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The Top Ways Companies Can Meet LEED's New Green Cleaning Challenges

<p>Updates to LEED green building standards would make sustainable cleaning a requirement. Here are tips on what companies should consider when crafting a green cleaning program.</p>

There have been great strides in the effort to make buildings more sustainable -- not the least of which are proposed improvements (PDF) to the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification standards.

One significant change to the indoor environmental quality section of the LEED rating system (PDF) is that implementing a green cleaning policy is to be a mandatory prerequisite for certification and also re-certification.

According to an informal poll (PDF) of the Environmental Protection Agency's Federal Green Challenge Web Academy participants, 80 percent of companies that have achieved certification have successfully earned recognition for their environmentally preferable cleaning program.

Effective cleaning programs that meet LEED standards are also highly attainable because of the wealth of information and guidance available through the USGBC, International Sanitary Supply Association, Green Seal, EPA and other resources. There is also a greater variety of certified green cleaning products that are safer, environmentally preferable and affordable.

Raising the Bar

The commitment to make sustainable cleaning programs mandatory under the updated LEED criteria opens the door for a more comprehensive approach to safer alternatives. However, despite the wide availability of sustainable cleaning products made from these alternatives, there is still more to be done in order to ensure a healthy environment for employees.

Unfortunately, some unsustainable cleaning products do not meet the requirements for LEED-certified buildings, allowing for potential exposure to harmful products. Additionally, most recent LEED requirements still permit unsustainable cleaning products with label warnings.

To protect building occupants, keep an eye out for labels which can include caution statements such as "may cause severe eye irritation," "may cause irritation of nose, throat and lungs," or "requires goggles, respiratory protection and/or impervious gloves." Requiring buildings to make healthier choices in sustainable cleaning products can play an important role to minimize respiratory problems and burning skin and eyes as well as absenteeism due to exposure to harmful chemicals in cleaning products. This is as important in office buildings as it is in schools and healthcare environments.

Whether or not a facility or organization decides to seek LEED certification, it can still be committed to ridding its buildings of harmful chemicals. The process starts by asking suppliers for full transparency about the chemicals used in their products and then asking them to provide certified, safe alternative products.

Currently, under U.S. regulations, cleaning product suppliers are not required to fully disclose chemicals in their products. That becomes problematic, as downstream users and purchasers are requiring ingredient disclosure to help them make informed decisions about what they buy. Even the smallest percentage of harmful chemicals in a product could have a cumulative effect on people's health and on the environment.

The Bottom Line

Sometimes decisions related to becoming more sustainable, especially at the corporate level, come down to dollars and cents.

If companies look at the total cost of their organization's cleaning program, consider this: It probably costs less money to trade in traditional cleaning products for certified sustainable products than it does to pay for exposure control devices such as gloves, masks, goggles and other methods of protection, as well as for proper disposal of harmful chemicals associated with cleaning products that are unsustainable.

Certainly, a price tag cannot be put on protecting building assets, including occupants and the environment. In today's business climate, being sustainable is also a measure of market leadership and, in some cases, profitability. Not only are customers trying to meet their own sustainability goals, but many suppliers are changing or adding products and services to help organizations comply with LEED requirements and company green building initiatives.

With the updated 2012 LEED rating system intended to ensure the long-term "staying power" of certification criteria, organizations must do much more than earn the right to use the USGBC logo on their website and materials. As the value of implementing a stringent sustainable cleaning program becomes further understood, the growing demand for safer materials and products may, in fact, help raise the bar for buildings to be completely free of harmful chemicals.

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