By USGBCMA Communications, More Green Buildings!

Originally published in the May-June 2016 issue of USGBC+ (by Kiley Jacques)

The Los Angeles Chapter of USGBC has been working on the Green Janitors Program, which stemmed from the realization that janitors, supervisors, and operations managers have a significant effect on a building’s functionality. USGBC-LA teamed up with Building Skills Partnership (BSP), Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to develop the program.

During the initial development process of the program, the group took cues from the Green Professional Building Skills Training program (otherwise known as GPRO), a national training and certificate program designed by USGBC’s New York City chapter, Urban Green, which trains electricians, construction managers, and the like. “We looked at their model [in terms of] how to create trainings, testing, and certification,” explains Dominique Hargreaves, executive director of USGBC-LA.

The Green Janitors Program mission is to promote operations and maintenance practices that enable buildings to meet green performance standards, with special emphasis on energy efficiency and building health. “It’s really critical that the janitors understand their role in building management and operations maintenance. It’s the kind of thing that can be taught and it can be cultivated,” says Hargreaves, adding that all of the work those employees perform on a daily basis shows up in utility bills, water bills, etc. “They have a large impact on the building.”

This program aids corporate responsibility goals like energy conservation and LEED certification. Buildings whose janitorial workers have completed the Green Janitors certificate program are able to apply for the LEED pilot credit IPpc81 for operators and service workers.

In terms of training, janitors receive 30 hours of instruction, during which time they learn hands-on energy management and green cleaning techniques. Because the training occurs at their place of employment, participants are among their coworkers. It is taught in Spanish, though it can be taught in English as well. They take two multiple-choice exams, a midterm and a final. Once they pass both, they have a graduation ceremony that includes a keynote speaker, and they receive a certificate and a pin, meant to be worn while at work.The program fosters teamwork and gives people, many of whom have not received higher education, the opportunity to graduate.

Judging from surveys taken from building management staff, as well as the janitors themselves, it is clear their level of engagement and confidence in their skills have been greatly enhanced. Prior to this program, janitors did not necessarily understand why certain sustainable procedures or materials were required, or the kind of impact they could have on energy reduction and water consumption—and ultimately, human health—through their work.

But beyond having expanded their knowledge, vocabulary, and skill set, they also absorbed what they learned on a personal level. Many of them now recycle at home and use green cleaning products, and they are more cognizant of energy and water usage in their homes. In short, the program helped them expand their concept of green cleaning to green living.

Lesbia Chinchilla, an employee in the Oppenheimer Towers and a graduate of the Green Janitor certificate program, notes, “Being part of the [program] has really opened my eyes as a janitor and as a consumer. I was aware of topics like the three R’s and water conservation but not to the extent that we learned in the class and how it applies to my work.”

In its totality, the program is also an example of social equality, whereby everyone participates in the management and maintenance of a building. Janitors, alongside building owners and managers, are empowered to actively engage in the goals of the LEED rating system. As Hargreaves notes, “This program is empowering them to join the conversation.”

Now in its third year, the Green Janitors’ reach has spread from Los Angeles County to Orange County and San Diego. Expansion goals include statewide trainings. Furthermore, the team has pledged to train 800 janitorial workers by 2017 as part of the city of Los Angeles’ Sustainable City pLAn, which was released in April 2015. “The state of California is next,” says Hargreaves with conviction. The five-year plan sees the Green Janitors Program available across the country—they have already begun discussions with partners in Chicago and New York.

The vitality of their mission is clear, and summarized in Hargreaves’s own words: “You can design, build, and engineer the most efficient building but, when it comes down to it, it’s all about operations and how people use the building…it’s people that make buildings efficient.”

Hopefully we'll be able so see some similar initiatives in Boston soon!

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Learn more about the Green Janitor Program here:

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