A few years ago, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) program caught the attention of green-savvy building service contractors. They discovered they could help their customers achieve LEED-EB certification through changing the way they cleaned; cleaning and recycling could contribute nearly a third of the points needed for basic certification.

Some BSCs, especially on the coasts and in Washington D.C., jumped on the bandwagon and pitched the program to their customers, while others took a more wait-and-see attitude.

Since then, LEED has continued to pick up interest from contractor and customer alike. But has business picked up for BSCs with the know-how?

It has, and it hasn’t, say contractors who have been actively trying to persuade their clients to work with them to pursue certification. Many customers seem interested, but then don’t follow through with operational and contract changes, or with cash.

“I’ve been trying to educate my customers on the benefits of LEED,” says Jim Thompson, president of A-One Building Services Inc. in Wyoming, Mich. “The larger corporations have jumped on it, and some got involved early. But most of my customers have a hard time understanding the value of it.”

Thompson has used the tried-and-true persuasion techniques, to no avail.

“I tell them, for one, if they want to be a leader in their area, do LEED,” he says. “It’ll be tremendously helpful for public relations and for doing the right thing.”

The problem is, Thompson says, is bureaucracy — many of his clients are hospitals, and while his contacts seem eager, the higher-ups don’t believe LEED or cleaning are priorities.

However, some BSCs report their existing customers approaching them for guidance when they build new facilities under another LEED program.

New construction the key?
LEED-NC, or LEED for New Construction, is just that — an environmental certification program for new commercial and institutional buildings. Most of the points given toward LEED-NC come from the building’s design and construction processes and materials, not from cleaning. However, indoor air quality and recycling are areas in which BSCs can participate. In addition, after a LEED-NC building is constructed and certified, facility managers can also apply for LEED-EB, and cleaning practices contributing to that certification will already be in place.

Brophy Services, Syracuse, N.Y., got into LEED-NC when a customer put up the first LEED-NC building in the county, a facility that serves adults with developmental disabilities. Owner Tom Brophy, a member of Green Seal’s advisory committee, was in a good position to help.

“We helped them set up a program and worked carefully with their construction contractor to plan for and initiate maintenance of the facility after it was built,” Brophy says. “That included recycled paper products, and what type of floor wax and glass cleaner to use. We set up the protocol for how to maintain the carpets and with what equipment.”

Doing this from the ground up may only have contributed a little, points-wise, to LEED-NC certification, but it was cost-effective and efficient, and made Brophy’s best practices an integral part of the building’s design. Cleaning wasn’t an afterthought.

In that case, the client approached Brophy about LEED, but for a second customer, Brophy was the one who did the convincing.

“One of our customers is an international government contractor, and they’re putting up a new building,” he says. “We’ve convinced them to do green cleaning in the past, and now their new building will be LEED.”

And, this has had a ripple effect in this client’s other buildings.

“Because of what they learned in the LEED part of the new building, they’re letting us change out all of the dispensers in their old building,” he says. “It’s amazing how one thing changes everything.

“We’ve also been able to convince other clients who have no knowledge of this not necessarily to become LEED buildings, but to convince them how green cleaning affects IAQ, and how that affects sick time and employee performance,” Brophy says. “They understand that they can do better for their employees and customers.”

Step by step
Contractors committed to green cleaning, but frustrated by the lack of progress in getting their customers to consider LEED, should realize it’s not all or nothing, says Brophy.

“You can do it little by little,” he says. “Just change your cleaning solutions. You don’t have to change everything. If the glass cleaner you’re using is already green, just change one or two other things at a time, and you’ll notice the difference. Once you notice the difference, your clients will, and they won’t necessarily mind other changes or costs.”

Thompson agrees.

“Most customers have been open to at least changing to green cleaning,” he says. “With the medical facilities, a few of the infection-control people were reluctant, but I’ve got a few facilities signed off.”

And, he says, that incremental approach is working, and he may have a LEED customer soon.
“I’m working with a customer right now who’s starting a new facility in the fall, and I’ve given them LEED documents and I’ve offered my services,” he says, “They do seem more open to it; they’re receptive, but confused. So I’ve given them 40 or 50 pages of stuff I printed. They’re becoming educated and I’m giving them what they need at no charge. Hopefully, it’ll pan out.”

Practicing what you preach
Brophy is committed to green cleaning for the long haul — so much so that he’s practicing it in his own facility.

“We recently purchased a building on the border of the city,” he says. “We’re in the process of switching things over to LEED-EB, it’s a long hard process, but we’ll do it. We have to change our lighting, air conditioning, furnaces. It’s not just cleaning. But, in my opinion, if you don’t walk the walk, it’s a bunch of BS. We want to walk the walk.”

Be The LEED-er

For a building service contractor to reasonably be able to claim to their customers that they are LEED-savvy, Alan France, director of quality and Engineering at OneSource, an Atlanta-based based facility services provider with 31,000 employees, a companywide green-cleaning program and several LEED customers, suggests taking a few steps.

“The No. 1 thing we as a company need to know and understand is the requirements. You need to know what’s in the LEED standard, and not everybody does,” he explains. “A top pitfall can be not thoroughly understanding the expectations.”

Another step is to partner with chemical suppliers in order to get chemicals that are Green Seal certified or that otherwise meet USGBC’s standards. OneSource, as a large company, is able to partner directly with manufacturers and obtain a line of private-label chemicals, but smaller BSCs should be able to work with distributors.

“You also need to work with your equipment suppliers,” he adds. Make sure vacuums have the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label certification, or the equivalent in particulate capture, noise ratings, efficacy and ergonomics.

“Once you have your equipment together, you need an employee training program, and you need to foster occupant responsibility as well,” he says. Occupant responsibility means making the customer’s employees or tenants aware that there’s a green-cleaning initiative in place, and that they will need to pitch in by eating only in designated areas, quickly reporting a spill so it doesn’t become a stain or hazard, and reducing clutter.