Operations, Maintenance and Occupant Education are Critical to Green Building.
No product is green in and of itself. High-efficiency furnaces: Nope. Tankless water heaters: Nope. Recycled content carpet: Nope. Green comes down to how these and other products are used over time.
Much of the focus on green building today is on which specific materials and systems are used, and how they’re installed. Many manufacturers highlight the way their products are made (e.g., with a low carbon footprint, reclaiming waste water, etc.) and what their potential benefits are (e.g., low energy use, low VOC emissions, etc.). These are a critical part of the entire green building equation, but having an environmentally friendly product starts, not stops, when it rolls off the production line. An ongoing need is educating building owners and occupants on how best to use the product.
Two widely recognized green products and systems highlight this point: vegetated roofs and waterless urinals. Roofs covered with growing plants offer many benefits, from filtering air pollutants out of rainwater to helping reduce building heating and cooling requirements. They are green, though, only so far as they are properly used and maintained. Dying plants and degraded water seals between soil and rooftop can negate their benefits. Having to replace a planted roof with another material after only a few years is not green at all. Building owners need to know what steps are required to keep the roof operational for the long term. Likewise, waterless urinals greatly reduce water consumption and the need to replace flush valves. Yet, if custodians do not understand proper cleaning methods and how and when to replace the special filter cartridges, the urinal will not perform as designed and users may clamor to go back to the old flush systems.
The leading green building rating systems acknowledge the importance of how a building is used in making it green. The LEED suite of programs includes "LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance," and the National Green Building Standard has a section on "Operation, Maintenance and Building Owner Education" that in part calls for providing homeowners with a maintenance and operations manual for the green systems in a home.
The necessity of educating users on ongoing green operations and maintenance provides an opportunity for manufacturers to have a continuing dialogue with their customers. Many companies already provide this information in user manuals and warranty statements, but people frequently misplace or forget this information, especially after a few years. If proper maintenance can extend the life of a furnace from say fifteen to twenty years, for example, then keeping the user aware of this is important not only in the first year or two, but also much later.
Companies may wish to implement follow-up plans that call for contacting the customer one, five and ten years - or as appropriate - after their product is installed. These contacts could highlight ongoing maintenance needs, provide tips on using the product most effectively, and offer information on available upgrades. This demonstrates an ongoing commitment to the customer and can build loyalty, plus be a way to obtain new customers if the outreach is made to a person who purchased the home or building after the original owner. Automobile dealers have this approach down. Chances are you continue to receive notes on required maintenance - and coupons for service deals - years after purchasing a vehicle.
For many companies, the challenge, of course, is being several steps removed from the end customer. As a product moves through distributor and dealer networks, it can be difficult for the manufacturer to know for sure where it ends up. Since the benefits to long-term green are so significant, collecting this information is worth the extra effort. It also provides another way to strengthen relationships and communications with business partners.