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Going 'Green' Starts with Buying Green
Every day, maintenance and engineering managers specify, approve and purchase products that impact the health of building occupants and the environment. Increasingly, managers and their organizations recognize the potential benefits of environmentally friendly products and are taking a closer look at purchasing practices.
Managers who want to create a greener purchasing strategy can participate in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) program. The program requires that participants verify their efforts in minimizing the use of products, materials and chemicals that can harm the environment.
Managers at the Ada County Courthouse and Administration Building in Boise, Idaho — which achieved a silver rating in the LEED-EB program — use the program as a benchmarking tool for their purchasing processes. Recently, the county’s building operations department and purchasing department collaborated in developing a policy to increase the county’s use of environmentally preferable products and services, says Selena O’Neal, the county’s environmental specialist.
“By including environmental considerations in purchasing decisions, Ada County can promote practices that improve public and worker health, conserve natural resources, reduce waste and reward environmentally conscience manufacturers while remaining fiscally responsible,” O’Neal says.
Managers need to understand that implementing such a purchasing program doesn’t happen quickly, says David Logan, Ada County’s director of operations. It requires research, support and commitment from the entire organization.
One of the first steps in creating a green purchasing program is clarifying the term environmentally friendly in regard to products and materials and locating goods to meet the definition.
“The LEED program helped us with resources to find products, like cleaning chemicals, that meet the certification criteria,” says Steve Strope, facility manager for the Washington Department of Ecology in Olympia, Wash., which also received a silver rating in the LEED-EB program.
Like many program participants, Strope often refers to Green Seal, an independent, non-profit organization that identifies products that minimize toxic pollution and waste, conserve resources and habitats, and minimize global warming and ozone depletion. Managers can turn to Green Seal’s web site — www.greenseal .org — for information on its standards and product recommendations.
“The Green Seal list really helps me,” Strope says. “I don’t have time to do research on individual products to see if they will or won’t harm the environment.”
Managers also can hire a consultant to recommend products or turn to in-house staff members with expertise in determining a product’s environmental friendliness.
“We have environmental scientists in the building,” Strope says. “We’re fortunate that they can review the criteria that many people would not understand.”
Product vendors also can provide information on ways their products meet environmental and performance requirements. Organizations that have set environmental goals, such as achieving LEED-EB certification, should require product and service vendors to provide documentation stating their offerings meet the criteria.
“We rely on our vendors heavily to get us a green product that is certified by the cleaning industry and Environmental Protection Agency,” says Matt Gallo, chief engineer for Amerimar Realty Management Company’s Denver Place facility, which has a gold certification in the LEED-EB program. “We have some great vendors who have helped us tremendously.”
If managers are unable to find green products that meet their department’s performance standards, they might want to consult vendors for other options.
“If our vendors bring something new to our attention, we’ll try it out and see how well it works and if we receive any complaints,” Gallo says. As the demand for green products grow, more products are becoming available, and their cost is decreasing. Today, managers do not have to compromise environmental standards to meet their budgets.
Gallo says his organization’s costs for cleaning the building remained steady when it switched to environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals.
“We were quite surprised about that,” he says. “We thought it would much more expensive.”
Another critical step in implementing a green purchasing program is establishing cooperation with other departments and building occupants in the organization, and with outside contractors.
“We partner with the purchasing and fiscal office to monitor and keep our standards in place and rely on them to make sure nothing falls through the cracks,” Strope says, adding that without their partnership, the policy won’t succeed.
Managers should review the language in their agreements with contractors for specifications regarding the use of environmentally preferred products. When contractors provide the housekeeping chemicals, managers need to identify the types of chemicals the organization allows in the facility.
For organizations participating in the LEED-EB program, contractors should sign a statement of compliance that they will use products that meet the program’s criteria.
Managers also should explain new policies to contractors. As soon as the new practices are implemented, contractors should provide managers with feedback and inform managers of any concerns regarding the product. For example, janitorial contract workers might be the first to realize that new paper towels made of 100 percent recycled content don’t fit properly into the existing dispenser.
Keeping Policies in Place
A green purchasing program succeeds best when it is incorporated into a department’s daily operations. To achieve this goal, managers must consider the environmental impact of every item entering the facility.
“Anything we bring into our facility has to go through a scrutiny process,” Strope says. “We stop a lot of things at the door that aren’t appropriate from an environmental and an indoor air quality standpoint. We try to catch the low-hanging fruit as quickly as we can. For example, normally in an office building, you’ll see a variety of cleaning and personal-use products that employees bring into the facility. We’ve really tightened downed on that.”
Strope says the organization’s management informed employees that cleaning items and personal-care products that are not environmentally friendly or that pose a potential health risk to other occupants are barred from the building.
“They can’t bring in as much as a bottle of Clorox or Comet to clean in the kitchens,” Strope says. “If we find such items, we confiscate them.”
Enforcing policies in building areas occupied by tenants can be particularly challenging for managers. While organizations can ask tenants to comply with their environmental policies, it might be difficult to enforce such rules.
Lessons in LEED-EB
In some cases, the LEED-EB program emphasize efforts the maintenance staff already is making, Logan says.
“If you have a strong maintenance department that is proactive and trying to make good decisions for the building, they’re probably already doing much of the things in the program,” Logan says. “A lot of times, when you get to your LEED scorecard, it’s just a matter of verifying work that you’re already doing.” While implementing a green purchasing program can be challenging, it does get easier over time.
“You just can’t pass a resolution or put a policy in place and overnight it happens,” he says. “It just doesn’t work that way.” One key is to develop a solid plan in the beginning and communicate its long-term goals.
“A good, well-thought-out plan should identify what you’re trying to achieve, why you want to achieve it and how you’re going to do it,” Logan says. “Make it as comprehensive as you can, and then educate employees and building occupants about what you’re trying to do.”
“You want it comprehensive, but you want to start out small and take baby steps,” O’Neal adds. “Roll it out one thing at a time, and give people time to get used to it. Otherwise, they get really overwhelmed.”
Says Logan, “You take one goal at a time and achieve it. Pretty soon, you successfully achieved a lot of goals and have a plan that makes sense. You must take your time and deal with issues individually.”
In the end, the work will produce rewards.
“It was challenging, but it has made us a stronger maintenance department,” Logan says. “Educating the staff, bringing in the policies, and documenting our efforts made us stronger and our maintenance people more informed on how to manage the entire building.”
Hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council, the GreenBuild International Conference and Expo focuses on advances in green building design, construction project financing and building management. Educational programs highlight benchmarks of sustainability on such issues as water use, energy, materials, indoor environmental quality, financing and health and productivity. Other conference highlights include more than 450 exhibitors, LEED workshops and green building tours.