is the low-hanging fruit." For example, switching cleaning products to Green Seal certified cleaning products that cost the same or less than traditional chemicals is an easy and simple change to make.