Earlier this year, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) unveiled updated guidelines for its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) program. LEED-Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance — a new way to refer to LEED-EB — specifies that green cleaning must be practiced in buildings seeking certification and requires a prerequisite green cleaning policy.

A total of nine green cleaning points, categorized in the Indoor Environmental Quality bracket, can be attained — though many of them encompass more than just cleaning. They address sustainability of products and equipment, entryway systems and pest management, and assessment of custodial effectiveness.

Building service contractors that have embraced green cleaning and been involved in LEED projects have hailed the update as a major improvement in the LEED guidelines.

“Those new guidelines have taken a quantum leap over the old guidelines of 2007 and are very detailed and specific in cleaning effectiveness and the standard that must be used, equipment that must be used, training protocols, performance metrics and so on,” says Bruce Albright, vice president of PJS Services in Houston and LEED-Accredited Professional (AP).

Getting Specific

Just any “green” product won’t do; the USGBC only allows those that have been third-party certified — those deemed safe for humans and the environment by organizations such as GreenSeal — to be used toward green cleaning credits.

The first point deals with high-performance cleaning programs that are required to address an appropriate staffing plan, training, chemical concentrates and dilution systems, sustainable materials such as microfiber, and sustainable cleaning products and equipment.

Many of those topics are addressed in more detail in credits 3.4-3.6, which deal with the purchase of sustainable cleaning products and materials. Up to three points can be attained, one for each 30 percent of total annual purchases by cost that meet sustainability criteria for certain cleaning and janitorial products. So, if a building uses 30 percent of its budget to purchase products that fit the bill, one point is rewarded; if a building uses 90 percent of its budget to buy sustainable products under the criteria, it gets three points.

The specific product standards, mainly from Green Seal and Environmental Choice, that must be met are listed under each criteria category.

“The efficacy is generally the first thing that we’re going to measure” rather than cost, when deciding which certified products to use, says Ken Sargent, support services administrator for Porter Industries Inc., Loveland, Colo. The company’s headquarters became LEED-EB certified last year, making it the first BSC in the U.S. to do so.

The field of green products — and of certified products that can be used in LEED facilities — has grown dramatically, with some exciting developments, Sargent says.

Sargent is impressed with green floor finishes that perform at the same level as conventional finishes and strippers, despite having taken the heavy metal out of the conventional chemical composition, as well as with safer and degradable degreasers.

“I think the one misperception that we find the most is that the only piece of this is the chemical exchange and that is a dangerous myth,” Sargent says.

If changing chemicals is all that needs to be done, then any organization can do it, he says, whereas LEED offers a much more holistic way to approach environmental sustainability.

“Is it a concentrate so we’re not hauling water and making additional CO2? Is it packaged in a way that we can recycle and don’t just throw it in a landfill? All of those things matter to some of the certifying bodies and not all of those things matter to others,” Sargent says.

Beyond Products

Albright says that when he asks facility managers if they’ve talked to their BSCs about green cleaning, many answer that they are frustrated that the discussions focus solely on cleaning products.

“Green cleaning is really cleaning for health and safety, then the environment, and most people focus entirely on the products, forgetting about health and safety,” Albright says.

A few BSCs have taken steps to apply LEED philosophies on all green accounts. Gene Hintze, owner of Service Master Commercial Maintenance Systems, Winston-Salem, N.C., and LEED-AP, says green chemicals now have to go beyond efficient.

“We want something that’s not only effective but that doesn’t have the volatile organic compounds, doesn’t have dyes, doesn’t have perfumes in them — anything that can adversely affect a hypersensitive individual in a facility,” Hintze says. “We want to make sure that we’re not taking that product into a facility, whether it’s LEED certified or not.”

The LEED process helps BSCs and facility owners understand that many things matter: using products and equipment that are less disposable, taking ergonomics and worker safety into account, caring for the health and wellness of building occupants, capturing particulate matter, operating at reduced sound levels, using certain types of batteries and more.

“There’s a whole section of equipment specs and as you go through them it’s just natural to start thinking about the ergonomics and safety and that sort of thing,” Albright says.

Credit 3.7 deals with cleaning equipment, requiring: that vacuum cleaners are certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) “Green Label” testing program, operating at less than 70 decibels; that deep-cleaning extraction equipment be certified by CRI’s “Seal of Approval” testing program; and that electric and battery-powered floor buffers and burnishers are equipped to capture fine particulates and operate at less than 70 decibels. It also addresses emissions and sound levels on propane equipment, autoscrubber pumps and metering, the use of environmentally preferable gel batteries, ergonomic design and safeguards such as rollers and rubber bumpers.

Certain processes, such as color-coding to prevent cross-contamination, are not yet specified in the guidelines, but still are very important considerations, Albright says.

“If you’re always using a blue rag and you’re cleaning the restroom and you’re using a cleaning standard that doesn’t incorporate team cleaning, then there’s a huge potential that the custodian could go from restroom space to office space using the same rag,” he says.

Using grilles, grates and matting to reduce the amount of particulate coming into a building through entryways can earn another green cleaning point.

Sargent recalls one portion of a green building seminar he was speaking at, when, during a discussion of entryways, someone in the audience stood up and questioned the significance of the topic. After explaining the role entryway systems can play in preventing dust and pollutants from coming into buildings — and that each pound of particulates that doesn’t enter means savings on cleaning costs — Sargent helped the man understand why they’re so important. It’s moments like that, he says, that underscore how helpful LEED green cleaning specifications are in relation to the bigger sustainability issue.

Three final points address auditing of cleaning procedures as well as pest control. Up to two points can be earned by implementing, managing and auditing cleaning procedures and processes using APPA’s “Custodial Staffing Guidelines,” and one point can be gained by developing an indoor pest management program that is the least toxic and most effective.

Having a strong familiarity with LEED-Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance specifications has lent credibility to BSCs that have a LEED-AP on staff, says Hintze.

“We can speak to a lot of things in a facility beyond just emptying wastebaskets and cleaning restrooms,” he says. “Recycling programs — just about anything you can think of that’s green in a facility, having gone through a LEED-AP process and having that designation and that expertise, we’re able to speak intelligently to that with our current clients and prospective clients and help them transition their facilities into much greener facilities then they have been in the past.”