By Vincent Rountree
Published in the April 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Hardly a day goes by without another indication that the collective movement towards sustainability is real. This is represented in virtually all industry sectors, from coffee and cars to toys and technology.
And why not? There’s ample evidence that the general public is captivated by the green movement. And when given a choice, most consumers prefer to deal with businesses and organizations that embrace the notion of sustainability.
But sustainability can take many forms, and “going green” can mean many different things, depending on the industry. Some corporations take a direct approach, producing goods or services aimed at solving environmental problems. Others take what is called the “best in breed” approach, trying to be the greenest retail store or auto manufacturer.
For those in facilities management (FM), there is another approach to implementing sustainable practices. It is an approach that has been recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for decades—the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Known as the waste hierarchy, the 3Rs outline waste management strategies that can have a profound effect on reducing the amount of waste generated in a building. They can also be an important element in LEED® certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Putting The 3Rs To Work
The 3Rs of conservation and sustainability offer general guidelines; facility professionals can then tailor their approach.
- Reduce the amount of generated waste and discarded trash.
- Reuse containers and products; repair what is broken or donate it to someone who can repair it.
- Recycle as much as possible, which includes buying products with recycled content.
Of course, these guidelines can take shape in a myriad of ways, depending on the facility. Office buildings might implement sustainability programs differently than a public assembly hall, for instance. Still, both have the shared goal of making significant reductions in energy, water, or material consumption.
Despite the absence of a one size fits all sustainability program for facilities, there is an area where most buildings can assume environmental stewardship via the 3Rs—in the restroom.
By implementing a suite of simple maintenance tactics based on the 3Rs, facilities can create a sustainable environment in meaningful ways that send a clear message to stakeholders that going green is a priority.
Facility managers (fms) can implement these tactics in their restrooms in the following ways:
Reduce. The EPA considers source reduction to be the preferred method of waste management, because it actually prevents waste generation in the first place and, therefore, goes a long way towards protecting the environment.
In restrooms, source reduction is extremely effective and can take many forms. It can mean reducing the amount of water used in toilets and sinks, reducing the paper used for hand drying and hygiene, and reducing product packaging waste. Some tactics to reduce waste in the washroom include:
- installing low-flow toilets and touchless faucets to cut water waste;
- installing motion sensors for lights and fans to reduce energy waste;
- installing touchless paper dispensers, which can reduce paper waste by up to 30%;
- using coreless tissue dispensing systems, which allow for near 100% paper usage with little or no stub roll waste and eliminate waste from cores, wrappers, and corrugate casing; and
- using environmentally friendly soaps and cleaning products that are biodegradable, nontoxic, and derived from plant and mineral based ingredients rather than petroleum.
Reuse. When it comes to restrooms in facilities, issues of public health, hygiene, and cleanliness often interfere with common sense reuse practices a person might feel perfectly comfortable employing in the home. Each fm must gauge his or her organization’s tolerance for reuse, which may include:
- gray water for landscaping
- materials or equipment from the restroom itself, including the reuse of floor or ceiling tiles elsewhere in the facility or the donation of sinks, toilets, and faucets for reuse elsewhere in the community; and
- reuse of cleaning cloths, brushes, and towels by the janitorial staff.
- Reusing items by repairing them, donating them to charity and community groups, or selling them also reduces waste.
Recycle. Of the 3Rs, “recycle” is undoubtedly the most widely understood and practiced sustainability measure in the United States. Currently, 32% of waste is recycled in the U.S., according to the EPA. This rate has almost doubled during the past 15 years, states the EPA.
While recycling practices have increased in general, the EPA has also noted that the recycling of specific materials has grown even more drastically. Fifty percent of all paper, 34% of all plastic soft drink bottles, 45% of all aluminum beer and soft drink cans, 63% of all steel packaging, and 67% of all major appliances are now recycled. An estimated 73% of all corrugated materials is also recycled, according to the Corrugated Packaging Alliance.
When it comes to restrooms in facilities, however, adhering to the principles of recycling takes a different tack. One approach is to purchase EPA-compliant recycled restroom supplies. These items are made from recycled products such as paper, paperboard, and other fibrous wastes garnered from the recycling bins at retail stores, offices, homes, and facilities.
Restroom supplies made from these items include bathroom tissue, paper towels, facial tissues, and cleaning cloths, all made with high percentages of post-consumer fiber content.
As fms review their purchasing and maintenance policies for their restrooms, keeping the 3Rs in mind can serve as a guiding framework. It would seem that in this day and age, going green is definitely golden.
Rountree is a senior marketing manager, Office Building Segment, for Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products LP. He can be reached at [email protected].