“People often don’t realize how broad green cleaning really is,” says Jennifer Easton, communications associate for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). “It goes far beyond cleaning and encompasses everything from pest management to using sustainable agents to recycling to handling hazardous materials.”

This can be a lot for managers to wrap their arms around. Fortunately, a method exists to help custodial operations get a firm grip on what’s involved in greening their practices. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the USGBC, in particular LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EBOM), aids building managers in greening their operation.

Mike Opitz, principal at The Cadmus Group and former vice president of LEED implementation, stresses that LEED-EBOM targets market transformation. In other words, the USGBC researched the best green practices utilized by top performing buildings and compiled them. Achieving certification means a building utilizes tried-and-true sustainability practices.

“When you follow LEED guidelines, you’re running a building in a way that’s proven to be the best out there,” says Opitz. “And, it saves you money, provides better health and satisfaction for occupants and reduces the impact on the environment.”

But what is LEED-EBOM anyway? And what roll does the custodial department play in attaining certification?


According to the USGBC website, the LEED-EBOM rating system helps building operators measure operations, improvements and maintenance, with the goal of maximizing operational efficiency and minimizing environmental impacts. LEED-EBOM addresses whole-building cleaning and maintenance issues (including chemical use), recycling programs, exterior maintenance programs and system upgrades.

Facilities seeking certification can earn points or credits in the following areas:
• Sustainable Sites
• Water Efficiency
• Energy and Atmosphere
• Materials and Resources,
• Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)
• Innovation in Operations
• Regional Priority

But IEQ is really where the custodial focus lies, says Easton. Here, a total of six green cleaning credits are specifically related to custodial activity and effectiveness. To illustrate the importance of these credits, consider that it takes:
• 40-49 credits to be certified
• 50-59 credits to achieve a Silver rating
• 60-79 credits to achieve a Gold rating
• 80+ credits to reach a Platinum rating

“Green cleaning plays a large role in the broader picture of operating and maintaining a sustainable building,” says Bill Balek, director of legislative affairs at ISSA. “The facility can gain a significant number of points toward certification for a relatively low investment cost.”

For instance, a building can earn a point for performing a Custodial Effectiveness Assessment as outlined by APPA, says Opitz. “If they score a three or better on the APPA scale, they earn a LEED point.”

A credit may also be earned by purchasing green products and materials, including cleaning chemicals, disinfectants, finishes, hand soaps, trash bags and paper products.

“You can earn a point if at least 30 percent of your annual purchases by cost meet LEED’s green criteria,” says Opitz.

Or a facility might opt to purchase green equipment for LEED-EBOM credit. For instance, they may purchase vacuums certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI’s) Green Label program or green carpet extractors certified by the CRI’s Seal of Approval program. Other ergonomic, low-decibel, battery-powered or high-efficiency equipment might also qualify.

Custodial departments can also help obtain LEED-EBOM points by implementing entry mats and reducing tracked-ion contaminants, or developing and maintaining a pest management program.

However, says Opitz, these credits are optional. Facility managers can pick and choose which recommendations to tackle and as long as the facility racks up enough points, they’ll attain certification.

“It’s intended to be flexible since it’s a voluntary program,” he explains.

But there is one specific requirement that all LEED-EBOM certification efforts must fulfill. The IEQ portion requires facilities to craft a green cleaning policy that addresses things such as making sure cleaning care products have specific third-party certification; cleaning equipment meets green criteria; and safe handling procedures are set for chemical storage and handling.

A Seat at the Table

Whatever LEED-EBOM credits facility managers opt to pursue, it’s important to involve the custodial staff if credits fall under custodial responsibility.

“The earlier custodians are involved, the more efficient it is to get things done,” says Steve Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, LLC. “Depending on what services the in-house custodial department is doing — landscaping, cleaning outside the building, recycling in addition to typical janitorial work — they can deliver approximately 10 [cleaning and maintenance] points toward certification.”

Facility managers need to make sure all main stakeholders in the building, including the custodial staff, have a seat at the LEED certification table.

“Any effort to improve the performance of a building is a team exercise,” Opitz says. “It requires collaboration and teamwork.”

The voice of custodial managers and employees must be heard for two primary reasons, he says.
1) These professionals will help the LEED-EBOM team figure out the smartest and most appropriate ways to transition to green cleaning.
2) It increases buy-in among the custodial staff. “The only way to make sure that this isn’t just a paper exercise, but one that will persist over time, is to convince everyone that this is the right thing to do and the best way to do it,” he says, noting this can be difficult if stakeholders do not have input during the planning phases.

Once a building attains certification, adds Easton, it’s of utmost importance to continue involvement of the custodial crew.

“Custodians are on-site every day and they have a lot of expertise in their field,” she says. “They can tell you what’s working, what’s not and what needs to change.”

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.