Optimize Operational and Maintenance Practices  

the WBDG Sustainable Committee


No matter how sustainable a building may have been in its design and construction, it can only remain so if it is operated responsibly and maintained properly. For example, the use of toxic cleaning products can deteriorate indoor air quality and materials; failure to test sensor control points on a regular basis can compromise energy efficiency; and poor training can lead to early system failures. Sustainable operations and maintenance (O&M) practices focus primarily on the actions of building occupants, and encompass safety, health and safety, comfort, and productivity, with an understanding of the need for subsequent generations to reuse and recycle building components. During the design and construction process, to the maximum extent possible, select systems that will be easy to maintain. Ensure that operation and maintenance personnel are part of the project planning and development process, such as by establishing commissioning criteria at the onset of a project.

Throughout a building's life cycle, the operations and maintenance plan / program / practices should:

  • Train building occupants, facilities managers, and maintenance staff in sustainable design principles and methods that will minimize system failures;
  • Purchase cleaning products and supplies that are resource-efficient, bio-degradable and as safe as possible for both janitorial staff and building occupants, and thereby ensure good indoor air quality;
  • Test sensor control points on a regular basis to ensure energy efficiency is not compromised;
  • Use automated monitors and controls for energy, water, waste, temperature, moisture, and ventilation;
  • Reduce waste through source reduction, reuse, recycling and/or composting to eliminate disposal of reusable materials at landfills and incinerators;
  • Minimize travel by supporting telecommuting programs and enabling a mobile work environment;
  • Perform scheduled energy audits and re-commissioning of systems; and
  • When updating a facility or its systems, choose higher efficiency equipment and durable materials that will withstand storms and other natural events, and improve the tightness of the building envelope if feasible.


Train Building Occupants, Facilities Managers, and Maintenance Staff in Sustainability Principles and Methods

  • Implement a comprehensive preventive maintenance program to keep all building systems functioning as designed. See WBDG Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM).
  • Install utility meters and track progress of applicable energy, water, gas, and waste systems to optimize performance. It is not possible to benchmark whole building performance without mapping utility meters.
  • Provide logistic support and tools to facilities managers and maintenance crews to calibrate, operate and maintain facilities in accordance with the design intent.
  • Engage building occupants through surveys, education, clear signage, and incentive programs.
  • Maintain a Certified Energy Manager® (CEM®) on staff to monitor systems, energy costs, and energy conservation initiatives, whenever it is cost-effective to do so.
  • Participate in Energy Star Portfolio Manager to measure and track the building's energy consumption and water use, as well as the management of construction and demolition materials during renovation and tenant build-out.
  • Recognize the potential for highly skilled technical jobs in building controls and maintenance that high-performance sustainable buildings provide. Requiring extensive training and skills, these jobs provide good salaries and job security.
EPA Potomac Yard Headquarters

EPA's Potomac Yard Headquarters building in Arlington, Virginia, earned LEED Platinum certification for existing buildings operations and maintenance.
Photo Credit: U.S. EPA

Employ Environmentally Preferable Landscaping Practices


"Grasscycling" with mulching mowers can reduce fertilizer use up to 30%.

Purchase Resource-Efficient and Safer Cleaning Products and Maintenance Services

  • Use safer cleaners, such as EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) labeled products, for better indoor air quality.
  • Look for products that are concentrated (i.e., use less packaging).
  • Use integrated pest management (IPM) practices for both facility and landscape maintenance, to reduce pesticide and herbicide use. IPM has been mandated on federal property since 1996 by Section 136r–1 of Title 7, United States Code, and is cited in Title 41 of the Code of Federal Regulations (102–74.35) as a required service for agencies subject to the authority of the General Services Administration (GSA).
  • Use non-toxic pest control for indoor spaces and potted plants. See also WBDG Evaluating and Selecting Green Products.
  • Keep air ducts clean and free of microorganisms through a structured program of preventive maintenance and regular filter changes.
  • Janitorial staff knowledge and training are important to meeting IEQ goals. Janitorial Service Contracts should meet ASTM E1971 Standard Guide for Stewardship for the Cleaning of Commercial and Institutional Buildings.

Automate Energy, Water, Waste, Temperature, Moisture, and Ventilation Monitors and Controls

ENERGY STAR-labeled computer, tablet, and phone

ENERGY STAR-labeled computers use 30%–65% less energy than computers without this designation, depending on usage. Laptops use much less energy than desktop computers.
Photo Credit: Energy.gov

Reduce Waste through Source Reduction and Recycling

  • Implement a paper reduction strategy, which is integrated with technology and space use strategies.
  • Develop and implement a waste management policy for building operation, including an initial waste generation and recycling assessment, targets for recycling rates, occupant incentives, and verification on an annual basis as to whether reduction goals are being met. The following materials should be targeted for recycling in the policy: consumer products (e.g. computers, electronic equipment, office supplies, plastics, glass, paper, aluminum); routine maintenance items (e.g. fluorescent and HID lamps), and items from renovation (e.g. acoustical ceiling tiles, carpet tiles, and furniture).
  • Use on-site composting of organic materials.
  • Adopt green meeting practices. Evaluate potential hotel and conference center venues that are sustainable in that they recycle, purchase recycled or recyclable items, use nondisposable food and beverage service, have bottle deposits, a plan for leftover food and meeting materials, and practice water and energy conservation.

Support Practices that Encourage Sustainable Transportation Choices or Minimize Travel

  • Install a sufficient number of bike racks to encourage use.
  • Designate shuttle/bus stops in safe, accessible areas near the facility.
  • Incentivize users of public or shared transportation systems.
  • Provide a sufficient number of dedicated car/van-pool parking spaces.
  • Support teleconferencing and videoconferencing through proper operations and maintenance of communication systems.
  • Support telework (aka telecommuting) programs by providing hoteling spaces (flexible and well-equipped office spaces that teleworkers can use when they come into the office) and by providing properly operating and maintained telework centers.

The City of Pasadena, California, installs bike racks in the public right-of-way to make daily bicycle use convenient. Locations for the racks are based on public requests through the Citizen Service Center.
Photo Credit: Pasadena Department of Transportation

Relevant Codes, Laws, and Standards

Codes and Laws


Additional Resources

Optimize Operational and Maintenance Practices

Train Building Occupants, Facilities Managers, and Maintenance Staff in Sustainability Principles and Methods

Purchase Resource-Efficient and Safer Cleaning Products and Maintenance Services

Use Automated Monitors and Controls for Energy, Water, Waste, Temperature, Moisture, and Ventilation Monitors and Controls

Reduce Waste through Source Reduction and Recycling

Support Practices that Encourage Sustainable Transportation or Minimize Travel


Training Courses