Most building owners and managers now have a pretty good understanding of what a “green” building is. This typically is a facility that has been constructed and is being maintained with products and materials that have a reduced impact on the environment when compared to similar materials used for the same purpose. However, things are not so clear when we say a building is “sustainable.” Aren’t green and sustainable the same thing? In some ways yes and in other ways no.
In most cases, a green facility is also a more sustainable facility. And it would be difficult to consider a facility sustainable if it did not incorporate green cleaning and operating strategies.
However, a sustainable building takes things a step further. While there are different definitions, a working definition of a sustainable building is one that provides optimal comfort for building users while at the same time leaving the smallest possible environmental footprint. The building should also be economically feasible to design, construct, and maintain. For new building construction, this would include mean the following:
- Constructing the facility using renewable and recycled materials where possible
- Designing the facility to take advantage of natural light to reduce energy and HVAC needs
- Installing systems that help the facility use energy and water more efficiently
- Building the facility with a considerable emphasis on protecting indoor air quality, resulting in a healthier work or learning environment for building users
For an existing building to be deemed sustainable, there is a great deal of emphasis on the use of green-certified cleaning solutions and equipment. These help protect the indoor environment and promote health and safety for users and workers, as well as reducing waste, recycling, and using water and energy more efficiently.
Not only does a green or sustainable building help reduce a facility’s environmental footprint, but it offers several financial benefits for building owners and managers as well. For instance, invariably green and sustainable buildings prove more economical to operate; this is one reason why some real estate professionals refer to them as “semi-specialized” facilities, essentially a step above comparable but non-green and non-sustainable buildings. As to marketability when looking for new tenants, real estate professionals also indicate that these semi-specialized facilities have some key selling points, such as a healthier environment, more natural light, better indoor air quality, and few if any toxic building materials.
For these reasons, building owners and managers of green and sustainable buildings can typically charge higher rents while at the same time attracting more tenants and higher-quality tenants that remain in the facility longer. What this all means for owners and managers is that green and sustainable buildings have their own “specialized” triple bottom line: economic, environmental, and social (community) benefits.
Some Sustainable Building History
The Aldred Building in Montreal, Canada, is a rather famous Art Deco building built in 1931 and designed to resemble the Empire State Building in New York. It is today still considered beautiful and very functional. However, it was designed and built like most all larger office facilities of the day. That is, it is a totally enclosed building with relatively small windows, so there is little natural light. The facility is very dependent on fluorescent lighting and the use of traditional light bulbs. And when it was built, it had an enormous but very inefficient HVAC system.
This type of construction was how most buildings were designed until the 1970s. While there were some exceptions, such as facilities built with more glass, allowing for more natural light, invariably this was for architectural and style reasons and not to help reduce the facility’s environmental impact. In fact, these buildings tended to be more costly to operate because they put greater demands on the facility’s HVAC system.
In the 1970s things changed, and changed rather abruptly, due to the energy crisis at that time. This heavily affected the economies of major industrial countries of the world such as the United States and Canada, both of which faced substantial petroleum shortages as well as elevated prices. However, the energy crisis also helped spur the development of the green and sustainable movement, which has grown to even higher levels in the 21st century with an ever-increasing emphasis on the environment and building users’ health.
Steps in Making a Facility More Sustainable
As to ways to make a facility more sustainable, we can use as an example the steps I take with my clients when implementing a green cleaning program. We are going to use cleaning as our example however, building owners and managers can apply these same steps when pursuing other sustainable initiatives, such as waste, water, and energy reduction. There are essentially three steps involved:
- Analysis. The goal of this step is to analyze and document how the facility is currently being cleaned and maintained. Along with establishing a benchmark, we gain a better understanding of what cleaning technologies are now being used as well as the overall cleaning needs of the facility. This step also includes analyzing the processes and procedures the custodial workers use to clean the facility. Also identifying areas that require a special type of cleaning. Environmentally preferable products are designed to reduce cleaning’s impact on the environment, but if the correct cleaning practices are not in place and the products are not used properly, those benefits can be reduced if not eliminated.
- Development. Now that we have a good overall picture of how the facility is being cleaned along with the tools and equipment necessary, we have to develop a green cleaning strategy that will work with the facility. Do the custodial workers need training on newer, state-of-the-art cleaning methods? What cleaning solutions and equipment can be replaced now with green alternatives, and which may need to be worked into the program over time? Do building owners, managers, as well as tenants understand why a green cleaning program is being implemented? These and similar issues need to be addressed. A Green Team is also established, composed of representation of cleaning staff, department management, suppliers and manufactures rep. We should also note that green cleaning also includes the development of a sustainability program by the cleaning staff that can help benefit the entire facility.
- Implementation. Once the green cleaning program has been developed, we start implementing the strategy. It starts with a kick off meeting, which allows the benefits of the program to be explained to all shareholders. Training has begun and green-certified products and equipment have been selected and are now in use in the facility. Part of implementation also involves feedback from all stakeholders: building owners, managers, custodial workers, and building users. Since implementing such a program is a process, we must always check how the program is being perceived and accepted by these same stakeholders on an ongoing basis. In some cases, changes may need to be made in cleaning solutions, process, equipment, etc. Feedback will help turn a potential problem into a solution.
The Future of Sustainability
Without question, more facilities will be built and operated in a green and sustainable way in the coming years. Many facilities are seeking LEED certification to help ensure that they are viewed as a “semi-specialized” facility, as mentioned earlier. But even if a facility is not seeking LEED certific
ation, many facilities in North America today are using the LEED standards and criteria as their building construction and operating guide.
As environmental issues, building safety, the goal of protecting human health as well as the environment remain at the forefront, this movement toward more green and sustainable buildings and building operations is likely to not only continue but also accelerate in the coming years.
Ron Segura is Founder and President of Segura & Associates. He has over 45 years of experience in all segments of the professional cleaning industry with ten of those years as Manager of Janitorial /Document Services for Walt Disney Pictures and Television. Segura & Associates works with clients, helping them operate their facilities in a healthier, more sustainable and efficient manner. He can be reached via his website at http://www.seguraassociates.com.