Benchmarks for cleanliness can be subjective. For instance, in a residence hall, how many students think that a room with a pile of clothes in a corner on the floor and dust bunnies under the unmade bunk bed is clean, as long as the posters are hung straight?

Now that LEED standards are gaining a foothold among facilities management and building professionals, there is a benchmark to strive for. And a high-quality vacuum is a key part of the equation.

LEED means green

In 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council was created, and the construction industry took a giant step toward developing sustainable building standards. Builders wanted design and construction methods that took into account environmental, health, leadership, awareness and cost-savings issues. The result of their efforts is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a nationally accepted benchmark and blueprint for building design, construction, renovation and ongoing maintenance.

This coincides with the exponential increase in green cleaning practices. With positive data rolling in from LEED-certified buildings worldwide, indoor environments are becoming more healthful and energy-efficient, and less costly to build and maintain.

A California study on LEED buildings shows observed improvements in worker productivity and morale — plus it's easier to recruit new employees to work in a clean-air building. In hospitals, patients were released 2.5 days earlier; in schools, student test scores improved significantly and absenteeism numbers decreased. The demand for green buildings can be seen in the growing number of sustainable-design architectural firms and green building product suppliers. The data show that these buildings are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthful places to live and work.

Point by point

LEED establishes voluntary performance standards and benchmarks for new construction (LEED-NC), for new school facilities (LEED for Schools) and for existing buildings (LEED-EB), among others. The point system for an environmentally friendly existing building falls into five categories: sustainable site planning, green cleaning and maintenance practices, indoor air quality (IAQ), water and energy efficiency, and system upgrades. Facilities can earn additional points through innovations not listed in LEED, but that still adhere to the overall goals of the program.

Certain base requirements need to be met for the IAQ portion of the program: controlling PCBs, removing sources of tobacco smoke and asbestos, and having a system for outside-air introduction and exhaust mechanisms. Depending on how many subsequent points are earned, a building can be certified as platinum, gold, silver or certified.

When considering IAQ, effective green cleaning practices now are required for achieving any level of LEED certification. Sustainable cleaning products and highly efficient tools must be used properly and consistently to prevent indoor pollutants from affecting the health of the building occupants. Caution: Anyone can call a product “green,” but that doesn't necessarily make it the safest or best to earn LEED points. Other steps to take include isolating janitorial closets from the general public, using low-impact pest-management practices, conducting cleaning audits, and reducing or ultimately eliminating identifiable sources of indoor air pollutants.