Building owners and facility managers are increasingly seeking ways to reduce costs and to improve their environmental footprint. One of their highest priorities is the reduction of energy. Residential and commercial buildings in the United States consume 39 percent of total U.S. energy usage and 68 percent of total U.S. electricity. The reason to reduce energy is primarily financial. Energy costs frequently amount to $2 to $4 per square foot and most experts anticipate that energy prices will continue to increase.

Through creating a “culture of sustainability,” janitors can be taught that even the smallest act can contribute to solving difficult problems. When trained to identify and appropriately respond to what they see, they, too, can help reduce energy in the buildings they clean and save their customers money. To this end, the following are some energy conservation strategies for BSCs to consider:

Daytime cleaning. One of the most impactful opportunities is cleaning during the building’s normal hours of operations. Cleaning at night when the building is otherwise vacant requires energy for lights, heating, cooling and ventilation that could be turned off or reduced. Switching cleaning functions to the hours when the building is normally operated can save an estimated 4 to 6 cents per square foot or 2 to 3 percent of total electricity use.

Turn off lights. Janitors can be trained to turn off lights in the areas that they are cleaning, and a culture of sustainability would have them turn off lights when passing any area where lights are on unnecessarily. While some lights need to be on even when areas are unoccupied for security purposes, those lights can easily be identified so that they are not mistakenly turned off.

Report malfunctioning lights. Janitors can serve as the “eyes and ears” of facility management by reporting what they see during their normal cleaning activities. Janitors can be trained and provided with simple reporting tools (i.e. repair tickets) on a variety of issues such as fluorescent lights that are not properly functioning or burned out. Mistakenly, many think when fluorescent bulbs have burned out they are no longer consuming electricity, but that’s not true. The ballasts in the fixtures continue to use electricity.

Report electrical equipment that operates unnecessarily. As with lights, janitors can be trained and provided with repair tickets to report on electrical equipment such as computers, printers, copy machines, coffee pots, space heaters, fans and more that operate unnecessarily after hours or on weekends. And many buildings could reduce wasted energy by turning off vending machines in evenings and certainly over weekends and holidays when the building is unoccupied.

Coil cleaning. The majority of refrigerated equipment operates most efficiently when the cooling coils are kept clean. Janitors can periodically vacuum the coils to remove dust, dirt, lint, debris, rodent nests and other unwanted materials that inhibit cooling and increase energy demands.

Clean with cold water. Heat indeed aids cleaning. But improvements in chemistry allow modern cleaning products to get the job done in the same amount of time without the use of heat. Heating water is a huge consumer of energy, especially in carpet care and laundry operations.

Use energy-efficient equipment. It is becoming increasingly important to pay attention to the amount of energy used by floor and carpet care equipment. Electric motors consume energy and not all equipment is the same, nor are the batteries they use. Using cleaning equipment that is effective and also the most energy efficient, can help reduce the consumption of electricity.

Stephen Ashkin is the president of The Ashkin Group, executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, cofounder of Green Cleaning University and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools LLC — all of which play important roles in his efforts to move the global cleaning industry from green to sustainable. He can be reached at