Jan/san distributors will do just about anything nowadays to demonstrate their expertise. "Walking the talk," as many distributors coin it, has become commonplace, as customers expect distributors to contribute to the green movement in ways that go beyond selling environmentally friendly products.

Over the last couple years, distributors have responded by documenting green practices in their own facilities such as implementing their own green cleaning programs, switching to fluorescent lighting in their warehouses and becoming LEED Accredited Professionals. Recently, two distributors in particular, have surpassed their industry counterparts by taking green to a new high. These distributors, San Diego-based WAXIE Sanitary Supply and Nichols, Spring Lake, Mich., have truly put an environmental lens on their businesses by achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for their own facilities.

WAXIE: Taking The LEED

What began as a simple idea from Charles Wax, president of WAXIE, has materialized into his company gaining widespread industry attention and a moniker that fits the company's new status — "LEEDers."

Having to accommodate for business expansion, Wax had no other choice but to construct new facilities in both the company's Salt Lake City and Mesa, Ariz., markets. Knowing his company's commitment to green, as well as its active involvement with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Wax went to his leadership group and proposed that the company try for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for New Construction (LEED-NC) certification for the two facilities.

The leadership group accepted the proposal and ran with it.

"Because we were putting so much into green, we felt that it was very important for us to promote our own green efforts to our customers," says Rick Hazard, WAXIE's vice president of marketing. "If we were going to promote green and invest in green, we felt that if we have a facility that's LEED, it gives us credibility to go out to our customers and promote green."

Two years later Wax's proposal came to fruition, as WAXIE not only became the first distributor in the sanitary supply industry to operate out of a LEED-certified facility, it had the industry's only two.

The company's first LEED facility opened in July 2009 in Salt Lake City and was certified Silver for LEED-NC in September 2009. The second inventory center , which also received a Silver rating for LEED-NC, opened in Mesa in January 2010 and collected certification in March 2010.

"To hit the Silver LEED certification is quite an accomplishment for us," Wax says. "It is important to us that we provide a state of the art facility to serve the needs of our customers, and that we provide a first class environment for our people to work in."

For 10 months, WAXIE held the distinctive honor as the only jan/san distributor to have a LEED certified facility. Two thousand miles away in the Midwest, however, another jan/san distributor had plans of its own.

Nichols: Another Comes Along

Home to the sustainable office furniture industry, it's no surprise that West Michigan ranks fourth in the nation in the number of LEED certified projects. So, it was only a matter of time before a jan/san distributor with a focus on clean and healthy buildings achieved LEED certification in the region.

That came in June 2010, as Nichols became the first jan/san distributor in Michigan to achieve LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) for its headquarters and inventory center in Spring Lake. After two years of retrofits and upgrades, Nichols' facility qualified for Gold status.

Engaged in helping customers go down the LEED path for several years, Nichols decided to go for LEED certification with its own facility in 2008. Achieving LEED certification, according to Renae Hesselink, the company's vice president of sustainability, was to demonstrate Nichols' commitment to green.

"If you've been involved in sustainability, which we have for a long time, you know that you have to 'walk the talk,'" she says. "We saw this as a way of getting our message out there that we truly believe in it and that this is our way of demonstrating that. It was kind of a no-brainer because green cleaning is such a huge part of LEED-EBOM."

The efficiencies and cost savings the company has noticed thus far are significant, but achieving LEED and going through the process themselves was intended to show the company's expertise in the green arena.

"It was more of setting an example and becoming an expert, so we can then go out to our customers and potential customers and say, 'Hey, we've been through this process, we know how to help you,'" says Hesselink. "We know that if we can be experts and demonstrate our responsibility and help customers that it will help us gain market share. And it has."

LEED Gains

Developed by the USGBC, LEED provides building owners and operators a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

Under LEED-EBOM, facilities can receive up to six credits under its green cleaning prerequisite, including points for using green cleaning products and equipment. In facilities pursuing LEED-EBOM, a distributor can step in and help shape a green cleaning program that meets LEED standards and train cleaning personnel on proper procedures. Under LEED-NC, facilities can earn an Innovation in Design credit for adopting a written green cleaning policy.

Operating out of a LEED facility has numerous benefits for distributors. Besides having a building that has a lesser environmental impact and cheaper operating costs, achieving LEED also boosts a distributor's marketing credibility where they can use their certification as a means for increased recruiting potential and new business opportunities, says Stephen Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, Bloomington, Ind.

"When an organization goes through the LEED process and they've actually put together all the submittals and the policies, that experience is enormously valuable and as a result it makes them a real asset to their customers," says Ashkin. "That experience, the actual hands on doing it, really does create enormous value for a distributor's customers who may also for the first time now be trying to go through it."

Although both WAXIE and Nichols helped customers in the past achieve LEED certification prior to their own certification, the experience they've gained from going down the LEED path themselves has elevated them as credible suppliers in the eyes of their customers.

"Experience speaks volumes," says Rusty Grehm, building engineer with the San Diego Natural History Museum, a customer that WAXIE helped achieve LEED-EBOM certification in December 2009. "If you've been down that road, you can talk to people about that road."

Responsible for the green cleaning credits for the 170,000 square foot museum, WAXIE was tasked with identifying potential areas for improvement. WAXIE created the appropriate formats to document the cleaning effectiveness of the custodial operations and also measured the percentage of green product purchases for the museum.

WAXIE also created green cleaning policies and procedures required under LEED:EBOM that helped the museum reduce the health and environmental impacts associated with cleaning.

Going through the LEED process themselves has helped WAXIE better learn what it takes to help guide customers towards LEED certification, says Keith Schneringer, marketing manager for WAXIE. It also helped WAXIE better anticipate and deal with any potential roadblocks that may arise with a LEED project in the future.

For example, achieving LEED certification better prepared WAXIE in relaying to customers and helping them understand what information needs to be documented in order to be approved by a LEED assessor. If proof of green cleaning products being purchased and green cleaning policies are not documented, there's a good chance that an assessor will not grant the LEED point or points to the facility.

"Going through the process is illustrative, so when you're talking with a customer, we can say, we have walked in your shoes, so to speak. We really do know what you're going through," says Schneringer. "It's not where we just say 'here's a couple products, they're green, here's the documentation, please buy them.' It goes beyond that to 'let us provide you information in a format that we know that would be helpful to you.'"

Nichols has also found a new outlook on LEED because of its own experience.

Before certification, Hesselink says the company fed information and documentation to the LEED consultant working on the customer's project, who then in turn sent it to their LEED administrator. Now, however, since the company received LEED certification, the distributor is able to better maneuver the LEED documentation process by going straight to the architectural firm in charge of the project with the documentation of a green cleaning program.

Eliminating that extra step saves Nichols' customers a significant amount of money that otherwise they would pay a consultant to do. It also can be a deal-sealer when customers choose a distributor to help with the green cleaning portion of a LEED project.

Hesselink believes Nichols now also has less chance of being challenged by the USGBC or Green Building Certification Institute's reviewers because they've went through the process themselves and know what is required for earning each point in the green cleaning portion of LEED.

The potential for errors are less likely to happen or get overlooked now when helping customers pursue LEED certification, says Hesselink.

"Doing it ourselves really made it sink in," she says. "It has I believe raised the level of respect in our region of our company and the capabilities we really can bring to the table."

Prior to its own certification, Nichols helped a number of customers earn LEED-NC certification, but had only been involved in one LEED-EBOM project. Hesselink says by achieving LEED-EBOM certification itself, the company truly was able to learn the differences in green cleaning programs from LEED-NC and LEED-EBOM.

"LEED-EBOM documentation for green cleaning is very different from the Innovation Credit that you can obtain for LEED-NC," says Hesselink. "New Construction, you basically put a green cleaning policy in place, do the required initial training with the staff, document the products that are going to be used in the building. That is understandable because you are moving into a new building and you need to demonstrate what you are going to do."

LEED-EBOM it requires a green cleaning policy as well, but facilities must then demonstrate that they are measuring and tracking their sustainable purchases (proof of purchase), on-going training and support and measuring the effectiveness of the cleaning process to the LEED standard.

The deeper understanding puts Nichols in a great position to leverage its own expertise to win customer accounts, says Hesselink.

More On The Path?

Some jan/san distributors have made the effort to have LEED Accredited Professionals (LEED-AP) on their staff, but other than WAXIE and Nichols, no other distributor has jumped the hurdle to certify their facilities. Because of the market advantages, Ashkin says there is no better time for distributors to take the leap.

"There's about 150,000 LEED Accredited Professionals. The LEED rating system is being written in to state requirements like construction and operating requirements. Universities all over the country are adopting it. It's being done around us, it's just a matter of time before distributors decide that they want to be on the leading edge," says Ashkin. "Some companies are able to do it now and by doing it now, they're getting the marketing benefits, P.R. benefits, the branding benefits, the sales benefits, and they'll have that for years until their competitors decide to do it as well."

Get Involved With Your Local USGBC Chapter

When WAXIE Sanitary Supply first started showing up to its local U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) chapter meetings in San Diego, architects and construction personnel looked down on them and questioned their presence, says Keith Schneringer, the company's marketing manager for WAXIE.

"I'd tell them that green cleaning can make a big contribution to a LEED project and they would say, 'Well, I don't know about that,'" says Schneringer. "Over time we were actually able to educate those folks and be able to do a good enough job where they say we are actually making sense."

WAXIE's involvement in their local chapter has allowed other members, including architects, construction personnel and building owners, to learn about the important role cleaning plays in helping to provide healthy buildings for people and see how green cleaning has a minimal impact on the environment.

By demonstrating its knowledge of green cleaning standards for LEED and LEED credits outside of cleaning, Schneringer says WAXIE earned its stripes and became elevated into leadership positions within the chapter. In fact, Schneringer now serves as president of the San Diego chapter and most chapter events are now held in the company's San Diego facility.

Nichols, Spring Lake, Mich., is also letting their presence be known inside the USGBC circles. Renae Hesselink, the company's vice president of sustainability is the chair for the West Michigan chapter of the USGBC. She says many benefits can be accrued by other jan/san distributors across the country by getting involved with their local USGBC chapters, including having more input in the design of buildings.

"It still happens today that buildings are being built and designed without the thought of cleaning in mind," says Hesselink. "As distributors, we've got a lot of educating to do. They're more apt to listen to us if we're peers on the local board of directors and committee, than us trying to tell the architectural world that they need to change the way that they spec."

Stephen Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, Bloomington, Ind., has been involved with the USGBC since 1994. He highly recommends distributors get involved with their local USGBC chapter to not only build their network, but also increase sales.

"It's about getting involved in the council," he says. "From a strict sales perspective, if they're selling green, getting involved with the Green Building Council is a great way to prospect. Because everyone who goes there, whether they're a building owner, a manufacturer, or an architect, they all have buildings, all of them. So they're all prospective prospects for green cleaning products and services."