Green cleaning standards are growing ever more stringent, and the new LEED 2012 certification requirements reflect the new benchmarks for sustainable cleaning.
Perhaps most significant of all the changes to green cleaning requirements is that green cleaning practices have been made a mandatory prerequisite for earning LEED certification (as opposed to an elective method of gaining points toward LEED certification). This change will not only raise the bar for buildings trying to achieve LEED certification, but also for building service contractors who seek the business of sustainable buildings. This is good news from an environmental perspective, since the professional cleaning industry has historically generated excess waste. Estimates from a few years ago state that as much as one billion pounds of janitorial equipment are hauled to American landfills every year, and that number may be even higher today. In an effort to remedy this highly unsustainable situation, the professional cleaning industry has come to embrace the green movement, often of its own initiative, without clients requesting or requiring green cleaning practices.
LEED 2012’s green cleaning standards propose several new ways for BSCs to tailor their services to meet the needs of those trying to obtain the necessary prerequisites to earn LEED certification and recertification. The new LEED green cleaning certification standard requires that all general purpose cleaning products be certified by a third-party certification program, such as EcoLogo or Green Seal. For occupant protection and the avoidance of toxic chemicals, LEED 2012 allows non-sustainable cleaning products to be used sparingly, so long as there is no sustainable product available that meets the needs of the job, and the product fully discloses all of its ingredients. Hazardous products are still permitted, provided they have a warning label. In office buildings, schools, and health care facilities, it is important to stay away from products with caution statements warning against severe eye, respiratory, or skin irritation. Some have strongly recommended that more stringent requirements be imposed to restrict even the use of products with warning labels and fully disclosed ingredients. In the public comment period on the revised cleaning product selection guidelines, one comment, for instance, was that “this is a good start to avoiding the use of products with hazards, but is incomplete, as there are other hazards that should be avoided (environmentally persistent, neurotoxins, etc.)… As a result, products can be used that are particularly toxic to the environment (bleach would count with this credit).”
LEED 2012 also now requires that hard-floor-care products be certified by a third-party, such as Green Seal or EcoLogo. While requiring third-party certification for general-purpose cleaners poses no real challenge for a building owner, requiring third-party certification for hard floor care products can necessitate quite a sacrifice. The third-party-certified hard-floor-care products currently on the market are generally more expensive and, in high traffic areas, require much more labor and product to maintain.
As to meeting water conservation requirements, a professional cleaning service can opt for low-moisture floor care equipment, which uses less water than older models to clean and refinish floors. New low-moisture carpet cleaning extractors are also available, using a little more than half of traditional carpet cleaning extractors. These can even conserve cleaning product, as they recycle the water and cleaning solution up to seven times before it becomes unusable. To help cleaning professionals and facility managers monitor their use of natural resources, the newly developed sustainable “dashboard” tracks the use of energy, fuel, and water. These web-based dashboards help reduce waste and set benchmarks by which improvement can be measured.
In an effort to cut down on energy consumption, LEED 2012 has made the suggested battery type guidelines more inclusive, in order to allow cleaning professionals greater flexibility in their options. The former LEED certification rating system mandated that only gel and AGM batteries be used, causing many to sacrifice performance and battery life for LEED credit points. Gel and AGM batteries are not suitable for heavy-load applications and have to be replaced frequently. Since cleaning professionals can now choose batteries that will last longer in heavy-load uses, more battery options is better for the industry, as well as the environment.
The revised LEED requirements allow building owners to select from a broader variety of less expensive cleaning products that can produce the same environmentally preferred results as their more costly counterparts. Although many will balk at making green cleaning a prerequisite for earning LEED certification, it opens up the opportunity to make buildings more sustainable, since points must now be earned in other credit categories. It also represents an opportunity for BSCs offering green cleaning, since the uptick in demand for green cleaning is expected to be substantial.