The Changing Practice of Green Operations

March 25, 2009

With the shifting national focus on resource conservation, recent government mandates, and the need to reduce operating costs, it’s increasingly clear that how you did business yesterday is not how you’ll operate your building in the future. In order to make measurable progress, it’s important to have a plan. A facilities management and operations plan that addresses purchasing, site, and cleaning practices will help you create a better building for occupants and the environment while lowering your costs. Engaging your employees, tenants, and vendors as active participants in the process will create a collective mindset that leads to tailored solutions and successful results.

Broader Consciousness
There are many factors to consider in building operations. By establishing goals that minimize the inflow of materials and output of waste, you can help reduce new-product generation and keep harmful materials out of the landfill. One of your first considerations should be to develop robust purchasing and waste-management policies that will address consumables, durable goods, and facility alterations and additions.

Consumable goods are items that are replaced on a regular basis, such as paper, toners, breakroom supplies, batteries, and light bulbs. Craft your policies with language that’s related to environmental criteria to define purchasing guidelines. For example, always seek out products that contain a high recycled content. Coordinate with your waste hauler to see if there are resources in place to accommodate a food-compost process, and consider changing out Styrofoam cups and plastic utensils for bio-based cups and utensils made of corn and soy that will biodegrade in compost piles. Other ways to reduce waste and lower costs include the purchasing of concentrated products, and switching from disposable batteries to rechargeable ones. Itemize all light fixtures inside and outside your building, and specify only low-mercury-content bulbs.

Durable goods include equipment and products that typically have a longer lifespan, and are tied to plug loads, like computers, copiers, and refrigerators. Implement a policy and plan to ensure that all plug-load items address ENERGY STAR® criteria wherever possible.

In building retrofits and furniture selection, consider having specifications in place that ensure that products with environmental attributes are used. Key areas to hone in on include products with low VOCs, products that contain a high percentage of recycled content, products derived from local sources, and products that meet Forest Stewardship Council certification.

Good resources for making sound purchasing decisions include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing and ENERGY STAR programs, Building Green, the Pharos Project, and the Responsible Purchasing Network.

Work from Within
Develop an internal green team to strategize ideas about how to recycle and reuse items to further reduce your waste stream. Empowering building occupants to be part of the solution creates a shift in their perception. Schedule meetings and post information around the building and on your Intranet to educate occupants about why the initiative is important, and what steps to take. Provide the infrastructure for occupants and tenants to be successful with clearly marked areas for recycling plastic, cardboard, glass, mixed paper, batteries, and metal. Establish a partnership between tenants, employees, and building management to promote open communication about what’s working and what could be improved.

Walk the Grounds
Establish site and exterior-management policies by reviewing your current practices to ensure that they preserve ecological integrity, minimize waste, and support operational performance. Landscape practices can have positive impacts on water, waste, and chemical reductions. Work with your exterior maintenance contractor to create a plan that meets the following goals:

  • When replacing plants or planting new areas, use native, drought-resistant species to support natural habitat and conserve water. These plants may also lower the need for herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, which create air and water pollution.
  • Find green alternatives to animal and vegetation pest control, as well as fertilizers.
  • Use a water-saving irrigation system and switch to drip irrigation where possible.
  • Mulch and reuse landscape waste instead of sending it to the landfill.
  • Use electrically powered or rechargeable-battery-operated maintenance equipment to lower emissions.
  • For the building exterior, choose low-VOC cleaners, paints, and sealants.

A New View of Clean
Cleaning practices have tremendous impacts on air quality and chemical production. Contrary to popular belief, the terms “clean” and “healthy” aren’t necessarily synonymous. In fact, cleaning products account for nearly 30 percent of manmade VOC emissions. One-third of cleaning chemicals used in buildings can cause a range of health hazards, from eye and skin irritations to respiratory problems, and some are identified brain toxins and carcinogens. In addition to adverse affects on human health, chemical contaminants negatively impact the environment and deteriorate building finishes and systems.

Inventory the products you’re currently using to see if they meet Green Seal, California Air Resources Board, or EcoLogo guidelines. Create a written policy regarding acceptable products and their use. Ask for input from your maintenance personnel or janitorial vendor. When working with a janitorial vendor, be sure to include the new policy in your contract. Establish safe chemical handling and storage guidelines, and train staff on protective measures.

Build Momentum
Establish your policies, implement your plan, and attach a timeline and attainable goals to each. Consider these efforts as ongoing, as it will take some time to perfect. A feedback loop is extremely important in greening your operations. Post your policies in visible locations. Openly track your progress and announce your collective successes. Establish check-in points with your internal green team, employees, and tenants to make sure that concerns are addressed. Your efforts will offer a healthier space for occupants, maintenance staff, and the environment, as well as lower purchasing costs, energy costs, and trash hauler fees.

Elaine Aye is a principal at Green Building Services Inc., and leads the firm’s Building Management Solutions team. The Building Management Solutions team provides technical and strategic building-management services to building owners and facility managers throughout the country. Elaine can be reached at (866) 743-4277 or at [email protected].

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