In the average commercial-office account, building service contractors are given wide latitude by their customers to choose the chemicals, equipment and procedures they wish to use for the job. Often, BSCs bring in dozens of products, with varying degrees of health and safety hazards, because that’s what they’ve always done, or because the price of the products was right.

However, buildings with a strong commitment to green cleaning — including government facilities subject to environmentally-preferable procurement specifications, and buildings with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council — are different. Often, the facility manager consults with the contractor to determine the best course; sometimes, they even specify, down to brand names, which products and procedures to use. But contractors willing to work with these demanding customers will be able to reap rewards.

For example, managers at Sandia National Laboratories, a government research facility in Albuquerque, N.M., have long been concerned with reducing the environmental impact of their buildings.

“We got the ‘Green Zia’ [environmental] award in New Mexico. We ended up reducing our 121 cleaning chemicals to 14, most of which are pretty benign” says Jim Rush, facility engineering manager. “We also needed to standardize our tools, so rather than throw out all of the old brooms, we recycled them.”

Sandia contracts out much of its project work, including floor care, window and blind cleaning, duct cleaning, grease-trap maintenance and some exterior power washing. Orlando L. Griego, project manager for service contracts, ensures that the contractors he works with are on board with the facility’s environmental goals.

“We practice teaming/partnering with contractors,” Griego says. “This ensures that they are successful and more importantly, we are successful in completing our mission ... in as safe and efficient a manner possible.”

Griego communicates the department’s mission even before bidding on the contract begins.

“In the [requests for proposals] we specify that all chemicals have to be approved and all discharging into the sewer or storm drains have to be approved,” he says. “Chemicals being used are usually called out in the contract and are part of the contract-pricing agreements. If substitute chemicals are to be used, they have to be approved. Contractors also have to provide a safety plan that is in compliance with our guidelines before any work is assigned to them.”

Through the duration of the contract, Griego performs unannounced inspections of chemicals and processes, to ensure the project is in compliance with all environmental, health and safety issues, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy’s requirements.

Strict specs Other facilities are equally stringent with their cleaning contractors. Bob Cline, director of general services for the National Geographic Society in Washington, also has a partnership with his contractor; the BSC helped the Society achieve its environmental program goals for cleaning and eventually attain LEED-EB (LEED for Existing Buildings) certification.

Cline and his contractor developed a detailed list of product do’s and don’ts, and will require any future BSCs to adhere to these strict standards.

“For our floor coatings and finishes, there can’t be any heavy metals such as zinc,” he explains. “For other chemicals, I require the [material safety data sheets], technical bulletins and affidavits that the chemicals meet [volatile organic compound] requirements set out by the California Air Resources Board. They need to provide a copy of the chemical’s Green Seal certification, if available; if it’s not, they need to provide test data.”

Cline also requires the use of concentrates, with an appropriate method to ensure proper dilution.

Cleaning equipment can’t exceed a certain decibel level, Cline continues. Floor machines must be equipped with skirts and vacuums, when applicable, in order to contain the chemicals and dust. Also, all machines, even those designed for outdoor use, must be battery or electric-powered, to eliminate the need for dangerous fuels. Cline also looks at the recycled content of restroom paper and plastic liners, to ensure they meet his standards.

Craig Sheehy, director of property management at the Joe Serna Jr. California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal-EPA) in Sacramento, has a similar program. His existing contractor helped him lay out an environmental program compatible with LEED. That wasn’t a surprise to Sheehy, though, because, considering Cal-EPA’s environmental focus, he’d already asked the contractors to outline certain green-friendly practices in their bids.

“When I did the initial contract proposal, I asked bidders to prepare a recycling program, and give me information on all of their cleaning chemicals” Sheehy says.

For future contracts, Sheehy will specify brand names, since the facility is down to only three routine chemicals and he doesn’t want to increase that.

“You don’t have to have 60 or 70 chemicals,” he says. “It used to be, if it smelled clean, it was; now, if you can smell it, it’s killing you.”

Also, for future contracts, Sheehy will be looking not only at the chemicals, equipment and procedures the BSC offers, but at the people involved in the company as well.

“Make sure you’ve a lead person who has bought into the program, because buy-in at the top means buy-in through the organization,” Sheehy says. “We’re fortunate — my BSC helped lay out our environmental program, so I already had commitment from a cleaning and a chemical standpoint.”

Environmental advice
Bidding on and working in a LEED-certified or otherwise environmentally aware building might seem daunting. However, Cline says developing a comfort level with green cleaning will not only give a BSC a competitive advantage, but it will soon become a necessity in many areas.

“Any contractor wanting to compete in areas like Washington, D.C., needs to be familiar with LEED and needs to be willing to participate, or they’ll be shut out from many facilities,” Cline says. “There’s no reason for a contractor not to be filling green-cleaning requests anyway. Manufacturers have come a long way — they’re not just meeting sustainability standards, but they’re meeting performance guidelines. They’re good products.”