If you’re one of the few jan/san distributors that hasn’t yet heard about LEED-EB, get ready — you will. But the extent to which your business will be affected by the popular green-building rating system remains to be seen. In fact, you might be able to successfully avoid discussions of LEED-EB altogether for some time yet, either by choice or by chance. LEED is still in an early state of adoption — there are only 24 certified buildings and slightly more than 100 registered projects — but it’s poised for major growth, according to industry players.

Knowing the basics of LEED and LEED-EB can only benefit a janitorial supply distributor. The topic may come up in the context of “green” discussions with customers at any time, so it’s best to be prepared to address the issues intelligently.

What Is LEED?
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB), is a national voluntary standard to certify green buildings. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), there are also LEED programs in place for certification of new construction and renovation projects. LEED-EB is the USGBC program with the closest ties to the cleaning industry — 13 or more points toward certification can be earned by meeting cleaning-related goals; 32 total points are required for the minimum certification.

Cleaning-related points can be earned for such things as efficient entryway matting systems, strategically placed janitorial closets and the use of green-cleaning products and equipment.

The program is likely to grow in popularity as building managers become more aware of the program’s benefits, and as others lay the groundwork for successful implementation in their own buildings.

The growth of LEED-EB is just one indication of the increasing use of “green” practices in the cleaning industry. Green, in general, is within the reach of any facility, contractor or distributor, regardless of size or resources. The building service contractors SM interviewed for this article embraced green practices long before they got involved with helping customers become LEED-EB certified. Those that have been most successful in selling green products and practices did so by making a concerted decision to institute green practices because they fully believe in the benefits.

Believing In Green
Some industry BSCs were among the first to get involved with cleaning LEED-certified buildings. For many, buying into the green building program was simple since they had already established green programs within their business models.

Based in Montebello, Calif., David Rosenstein’s company is on the cutting edge when it comes to green offerings — his company, Intex Solutions Inc., services eight to 10 LEED-certified buildings. But Rosenstein’s company was green long before LEED came on the scene — Intex has been green cleaning for the past 10 years.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have a separate green division,” he says. “We do the same cleaning in all the buildings we have.”

Intex, a $4-$5 million company, uses green chemicals, HEPA vacuums, and disposes of or recycles waste in accordance with green standards. Some customers don’t care either way, while others are appreciative of green’s benefits.

Whatever the case, Intex must educate facility managers.

“We find that very few people actually call us up and say they’re interested in having a green cleaner,” Rosenstein says. “What we find is when we go out and start talking to the customer, they see it as a value-add.”

UNICCO Service Co., Newton Mass., is another company where green is standard operating procedure. Company involvement started with the National Geographic Society, a LEED pilot project in Washington D.C., in 2002. UNICCO helped that facility achieve LEED certification, then extended the concept into its everyday operations. “It’s not just chemicals, it’s the way you look at and operate your program,” says Chuck Restivo, senior director of operations for UNICCO.

UNICCO launched its branded green program about a year ago. The company seeks to educate customers on the products and procedures available, then lets them choose from a menu of green services and products. Since then, a number of facilities have chosen green.

OneSource, a national facility maintenance company based in Atlanta, offers a three-pronged approach to customers with green aspirations.

The first step is easy: “Wherever possible, we use green products as a normal course of cleaning operations,” says Angela Gustafson, vice president of marketing services for the company.

The second level incorporates some slightly more expensive tools, Gustafson says, including vacuums with HEPA filters, for example, or more robust matting systems or microfiber.

“Level 3 is the pinnacle of green programs we offer,” Gustafson explains. “We get involved with customers who are formally pursuing LEED certification. Less than 2 percent of our customer base is even pursuing it, but the vast majority are in Level 1 or 2.”

Regardless of their adoption level, OneSource educates customers on LEED certification, and suggests a course of action to earn certain points — LEED’s criteria are used as a framework of sorts.

“We help clients understand that there are many phases or levels, and you don’t have to jump in head first and have this as a goal from the get-go — that you can start with some steps, some low- or no-cost decisions.”

“Right now we are in the mass education phase, and we’re sowing seeds that will bear fruit later,” says Gustafson. “We didn’t make the investment in the program because we thought it would double sales — we believe it’s the right thing to do.”

Intex shares that idealism — company executives are always on the lookout for greener products.

The company no longer uses products that don’t meet Green Seal standards. Intex also has no use for distributors who don’t work to help them meet their green goals. The company is in the process of “firing” one of its distributors right now. After asking the distributor for help in getting a manufacturer to remove certain compounds from its chemicals, the distributor proved non-responsive, Rosenstein says. “So we contacted the manufacturer directly, and asked for another distributor.”

Rosenstein has some advice for jan/san distributors: “I guess what I would like to see is the distributor being a lot more knowledgeable in this area,” he says. “I talk to them and I usually know a lot more than they do. They should be helping to educate me and not the other way around.”

Thompson, too, is disappointed in distributors’ level of knowledge regarding green products and programs.

“They don’t seem proactive in this,” he says. “They’re going to have to catch up. I do feel strongly that this will be a huge issue in the next 24 to 36 months.”

Although Thompson’s company doesn’t currently service any LEED certified buildings, it’s looking to. He’s been in contact with a handful of building managers who are in the process of achieving LEED certification for new construction, and when those buildings are complete, they’re going to want to maintain them in the same environmentally preferable way.

Distributors: Get Informed, Get Involved
Distributors need not sit back and wait for green to creep up on them. Stephen Ashkin, of The Ashkin Group, Bloomington, Ind., and a LEED-EB Core Committee member, says the first thing distributors should do if they’re interested in LEED, or green programs, is to join the USGBC. Once they join, he suggests they become active with a local chapter.

“The main thing that it can do for them is to introduce them to people, and they can take advantage of being around people that have an interest in green-cleaning products and services,” Ashkin says.

On top of that, Ashkin says the attendees probably know very little about cleaning, putting distributors in the advantageous position of being able to provide that knowledge and information. “It allows them to build a ground-floor relationship, which strategically is very valuable.”

Stu Carron, chair of the LEED-EB Committee for the USGBC, says there are a number of ways distributors can promote LEED to their customers.

“It’s very important for distributors not just to be aware of LEED-EB but to be aware of the nuances and requirements of LEED-EB,” Carron says. “Distributors can help customers document procurement activities and expand product offerings in alignment with LEED-EB.” Distributors might help customers develop quarterly reports and record what’s spent and where on products.

Distributors should consider expanding product lines to include products that would help customers earn them more than the 13 cleaning-related credits, suggests Carron. “Jan/san distributors can also think about expanding product lines into low-mercury lightbulbs or waterless urinals,” he says.

But not every customer is seeking LEED certification, Ashkin adds.

Distributors should be able to identify whether customers are candidates for LEED-EB certification, or a less regimented green program, he says.

“LEED-EB at this point is a subset of every building that is interested in green cleaning,” says Ashkin.

If it’s a green-cleaning program customers are after, Ashkin suggests that distributors use LEED-EB criteria as a roadmap for the development of a green-cleaning program. This is important for two reasons, Ashkin contends.

As LEED-EB grows in popularity, the facility will already have the groundwork in place so that if they want to pursue LEED certification, they’re already on their way.

Also, at some point a distributor’s competitor will come in trying to promote their own green program by discounting the current one.

“LEED-EB, when used as a roadmap, can be used to justify all of the decisions they’ve made,” Ashkin says. “It helps them give some validity to the basic strategy they use when putting together their unique green-cleaning program.”

LEED-EB Enhancements
Why do those affiliated with LEED expect such tremendous growth? For a number of reasons, including the fact that current and certified projects will serve as examples of LEED’s success that others can follow.

The LEED-EB Committee also intends to take steps to make the certification process more accessible.

“As it becomes easier, it will serve to accelerate the adoption of LEED-EB,” Ashkin explains.

Secondly, now that the program is in its second version and is receiving feedback about that, the committee is in the process of refining and clarifying the credit-earning criteria.

The committee also works to ensure that LEED-EB aligns with changes in other USGBC programs.

“The other aspect of the LEED-EB Committee’s work is staying in touch with the marketplace and knocking down barriers to adopting this as a standard for continuous improvement,” says Carron. This involves marketing the fact the standard is easy to understand.

Finally, when some government agencies expressed that the registration fee — $3,000 — was a difficult hurdle for their organizations, the LEED-EB committee decided to lower that fee to $500, so cost is often ruled out as an argument against it.

LEED-EB’s committee is making a concerted effort to target organizations where its initiative will have the greatest impact. Carron says one recent accomplishment was a commitment from 11 major organizations to use LEED as the framework for running buildings within their entire facility portfolios — some of the companies manage hundreds of buildings.

Green Will Spread
Distributors have much to gain by being pioneers in the green movement.

“The advantage is to be the first and a leader in the field,” says Carron. “Then they have a competitive advantage when things take off. In the next couple of years you’re going to see an explosion in the number of buildings going through the certification process.”

“What I want to encourage distributors is that this is something that’s really happening,” says Ashkin, “even if customers haven’t been beating down their doors demanding green products. This is the time for [distributors] to become educated, and put their programs together,” Ashkin continues. “It’s going to influence our industry, and the better prepared they are, the easier they can take advantage of it from a business perspective.”

After all, the ultimate goal is to create better indoor environments for people, and that can’t be a bad thing.