By Matt Stansberry
From the February 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
For facility managers, much of the emphasis of the green building movement has shifted from construction to procurement. Today, green purchasing policies rival sustainable design projects in complexity and involvement.
It’s not easy buying green. The effort requires hours of scrolling through manufacturers’ Web sites, phone calls to distributors and subcontractors, and faith in third party certification companies. For some facility managers, it is getting easier.
“Two to four years ago, there weren’t a lot of companies out there that offered sustainable products,” says Craig Sheehy, CPM, director of property management for Thomas Properties Group. The Los Angeles, CA-based firm manages the LEED-EB Certified Joe Serna/Cal EPA Headquarters in Sacramento. Says Sheehy, “I see society changing. We can purchase these sustainable products at the same costs and lessen our impact on natural resources.”
Much of this change stemmed from the U.S. Green Buildings Council’s (USGBC) efforts, and most specifically, LEED-EB-which put the onus of sustainability onto the facility management profession by focusing on existing buildings rather than new construction.
Stu Carron, director of facilities for Sturtevant, WI-based JohnsonDiversey co-wrote the LEED-EB reference guide and served as vice chair on the committee. As he worked on the standard, he applied its rules to his own facility.
To achieve certification, Carron created policies for purchasing green materials. Once the policies were in place, he was required to follow them and submit supporting documentation.
Since achieving his LEED goals, Carron continues to purchase as many products as possible (such as carpet, cushions, paints, adhesives, sealants, and coatings) that are in alignment with the standard. He looks for recycled content, salvaged material, rapidly renewable materials, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified wood, and low VOC emissions to maintain LEED standards.
Most of those materials are purchased as needed. And Carron often has many projects going on at once.
Some of the most recent projects include office reconfigurations, cooling additions to the data center, tile and carpet replacements, mechanical shade software upgrades, conference room conversions, and an office addition. These types of projects include different aspects of the procurement requirements.
“When we buy these materials, we generally rely on a contractor to submit specifications for the materials he will need for the project,” says Carron.
The Impact Of Certification
Unfortunately, many contractors are unaware of LEED requirements. “They know the standard is out there, they know we’re certified, and they know they have to follow some sort of green procurement guidelines. But even when they are trying to do the right thing, they aren’t necessarily in compliance with the standard, because it’s very specific,” explains Carron.
One effort that could make this task easier is third party certifications. “If I tell a contractor the paint has to meet Green Seal, and he finds a paint that is certified, his work is done. However, if he can’t find a certified paint, he has to compare the VOC standard and then compare that to all the specs on the paint and drill down in detail,” says Carron.
David Freedman, chief engineer at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in Atlanta adds, “When certifications indicate material is manufactured in a certain way, customers tend to believe it.”
Marc Ahrens, corporate segment manager for Wilmington, DE-based Invista advises, “Don’t take the supplier’s word for it. Seek out certification and understand the difference between self certification, second party certification, and third party certification.
“Second party certification would be conducted by an organization that has a vested interest in the industry in which it is serving,” says Ahrens, “while third party organizations have no interest in the success or failure of a product.”
There is a fairly common misconception that companies pay for third party certifications. “There is a fee; cash changes hands between the organizations, but that is not in any way a payment for certification,” says Ahrens.
Specifying commodity products from major manufacturers is one thing, but what happens when facility executives face customized problems? “What I find challenging is when we have specialty architecture, cabinetry work, or wood coming into the facility,” says Carron.
He shares an example of a custom divider built of wood with a maple veneer. The contractor on the project assured Carron he was using the right adhesive and wood. But was it FSC Certified? Was it harvested within 500 miles of the site?
“When I confirmed the specific requirements spelled out in LEED,” says Carron, “he had to go back to the drawing board. It took him several days of research to find FSC veneers and structural wood that was harvested and processed within 500 miles. He came back to me with a cost increase as a result.”
Every product category has different requirements, certifications, complexities, and challenges. While some industries are ahead of the sustainability curve, others lag behind.
For example, Sheehy says cleaning chemicals are hard to specify. They are products he spends the most time researching. “There used to be a time when fragrance was big. If it smelled clean, it was clean. But now, if people can smell it, I’m killing them. Coming up with a non-odorous, non-toxic chemical is difficult.”
“As I’ve started to green our facilities around the U.S., I’ve found that it’s not uncommon for us to have 50 to 70 different chemicals for cleaning. How do cleaning service workers know what chemicals to use? How do they know what the toxicity is?” Sheehy asks.
His solution has been to limit his stock to just three chemicals: a glass cleaner, a disinfectant for the rest rooms, and a multipurpose cleaner.
An easier category to specify is paper products, according to Sheehy. But even a single material product with a long history of recycling has its problems.
Initially, Sheehy went to 100% recycled paper towels in the rest room environment, but people were using four towels instead of one or two. “Even though I was using recycled paper, I was adding waste,” he says. Sheehy actually went to the paper mills with his complaints. After a year, companies developed products that were satisfactory.
Other materials that are easier to specify include paint. According to Freedman, Green Seal’s GS-11 meets the VOC benchmark. Facility executives can go online to find many paint manufacturers’ data.
Carpet is also relatively simple. “Carpet has to meet the CRI Green Label Plus criteria, and that is one certification that makes a difference,” says Freedman. “Green Label Plus is more than a simple VOC specification. It is extensive, and we look for that label on carpet before it comes in here. And that’s not hard, because there is enough carpet out there that meets that criteria.”
The challenge for facility executives regarding green purchasing will often be a lack of information. They will need to find the recycled content of a material, determine the lumens of a particular light fixture, or dig up the VOC level on a sealant. This will take research and extremely detailed specifications in conjunction with project submittals. And still, facility managers may not have many of choices.
What is the payback for this effort? “Paying attention to the details of purchases contributes to the institutionalization of LEED and the overall improvement of the products and processes that extend this facility’s life cycle,” says Carron.
In the end, facility executives will need to look holistically at their environmental purchasing policies. Recycled content or low VOC emissions are not necessarily the only measuring sticks to determine what is best for the environment and the facility. The main criteria will be performance. In addition to claims of sustainability, these products will have to suit facility executives’ needs.