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.

Choosing the Right Chemicals

"To begin the process of switching over, a custodial manager should create an inventory of the products they are currently using and cross check it against the list of green products," said Hesse. "Focus on chemicals that are certified by a third-party nonprofit group such as Green Seal."

Since 1989, Green Seal, a nonprofit organization, has used science-based programs to empower customers, purchasers and companies to create a more sustainable world. Green Seal developed lifecycle-based sustainability standards for products, services and companies and offers third-party certification for those that meet the criteria in the standard.

"You have to have a green policy program," Luna said. "Green Seal certifies the chemicals and GreenGuard certifies the process."

The GreenGuard Environmental Institute (GEI) was founded in 2001 with the mission of improving human health and quality of life by enhancing indoor air quality and reducing people's exposure to chemicals and other pollutants. In keeping with that mission, GEI certifies products and materials for low chemical emissions and provides a free resource for choosing healthier products and materials for indoor environments.

Green Seal certified products aren't necessarily more expensive than traditional products. One example is hand soaps. For example, if you switch from gel hand soap to foaming hand cleansers, the foaming cleansers last longer and also cost less. "You can save 25 percent just by switching to a greener soap," Hesse said.

Filtering the Air

A proper filtration system plays a big role in cleaning the air. Unfortunately, increasing the effectiveness of the filtration is not as easy as simply switching out filters. It is important that the mechanical system is balanced. If you increase the effectiveness of the filtration, the fan is going to have to work harder to push the air through the system. If you are increasing the effectiveness of the filtration system, it is important to commission a certified HVAC to properly adjust the mechanical system as well as the right mix of outdoor and indoor air.

"The mechanical system will need to be balanced to provide the right amount of air flow, making sure that the air is supplied to all the building spaces," Hesse said. "If the dampers are closed in various areas, it will affect how much fresh air is brought in and mixed with the building air."

Green Cleaning in Action

Located in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Dan Beard Council Scout Achievement Center (SAC) is a 27,000-square-foot structure that received LEED Silver Certification in 2009. Although this is a new building, it uses several green cleaning methods that can be incorporated into existing buildings.

"Our objective is to keep the building looking as it did the day it opened for as long as we can," said Mike Swofford, director of program support services for the Dan Beard Council Scout Achievement Center. "We use that as a guideline for keeping everything looking brand-new and sparkling clean."

This begins at the vestibule where most of the dirt is brought into the building. Special mats in the vestibule allow for the dirt and debris to drop down into a collection tray beneath the flow of traffic. The particulates remain in the collection pan rather than being brought into the indoor environment and getting into the air system.

"It is a regular practice to clean out the trays once a week. In wet weather or snow, people's shoes are still wet and tracking in dirt. So we added additional mats to help clean off the shoes," Swofford said. "A cleaning company comes once a week to collect the mats and replace them with clean ones."

Entryway system that incorporates grills, grates and mats helps reduce the amount of dirt, dust, pollen and other particulates entering the building through public entryways. To help eliminate some of the debris, keep the front entryways leading up to the building clean and clear. One way of doing this is to objectively review the plants near the entryway. Avoid trees and shrubs with flowers, fruits, seeds or leaves that are likely to fall or be blown into the walkway and then tracked into the building.

Dusting, Vacuuming, and Deep Cleaning

Use a microfiber cloth to dust with as the fibers seemingly soak up the dust rather than disperse it into the air like a feather or cotton-rag duster does. "Use microfiber for everything including dusting, polishing, cleaning and mopping," Luna said. "Microfiber changed the cleaning industry and is key to effective indoor air quality because it acts as a vacuum cleaner for dust."

A high-grade bagged vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter is a must for indoor air quality. HEPA filters can remove the tiniest particles down to the submicron level. Vacuum cleaners must be certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute "Green Label" Testing Program and operate at a sound level of less than 70 decibels.

If the carpets need to be professionally steam-cleaned, get it done during off-peak times to allow plenty of time for any pollutants or chemicals to be filtered out of the air. Carpet extraction equipment used for restorative deep cleaning must be certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute's "Seal of Approval" Testing Program for deep-cleaning extractors.

Powered maintenance equipment including electric and battery powered for buffers and burnishers must be equipped with vacuums, guards and other devices for catching fine particulates and operate with a sound level of less than 70 decibels.

If you are seeking LEED-EB: O & M certification, you must keep a log of all powered cleaning equipment and document the date of purchase, repair, maintenance activities, and include vendor specification sheets.

Green Method Learning Curve

"Determine how recycling fits into cleaning. We found our quantity of recycling was much more than anticipated," Swofford said. "We produce twice as much recycling as trash. We initially didn't have enough recycling containers and didn't have the recycling removal service often enough. We had to reorganize how we were collecting recycling and increase the number of pickup days."

With the Scout Achievement Center being open to the public, it was important to educate the people using the building on green cleaning practices. "One of the issues we have is there's a lot of public usage of the building with people who aren't here on a regular basis. Initially we weren't prepared to educate them on the green cleaning practices," Swofford said. "Now, we actually provide people who use the conference room with information on how to clean it."

Another problem was public complaints about there not being enough recycling containers available. In actuality, there were plenty of containers, but the containers were color coded and not clearly identified for recyclables. Once the containers were clearly labeled complaints ceased.

"It's important to identify the cleaning products that are green products," Swofford said. "It was a challenge for us to find green products because they weren't as readily available as common traditional cleaners you can find on the shelves in any grocery store."

There are several reputable vendors that can supply high-grade Green Seal certified cleaning products and provide advice in how to clean, streamline cleaning, and manage inventory and equipment.

"Part of the LEED certification plan is to provide continuous training, but it wasn't until we were practicing it that we realized what it meant to provide continuous training on the cleaning policy," Swofford said. "Putting it into practice was harder. As you have staff turnover, you need to train the new people on the green cleaning practices."

Going for LEED-EB: O & M?

"Opting for green cleaning practices isn't going to cost you any more, and you aren't going to have to clean as often," Luna said. "You can tell the difference when you walk into a LEED-certified building. It doesn't have any odors and you feel good."

LEED-EB: O & M certification parameters have several variables that need to be met such as a gross floor space of at least 1,000 square feet and that the building is a permanent structure. The building also must be occupied either at full-time equivalent occupancy or at a minimum occupancy rate for at least 12 continuous months prior to the submission for review. In addition, you must commit to sharing whole building energy and water usage data.

LEED Minimum Program Requirements (MPR) list the basic characteristics that a project must possess to be eligible for certification under the LEED rating systems. The MPR for LEED-EB:

O & M states that the LEED project building, all other real property within the LEED project boundary, any project work and all normal building operations occurring within the LEED project building and the LEED project boundary must comply with applicable federal, state and local building-related environmental laws and regulations in place where the project is located. This condition must be satisfied from the commencement of the LEED project's initial LEED-EB: O & M performance period through the expiration date of the LEED certification.

Basically, it means you need to follow all the applicable laws and regulations before, during and after submitting your project for review. Some examples of laws that would need to be followed are the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and OSHA Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness. Following the laws and regulations already on the books at the federal, state and local levels helps to establish the baseline standard.

LEED-EB: O & M certification is based on building operation performance including exterior and site maintenance, efficient and optimized use of energy and water, environmentally preferred products and food, waste stream management, indoor environmental quality, and green cleaning programs.

A green cleaning policy is a prerequisite for certification pursuant of the LEED-EB: O & M. A high-performance cleaning program includes appropriate staffing; training of maintenance personnel regarding the hazards, use, maintenance, disposal or recycling and cleaning chemicals, dispensing equipment and packaging; the proper use of chemical concentrates with the appropriate dilution systems; the use of sustainable cleaning materials, products and equipment; and the use of sustainable hard floor and carpet care products.

"The green practices are essential to being green operational building and LEED certification but more important to us is the education of those practices to others," Swofford said. "We're not perfect, but what is really important is educating our scouts and the people who use the building so they will implement the green cleaning practices into their lives. We have guides that they can take with them and we have information on our Web site so that people and our scouts learn from it and can be conscientious of the environment as well."

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