Maintenance Series: Eco-Friendly

Clean and Green
Eco-Friendlier Maintenance Practices

By Dawn Klingensmith

It's one of the pressing questions of our time: Which is better, hand dryers or paper towels?

Joking aside, knowing the answer once and for all would be of benefit to the environment as well as your bottom line. Several studies have compared the environmental costs of dryers and towels, calculating how much energy is used in their production and how much upkeep is required when a facility uses one vs. the other. Research suggests hand dryers are the greener choice most of the time, and they don't disperse germs as previously feared. Still, a 2008 study indicated that European consumers much prefer paper towels over dryers in public washrooms (63 percent vs. 28 percent). And your customers' preferences are important, right?

Our purpose here is not to weigh in on this debate, but to hold it up as an example of the types of issues encountered by facility owners who resolve to "green up" their maintenance programs with an eye toward conserving resources and reducing operating costs.

Other commonly voiced concerns (in no particular order or degree of seriousness): Green cleaning products might not clean as efficiently and effectively as chemical cleaners; eco-friendly facility upgrades have formidable up-front costs; green products are more expensive; and recycled toilet tissue is uncomfortable if not injurious.

Shades of Green

Based in Branford, Conn., and Orlando, Fla., O,R&L Facility Services offers facility and property management as well as janitorial services, taking a sustainable approach to building maintenance wherever possible. "You need to have management's buy-in," said Doris Wasson, a company representative and the Orlando City Hall property manager. "Sometimes they're completely, 100 percent on the green train, and sometimes you have to push things forward slowly, proving along the way that green initiatives actually reduce operating expenses."

One of the first steps in going green, Wasson said, is setting goals and assembling your green team. "Your team cannot just consist of well-intentioned employees who have their own rain barrels and compost piles. You need a professional, preferably a LEED-accredited professional, who can navigate data and forms and calculations necessary to achieve improvement and lower energy costs," she explained.

An expert will also bring to the table knowledge about local and state codes as well as grant and rebate opportunities for green initiatives.

Sometimes the simplest steps toward reaching your green goals are also the most visible. "Start with 'low-hanging fruit' types of things, which thankfully are sometimes the most apparent to building occupants," earning you a halo effect as an early (albeit intangible) return on investment, Wasson said. "Change out paper supplies to post-consumer recycled content. Install high-efficiency hand dryers. Start a recycling program. Swap out landscaping in favor of native drought-resistant varieties. Change irrigation cycles. Capture rainwater for use in potted plants. Install bike racks and sponsor ride-sharing programs."

Resistance to eco-friendly bathroom tissue is on the wane, Wasson added. "Like any other technology, green technology actually gets cheaper as it gets better. Users used to think, 'Brown paper towel equals cheap.' Now, brown equals green."

Power Down

Energy usage is an area where a few simple changes can result in major savings, and certain building upgrades and retrofits will reduce repair and maintenance costs, as well. Depending on how compliant employees are, energy costs can be pared down simply by encouraging them to do the same sorts of common-sense things they do at home to keep their utility bills in line, such as turning off lights when they leave a room. In addition, employees' computer monitors should be set to go into low-power "sleep mode" after a period of inactivity. A screen saver is not the same as sleep mode—monitors still use full power when the screen saver is active. There is software available that enables a local area network to automatically put to sleep monitors not actively being used.

At the end of the workday, computers and other equipment should be turned off and power strips unplugged, as power strips consume energy even when the equipment is off.

There are two things facilities can do right away that feel like baby steps but actually go a long way toward saving energy and money: using compact fluorescent or LED lighting, and installing motion sensors and programmable thermostats.

With motion sensors in place, the lights turn off automatically when a room is unoccupied. Their cost is relatively low, and they usually pay for themselves fairly quickly by lowering energy bills. Programmable thermostats automatically turn the heater and air conditioner on or off according to a predetermined schedule that takes into account hours of operation and occupancy levels.

Energy system upgrades reduce cooling and heating loads, at which point you can consider replacing existing HVAC systems with smaller equipment that uses less energy. Building simulation software is available to show how building systems affect one another.

Follow the LEEDers

The U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Green Building Council "have done a thorough job of creating standards and measures," Wasson said. "Even if you are not going to submit for an Energy Star rating or attempt LEED certification, use those tools as metrics and objectives for your buildings."

The "LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance Registered Project Checklist," for example, addresses water and energy efficiency, as well as building exterior, hardscape and landscape management; erosion control; stormwater management, heat island effect; light pollution; sustainable purchasing and solid waste management policies; indoor environmental quality; and cleaning products and practices.

Certified green cleaning products bear the Green Seal or EcoLogo. GreenGuard and the Environmental Protection Agency's Design for the Environment (DfE) partnership program are also credible endorsements. Look for vacuum cleaners and carpet extraction equipment that is certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label and Seal of Approval programs.

Green cleaning products have come a long way, Wasson said, so don't assume their use will require more elbow grease and therefore add to your labor costs.

Intermediate steps toward greenness include devising an action plan to reduce potable water consumption in restrooms and by using irrigation systems. Install retrofit low-flow faucets and flush valves. In a typical 100,000-square-foot building, automatic sensors and low-flow fixtures will save about 1 million gallons of water annually, Wasson said.

Also, in the intermediate phase, "Complete the Energy Star audit to get your building's rating," Wasson advised. "You can't know where you want to go until you know where you are."

Plus, a complete energy audit will let you know which sorts of "big-ticket investments" will offer the biggest ROI when you're ready to advance to the highest level of greenness, she added.

"Depending on your building's design, type and use you may get the most energy savings, and subsequent dollar savings, by re-lamping and installing LED wherever possible."

Baby Steps, Big Savings

Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, a nonprofit arts and education organization that, in partnership with the National Park Service, formed Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Virginia, adopted a staged approach for its Go Green program. Launched in 2006, the program has resulted in a 20 percent reduction in the foundation's carbon footprint, according to spokeswoman Melissa Chotiner.

"It's not like someone gave us some huge grant. We had to make this work with our budget," said Terre Jones, the foundation's president and CEO.

In the performing arts, as in the parks and recreation sector, "A lot of people push back against green initiatives because they're worried about how to make payroll," he said. "We wanted to set an example and find simple ways to do things that would make a difference."

Using a staged approach, money saved by decreasing energy use was reinvested into the Go Green program and used to purchase items whose up-front costs would take some time to recoup.

"Some examples of how we have reduced energy use and increased efficiencies and savings include simple steps such as replacing light bulbs with energy-efficient ones; using biodegradable food services and reusable or recyclable cups, plates and utensils; and working toward a paperless office environment," Chotiner said.

One of the foundation's first steps was to make recycling easier for employees and patrons. An outdoor venue that allows picnicking, Wolf Trap "gives bags to people so they can do their own sorting and separating and then deposit them in the appropriate receptacles" stationed about the property, Jones said.

In the offices, "People don't have trash bins at their desks—only recycle bins," he added. Communal trash receptacles are centrally located, and since people need to make an effort to throw things away, they are less apt to do so mindlessly.

This could also lower a line-item cost. The Chicago Tribune reported two years ago that the city's Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum had taken some thrifty measures to shape up its budget before resorting to layoffs, among them the removal of trash cans from employee work stations for an annual savings of $2,500 in trash bags.

Take It Outside

An eco-friendly maintenance program extends into the outdoors, where short-sighted landscaping and irrigation practices result in a great deal of waste. When money is tight and eco-friendliness and cost-savings is the goal, neglecting parks and green spaces isn't the answer. Sustainable landscaping in public spaces demonstrates concern for, and commitment to, the local community. Well-maintained parks serve the community better and may inspire neighborhood investment. Well-maintained parks also last longer without additional capital investment.

While landscaping, by definition, is part of the natural environment, it also can be a drain on natural

resources. "The primary concerns are water and power consumption," said Mark Robertson, principal, Mesa Landscape Architects, Little Rock, Ark.

As such, native and drought-tolerant plant species and turf grasses should be specified. Rainwater, soil moisture and air temperature sensors should be used to conserve water, doing away with "a regular watering cycle that is not controlled or coordinated with actual conditions," Robertson added.

Reduce the use of turf grass wherever possible, and use lower-maintenance species where recreational activities call for mown grass. Planting fewer lawns reduces water consumption, fertilizer use, chemical and nutrient loading of groundwater, erosion (because turf grass alternatives have deeper roots) and labor costs. It also eliminates the need for regular mowing, reducing maintenance costs, energy consumption, and air and noise pollution.

When Grass Is Not Green

From a maintenance standpoint, lawns require an inordinate amount of time and resources to maintain. From an environmental standpoint, lawns absorb much less storm water than forests or meadows. Heavily compacted turf soils can be virtually impermeable, compounding storm water runoff problems. Large expanses of turf grass do little to support biodiversity.

Best practices with regard to turf grass include reducing its use, especially in shaded, steeply sloped, natural or hard-to-maintain areas. Replace it wherever possible with mulch, ground covers or native vegetation. Where turf is used, allow it to grow at least slightly higher than conventional mowing height to conserve water and energy, and leave grass clippings after mowing to reduce moisture loss.

While sports fields must be maintained so as to provide a safe playable surface, "There are new ways of irrigating them, using sub-surface drip systems, to where you're only watering the root zone and not just dumping water on top," allowing much of it to evaporate, Robertson said.

Drip irrigation as opposed to spray heads saves water and is better for plant health.

Storm water can be captured and retained onsite and infiltration used instead of piping and draining.

Potable water should be treated as an especially valuable resource, as it takes a significant amount of energy to clean and deliver it. Likewise, storm water should be looked at as a resource. Instead of a nuisance that needs to be managed, storm water should be captured.

Creative water management designs provide educational opportunities, too.

Bug Off

Integrated pest management (IPM) techniques should be part of your maintenance regime to control disease, pests and invasive plants. IPM is a systems approach to pest management based on an understanding of ecology. It relies on preventive measures and biological controls to keep pest populations within acceptable limits. IPM reduces health hazards and soil, water and air pollution. It also reduces costs associated with hazardous waste disposal.

Santa Barbara County in California practices IPM in all areas of its 8,000 acres of parks and open spaces, and has all but eliminated the use of herbicides and pesticides in its South County region. A controlled flame with a burn bottle is used to kill weeds in parking lots, sidewalk cracks and decomposed granite areas, and black plastic covering is used to kill weeds in limited problem areas. The use of mulch in planter beds inhibits weed growth, while also discouraging snails and retaining moisture for plants.

Compost tea, made by steeping compost in water, is used throughout the county for fertilizing and soil enrichment. Eliminating regular use of broad spectrum herbicides does increase the amount of time and cost of weed abatement. In fact, the cost of mechanical weeding, including labor and equipment, costs the county up to 10 times more per square foot than for previous controlled use of herbicide.

However, sustainable landscaping on the whole can save money. North Lake College in Irving, Texas, in 2003 initiated a program to introduce native plants to the campus, with cost reduction as a primary objective. Since implementing the program, irrigation volumes have been reduced by 50 percent or more in converted gardens and landscapes. Labor costs are down 70 percent, and seasonal plant material costs have been eliminated or reallocated.

When it comes to facility maintenance, "green" is not a destination. It's an ongoing process and the philosophy that drives better decision-making on behalf of current and future generations, as well as the planet. As case studies here have shown, there are degrees of green, and little steps can go a long way toward reducing your carbon footprint and operating costs.

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