LEED v4: What Facility Managers and Cleaning Pros Should Know

On first viewing, it may seem that Green Cleaning, one of the mainstays in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system, has been demoted in the new LEED v4 going into effect this year. In the 2009 and previous versions of LEED, facilities earned credits for having a Green Cleaning program in place.

However, rather than being demoted, the use of certified Green Cleaning products and Green Cleaning procedures have actually been elevated. Now, instead of earning credits for incorporating a Green Cleaning program, having a Green Cleaning program in place is a prerequisite for LEED certification. In essence, Green Cleaning is now a foundation from which a building can develop a healthier, Greener environment.

In addition, the prerequisite has been expanded to cover additional chemicals and products used in many facilities. For instance, Green programs include the use of more environmentally responsible laundry chemicals and, as we will discuss later, more careful use of disinfectants and sanitizers. A Green program also includes following more closely manufacturers’ product use specifications, instructions, dilution ratios, dwell times, and so on.

These are just a few of the many changes that facility managers and all segments of the professional cleaning industry will note in the new version of LEED. In fact, as it applies to cleaning in general, and Green Cleaning specifically, the intent of v4, as it is often referred to, is to expand the overall goal of Green Cleaning—which is to reduce cleaning’s negative impacts on health, the users of cleaning products, to help protect the environment and, taking it one step further, to promote sustainability.

Heads-Up Updates

Other changes in v4 that managers and cleaning pros should also be aware of include the following:

There is a greater emphasis, or should we say de-emphasis, on the use of sanitizers and disinfectants. These products should be used only on an as-needed/where-needed basis. The USGBC has realized something that many in the professional cleaning industry are well aware of. While disinfectants and sanitizers definitely have their place in certain cleaning applications, they have a tendency to be used in areas and for applications where they are unnecessary. Because these products can have such a negative impact on human health, v4 tries to minimize their application by specifying more specifically for which cleaning tasks these products should be used for (and which they should not).

Using a GS-42 or CIMS-GB* certified cleaning service provider is now included in v4 as one way a facility can demonstrate compliance with the Green Cleaning prerequisite. Because these programs require the use of environmentally preferable cleaning products, hiring a certified cleaning service provider can make it easier for those facilities seeking LEED certification, if for no other reason than that much of the paperwork and documentation has already been completed.

Using water more efficiently is becoming a key concern for the USGBC. Because of this, v4 encourages managers and cleaning professionals to have strategies in place that conserve water. This could include, for instance, the use of microfiber cloths and pads, which require less water and chemical, or recycling carpet extractors, which help reduce water consumption.

As to the purchase and selection of chemicals, paper products, and liners, managers can earn a credit with v4 if 75 percent of these purchases, based on costs, meet specific environmental or Green standards. This is a fairly big jump from LEED 2009, which required that only 30 percent of purchases (based on cost) be environmentally preferable.

To make it easier to select Green-certified products, v4 honors certification from more organizations, such as the EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program in addition to GreenSeal and UL/Environmental Choice, formerly known as EcoLogo.

Facilities can earn one credit for entry matting systems, as long as they are at least 10 feet long, effective at removing soils and moisture from shoe bottoms, and are cleaned and maintained on a weekly basis.

Finally, as to cleaning equipment, v4 still requires that vacuums and carpet extractors be approved by the Carpet and Rug Institute and floor scrubbers have on-board chemical meters or use tap water for cleaning. Equipment should operate at 70 decibels or less. In addition, the use of certain types of batteries considered safer for the users and the environment were expanded in v4. These include Gel batteries, AGM (absorbent glass mat) batteries, as well as lithium-ion batteries.

Lead or Guide

The goal of the LEED certification program has always been to promote and protect the health of building users and the environment. And v4 certainly continues in this direction. It is now estimated that more than 2 billion square feet have been certified since the LEED program’s inception back in 1998.

However, we have noted a new direction being taken by many building owners, developers, and managers in recent years. Instead of seeking LEED certification, they are using the program as a guide. They still recognize LEED as the “de facto” standard when it comes to defining a Green facility—and implementing a Green Cleaning strategy—but instead of seeking the actual certification they are using the program as a roadmap for building, cleaning, and maintaining a facility.

As long as these facilities stick closely to the roadmap, the ultimate goal of healthier and more sustainable facilities can still be realized. LEED has made a huge contribution to the Green movement, and specifically to Green Cleaning. The latest version of the program helps solidify this contribution, serving as a true foundation for how a facility should be built, managed, and cleaned to protect health and the environment.

Stephen Ashkin


*GS-42 from GreenSeal® and CIMS-GB, developed by ISSA, are third-party programs that, among other things, help train cleaning service providers and then verify that they are implementing an effective Green Cleaning program.