The 700-mile quest to be the first to reach the South Pole just over a century ago offers the perfect lens for companies with their eye on a different, more modern-day prize: LEED certification. Two men—Roald Amundsen (the winner) and Robert Falcon Scott (runner-up)—appeared equally matched. Both were pursuing the feat with equal smarts and stamina; in the end, though, the outcomes were dramatically different.

We see this same construct as teams focus on the more modern-day trek of securing LEED certification. Virtually all set out with the right intentions—an effort that is good for the environment, building tenants, a positive driver for rental income. What we also see is that just as with those intrepid South Pole explorers, a plan and focused execution is the difference between success and failure.

Commercial Cleaning Systems’ (CCS) approach in working with our clients to achieve LEED certification focuses on setting and reaching key steps. “Commercial Cleaning Systems assisted us in developing our Green Cleaning Policies for our LEED Certification,” said Jennifer Plunkett, CPM, LEED AP, General Manager at Granite Properties. “CCS specializes in sustainable performance standards and has a wealth of knowledge in this area. The team guided us and helped us build an understanding of the process, including recommendations for appropriate staffing plans, operating procedures and the proper training that addressed both effective and sustainable cleaning practices.”

Benefits are Key—Achieving Them Requires a Plan

In his book, Great by Choice, best selling author Jim Collins outlines the importance of a focused, steady approach as the surest path to success. Too often, he shares, leaders push and pursue more than planned because more is within reach versus focusing on incrementally reaching a goal, then moving on to the next step, and the next. Collins uses the 20-mile march as a metaphor; but in fact, that’s exactly what allowed Amundsen to succeed and the lack of it was a key ingredient in Scott’s failure.

A spotlight on the core benefits that can be realized is often the impetus for planning and pursuing LEED certification. Here’s a look:

Building Owner/Property Manager Benefits

Tenant (and their Employees) Benefits

  • Lower operational costs through reduced energy and water use.
  • Comparatively higher occupancy rates.
  • Higher rental rates.
  • Gain higher profile/ranking in online commercial property listings such as CoStar and other key aggregators.
  • Attract tenants that understand the importance that sustainable operations have on the health and productivity of their employees.


  • Higher employee recruitment and retention rates.
  • Significantly improved indoor air quality (IAQ).
  • Reduced absenteeism, and increased productivity rates ranging from 0.5 to 14%.
  • Reduced injuries, long-term occupational exposure to harmful chemicals, and reduced incidence rates.
  • Ability to promote corporate image via environmental stewardship, social/environmental responsibility reports.
  • Higher employee satisfaction related to receiving additional professional development and training.
  •  The ability to champion stewardship and environmental responsibility.

Navigating The LEED Terrain

There is a range of different LEED certifications; the role your commercial cleaning team can play varies with each. While Amundsen and Scott created their own framework for approaching their journey, the cleaning industry provides us modern-day explorers some valuable constructs for setting and achieving key milestones. Credits (including EQ and others) are standards established and awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and volunteer professionals through a review process with specific, measurable goals. Innovation Credits (IN) fall into a range of categories; think of these as extra or optional credits. INs are generally applied when the level or milestone for the standard credit is exceeded and the next incremental layer of exemplary performance is achieved. For example, if a standard award one point for 30% of some measurement, a 2nd point for 60% of that measurement, then achieving 90% might net a single Innovation Credit.

LEED for Building Design and Construction (LEED BD+C)

  • There are many additional subdivisions within LEED BD+C, but BD+C is primarily focused on new construction and major renovations.
  • Since LEED BD+C places a large majority of the emphasis on energy, materials, and systems, there is much less focus on operations when looking at the points that a building can score on their scorecard.
  • Janitorial companies have a very limited role in the points available under the BD+C Certification and primarily are related to the Janitorial Green Cleaning Policy prerequisite required under this certification.

LEED for Interior Design and Construction (LEED ID+C)

  • Primarily focuses on interior fit-out of commercial spaces, often for a single tenant within a multi-tenant office building.
  • LEED ID+C also places a majority of the focus on materials, with very little spent on operations when looking at the points that a project can score on their scorecard.
  • Janitorial companies have a very limited role in the points available under the ID+C Certification.

LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance (LEED O+M)

  • Since most of the structure and systems are already in place, LEED O+M places significant weight on operations and maintenance.
  • Janitorial companies have a measurable role to play when looking at the points that a building can score on their scorecard in LEED O+M.
  • Most of the points associated with janitorial services fall within the Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) section of this rating system, and a few fall under the Innovation (IN) section.

EQ Prerequisite | Green Cleaning Policy & Focused Execution

LEED-certified buildings are required to have in place a Green Cleaning Policy as one of the prerequisite requirements. Property/Facility Managers can satisfy this in two ways:

  • Create their own Green Cleaning Policy
  • Specify that a janitorial service provider must be pre-qualified via having current certification under either Green Seal #42 or CIMS-GB in lieu of creating their own Green Cleaning Policy (CCS is CIMS-CB certified)
  • Custodial Effectiveness Assessment (1 point). During the performance period, property/facility management must conduct a custodial effectiveness assessment using a very specific format and protocol of measurement as defined by the Association of Physical Plant Administrators (APPA). The assessment must show a score better than 2.5 out of 5 in each of the different categories to receive the associated point. This unannounced assessment shows how well a service provider is doing, if staffing levels are adequate for the type and size of each area cleaned, and is a general objective assessment of cleanliness levels at the site.
  • Green Cleaning Products and Materials (1 point, plus 1 additional option for exemplary performance). Purchasing and documenting the use of green cleaning materials and products must meet one of a list of many standards by product type. If the total by the cost of these purchases is 75% or greater, the project receives 1 point.  If the total reaches 100%, the project may seek an additional point under the IN Credit for Exemplary Performance.
  • Green Cleaning Equipment (1 point, plus 1 additional option for exemplary performance). Purchasing and documenting the use of green cleaning equipment must meet one of a list of many standards by equipment type. If the equipment total is 40% or greater, the project receives one point. If the total reaches 100%, the project may seek an additional point under the IN Credit for Exemplary Performance.
  • IN Credit – LEED Accredited Professional (1 point): If you have a LEED Accredited Professional who has the specialty designation O+M on staff or within your team, you get one additional point. If a janitorial company has a LEED-AP O+M on staff, you may use them to obtain this point. (Note: CCS has a LEED-AP O+M on staff).

There is one pre-requisite available related to a janitorial company; the total number of points available related to a janitorial company is six. Previous versions of LEED awarded a higher number of points related to a janitorial company. Since LEED O+M projects have to re-certify every five years, it is important to keep the credits in mind.

Since the minimum points required for LEED Certification is 40, janitorial companies play a measurable role when seeking certification under LEED O+M.  Even with the reduction in the number of points available through a janitorial company from previous versions of LEED, it still represents as much as 15% of the minimum threshold to certify a building.

Building Your Team, Setting Your Goals

As you move forward in the LEED certification process and evaluate how your commercial cleaning team can contribute to the process, here are some key questions to consider:

  • Is the LEED project pending certification going to fall under the BD+C, ID+C, or O+M requirements? LEED O+M projects should place a higher emphasis on selecting the right janitorial service provider.
  • If your project falls under BD+C or ID+C, determine whether the building ownership (BD+C) or tenant company (ID+C) will pursue LEED O+M Certification at the five-year mark or sooner? If so, selecting the right janitorial service provider is critical.
  • Does the janitorial service provider have any of the third-party certifications recognized within the LEED standard that would pre-qualify them for meeting the Green Cleaning Policy prerequisite? It is not required, but it takes the burden off management to ensure that they are well versed on the ins and outs of LEED O+M when they have been inspected to specifically ensure that they are.
  • Does the janitorial service provider have a LEED AP O+M on staff to help, and provide an additional point if you do not already have one available?
  • Does the janitorial service provider have a long-standing reputation in the industry to help ensure that your building will be maintained to a high standard during the APPA inspection? Are they well represented and staffed in your specific market to ensure adequate staffing and supervision?


A Commitment to Green Cleaning: USGBC

The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED program is the nation’s leading program for green buildings and communities worldwide. The organization’s online RESOURCES page offers a wealth of information for teams just starting out as well as those with a proven LEED track record. From checklists to compliance notes for U.S. and European locations to advocacy briefs and in-depth case studies, check out the resources as you navigate your way.


Don Color

Don BuffoniManager of Procurement & Sustainability, LEED AP O+M