by Thomas A. Green and Matthew Neff — Originally published in the November 2015 issue of FMJ—By definition, a pest is a creature we want out of our lives, so it’s no wonder pest management is a subject most prefer to avoid.
However, “thinking pest” during design, construction and operation of facilities can return big dividends. These include sharp reductions in pesticide use, pest complaints, costs and health and environmental impacts, and a new success story for sustainability efforts. Facility managers can achieve these benefits inside and outside of facilities by shifting from treating symptoms to addressing underlying conditions that lead to pest problems.
Benefits of IPM
Integrated pest management (IPM) has been shown to reduce pest complaints by 30-89 percent and pesticide applications by 93 percent in multiple studies including in office buildings1 and schools.2 This common-sense approach is the foundation of green pest control. IPM is effective because it focuses on resolving why the pest is present, rather than applying pesticides routinely as a Band-Aid over fixable problems.
Fewer pest complaints and pesticide applications translates into reduced staff absences and improved productivity. Exposure to mice, cockroaches, dust mites and some aerosol pesticide products can aggravate asthma symptoms and trigger asthma attacks. Flies, ants, cockroaches and rodents can visit environments contaminated with pathogens, including listeria, before they arrive on food or food preparation surfaces, inviting foodborne illness. Some staff may also feel uncomfortable with pesticides and ask for time off after an application has been made. No one wants to work in an environment where distracting pest sightings are a common occurrence.
Excluding pests by tightening up building envelopes is a key IPM strategy that also can reduce heating and cooling costs. Properly installed door sweeps on exterior doors seal the gap between the bottom of the door and the sill, keeping pests and dirt out and improving fire safety by restricting air flow. In one study, door sweeps on school buildings in Florida reduced pest complaints by 65 percent.
Each time a pest complaint is prevented, time and money are saved by avoiding the costs associated with the distraction, reporting and logging the complaint, arranging for pest control services, and accompanying the provider to investigate and resolve the complaint. Avoiding health department action due to unmanaged pest problems is priceless to an organization’s brand image.
The first step is a change in mindset. Pest control is not something that can simply be delegated to a pest control service provider. Everyone in the facility has a role to play in preventing pest problems. This doesn’t mean more work; it means adjusting behaviors to deny pests food, water and shelter.
To integrate green pest control into existing infrastructure, think about green pest management as another element of the overall sustainability program. Incorporate the following into green program policies and training:
- Promptly report any pest or pest-friendly conditions
- Promptly resolve food and drink spills
- Store any food items in pest-proof containers
- Avoid clutter by not storing items on floors or in corners
- Keep exterior doors closed
- Maintain 6-inch cleaning and inspection aisles around equipment and furnishings
- Avoid bringing in/using any pesticides
Persuade staff to cooperate by explaining the risks and benefits, just as you would for water or energy conservation. To maximize efficiency, add these elements to existing staff training programs, and include pest reporting in the existing maintenance request system. However, several roles will need more specific policies and training.
Food service staff should be aware that accumulated organic matter in floor drains and food debris in hard-to-reach locations are two leading sources of pests in food service areas. Dirty drains provide excellent breeding grounds for pathogens and small flies, and food sources for ants, cockroaches and mice. Placing exterior waste containers as far as practical from entryways and keeping container lids closed can also make a huge difference. Removing food items from cardboard containers as they are shelved and immediately moving the cardboard to exterior recycling containers can reduce cockroach introductions by eliminating any egg cases that might be hiding in the corrugations.
Cleaning professionals need to understand that mops and brooms can trap food particles and provide a buffet for ants and cockroaches, and so should be kept clean and hung up off the floor after use. They can also benefit from understanding that ants can leave a pheromone recruitment trail when they find a food source, and that simply cleaning up the trail as well as the food can stop additional ants from following. Many spider problems can be reduced simply by vacuuming up any webs. Emptying trash cans that may contain food items at the end of each day can greatly reduce fruit fly and ant problems. Ensuring trash can liners are strong enough to stay intact in the dumpster can reduce spills and pest attractants.
Maintenance staff will appreciate knowing that mice can squeeze through a quarter-inch gap (the diameter of a pencil). That’s why proper installation of door sweeps, without gaps at the ends or in the middle with double doors, is essential. Sealing up any plumbing or electrical penetrations through walls is also critical for energy savings, fire safety and pest management.
Sealing even smaller gaps including around escutcheon plates, and wall-mounted equipment and fixtures, is especially important in food-service areas to eliminate harborage for cockroaches. American cockroaches typically enter facilities through drains with dry P-traps; maintenance staff can often completely eliminate this problem by ensuring that infrequently used drains are checked and filled regularly, or by installing one-way valve covers.
Architects and designers will benefit from Pest Prevention by Design.3 This invaluable resource was created by a collaboration led by Dr. Chris Geiger of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. The guide provides comprehensive general principles and practical specifics for building out pests during design, construction and renovations, including setting up foodservice and storage areas to minimize pest harborage and food sources.
Facility managers are the cornerstone of any green pest management effort. They need to be trained and supported as program coordinators to provide quality control over internal roles and responsibilities, and quality assurance for contractors. They must be able to interact effectively with peers and superiors to ensure cooperation up and down the chain. Working alongside a pest management professional, they need to be actively engaged in review of designs for new construction and renovation, annual preventive maintenance inspections, identifying the root cause of any pest problems that occur and implementing recommendations for resolution.
For a great training resource for the multiple roles in a facility, see the online learning modules at stopschoolpests.org. While these are specific to schools, they can be readily adapted for any facility and added to your existing training program.
Finding a competent pest management service provider
Most pest management professionals understand the importance of appearing green, so it’s important to understand the difference. Hire a competent green pest management professional as a partner and train your facility team to provide oversight. Facility managers should periodically join service technicians on visits and review the technician’s service record after every visit.
Dr. Albert Greene, entomologist with the U.S. General Service Agency, advises that if a facility can answer “no” to all of the following questions, it’s a good sign:
- Are pests or evidence of pests frequently encountered?
- Are there obvious conducive conditions for pests?
- Are insecticides routinely sprayed indoors?
- Are there obvious indoor rodenticide placements?
- Is pest control service limited to pesticide application, with little or no inspection of potential trouble spots?
- Are many occupants dissatisfied with the pest control service?
If yes is the answer to any of the above, an improvement in service or change in service provider may be in order.
“Going the green service route is a partnership; it is a commitment from both parties to be proactive in identifying potential pest issues and in addressing them before it is necessary to use pesticides,” says Dr. Angela Tucker, training director for Smithereen Pest Management Services based in Niles, Illinois. “However, there are times in nearly all facilities when pesticides must be used but in a targeted manner and not on a scheduled or routine basis.”
Pesticide risk is a product of exposure and toxicity. All pesticides should be used in a way that reduces potential for exposure, because there is always potential to learn more about toxicity than we know today. Thanks to manufacturers that have developed effective bait formulations for nearly all structural insect pests, there are options that can be used in minimal amounts, and in crevices, voids and other locations inaccessible to non-targets, including facility occupants.
FM teams can also take advantage of resources for identifying effective least-risk products, such as the Bio-Integral Resource Center’s IPM Practitioner’s Directory of Least Risk products4 and the Texas State Schools Green Category pesticide list.5 Work with the pest management service provider to create an approved list of least-risk products with usage guidelines on when and where these may be used.
IPM for landscape care follows the same basic concepts from design through construction, maintenance and renovation by examining why pests become a problem and how this can be prevented. Here are some specific practices to incorporate in your green program:6
- Select native plants and place them in locations where they will experience conditions that allow them to thrive.
- Avoid placing plants that attract stinging insects adjacent to walkways and entryways.
- Use mulch or masonry mowing strips under fence lines and around paved areas and planting beds to allow mowing equipment access right up to the feature.
- Use underlayments and geotextiles under benches, tables and bike racks, and under gravel, brick and stone to reduce the need for herbicide applications.
- Mulch properly around tree trunks and plant bases.
- Water turf deeply and less frequently to encourage deep rooting.
- Promptly repair damage to existing turf and overseed in late summer to ensure thick turf that prevents weed establishment.
- Avoid soil compaction which slows turf root growth; aerate when and where needed.
If you are participating in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program, LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance currently offers two points for indoor and outdoor IPM programs, another benefit to implementing a green approach. As an FM, your specification of green structural and landscape services helps drives greater adoption of IPM and access to its benefits.
1) Greene, A. and N.L. Breisch. 2002. Measuring integrated pest management programs for public buildings. J. Econ. Entomol. 95(1): 1-13.
2) Chambers, K., T. Green, D. Gouge, J. Hurley, T. Stock, Z. Bruns, M. Shour, C. Foss, F. Graham, K. Murray, L. Braband, S. Glick and M. Anderson. 2011. The Business Case for Integrated Pest Management in Schools: Cutting Costs and Increasing Benefits. 8 pp. www.ipminstitute.org/school_ipm_2015/ipm_business_case_print_version.pdf.
6) Helpful presentations from expert Chip Osborne and James Sotillo on sustainable turf and landscape care: www.ipminstitute.org/Public_Agency_Commercial_Facility_IPM/Natural_Lawn_Landscape_Workshop_0409.htm.
Dr. Thomas Green is president and co-founder of the IPM Institute of North America, a nonprofit working to leverage the power of the marketplace to improve health, environment and economics. He has created practices, standards and evaluation tools used in agriculture, landscapes and facilities, and conducted on-site evaluations of hundreds of facilities nationally and internationally, helping numerous clients resolve persistent pest problems. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew Neff coordinates Green Shield Certified, an award-winning nonprofit IPM certification program for pest management professionals, programs and facilities (www.greenshieldcertified.org). He is a graduate of Arizona State University and his background is in writing and rhetoric. He can be reached at email@example.com.