Sustainable Winter Management Guidelines

By Phill Sexton
From the October 2018 Issue of Facility Executive

Sustainability and winter management (snow and ice management) are two terms that have more recently become interconnected. As the expectations, costs, and environmental effects of winter management services increase, facility management executives are looking to more sustainable practices for these exterior services.

Winter Management

(Photo: Snow & Ice Management Association)

The additional stresses winter weather causes facility managers are unlike those experienced inside buildings. Cost control, risk management, and rising expectations for near perfect conditions (a.k.a. “black top”, “wet”, “zero tolerance”) are typical challenges. More recently, liability linked to the overuse of de-icing salts (e.g. “rock salt”—sodium chloride) is a challenge facilities face. Multiple research studies have validated that most non-point source chloride contamination of freshwater bodies and aquifers originates from parking and sidewalk surfaces (see Figure 1). Therefore, facility managers need to be prepared for future regulations and liability linked to use of de-icing salts to control slippery winter conditions.

Sustainable Winter Management (SWiM™) guidelines are available help facility managers and other stakeholders navigate this winter maintenance landscape. Like LEED which is a synonymous with standards for green buildings, SWiM is a solution developed for establishing standards of practice for responsible snow and ice management. The lack of tested and verified industry standards for winter management operations inspired this author’s two-year thesis research at Harvard University, which focused on a sustainability analysis of the commercial winter management industry. The results of the Harvard research revealed a framework of best practices and solutions interventions that evolved into the SWiM standards for properties and highway departments to follow and to qualify for SWiM certification. Unlike other sustainability initiatives that typically are costly to initiate, SWiM guidelines provide these benefits to properties: saving money, managing risk, and reducing salt use.

Winter Management

Figure 1. Most non-point source chloride contamination of freshwater bodies and aquifers originates from winter maintenance of parking/sidewalk surfaces.

A recent case study conducted by the NY Pollution Prevention Institute (NYPPI) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) validates that the implementation of SWiM guidelines produced significant results in cost efficiencies, reducing salt use, and increasing environmental responsibility. Beyond these immediate results are the anticipated long-term benefits to a property’s infrastructure.

Although SWiM certification audit guidelines include over 100 criteria that must be met for a property or portfolio of properties to earn SWiM™ SITE™ certification, the broad criteria of policies are available for any facility owner or manager to apply. These straightforward categories of policy enable standards of practice for in-house or contracted winter maintenance operations. The categories are: Measure, Calibrate, Prevent, Analyze, Improve, and Optimize.

Measure. You must measure what you want to improve. Compare current practices with industry production rates guidelines published by the Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA). These guidelines include examples of average times required for plowing an acre of parking lot; shoveling 1,000 linear feet of sidewalk; and the average quantity of time and salt required for anti-icing and de-icing applications.

Salt application rate guidelines have been established through the Sustainable Salt Initiative (more at It’s important to always measure surface temperatures (not air temperature) when deciding application rate guides to utilize.

Measure salt application rate output on a per application basis. Salt measuring technology and cloud based, GPS enabled tracking software is available that makes measuring salt applications easy and affordable.

Measure level of service (LOS) expectations and results. This can be achieved using site weather cameras or assigning someone to observe and document snow operations, including with pictures. It’s important to understand when LOS expectations are being met and when they are perhaps being over-serviced, which typically includes over-applying salt.

Calibrate. Salt application equipment should always be calibrated to confirm minimum and maximum material flow rates. Calibration should be performed pre-season and mid-season at a minimum. Recalibration should also be performed any time a repair or other change is made to this equipment.

Calibration of storm response times with resource allocations (i.e., quantity of people, materials and equipment) is also important to practice. Timing of storms and accumulation thresholds, compared with shift schedules for example, are important to establish.

Prevent. Prevent bonding of snow and ice on paved surfaces by using anti-icing application techniques as a standard of practice, when conditions allow. Although dry salt applied as an anti-icing application can be effective, salt brine is the recommended method to prevent dry salt “bounce and scatter” waste.

When outsourcing to contractors, prevent the overuse of salt with service contract terms that incentivize for efficiency rather than charge by the amount or the frequency of service and materials use.

Analyze. Analyze inconsistencies with plow production and salt application rates by categories of variables including; a) parking lot/road; b) vehicle (truck); c) equipment (spreader type); and d) operator (driver/employee). Analysis can be achieved using GPS enabled technology and salt tracking hardware readily and affordably available to contractors and facility managers.

Improve. Improve salt rate output by analyzing inconsistencies of measured salt application rates. Identify the lowest measured rate that achieves desired level of service, and recalibrate all salt application equipment to the lowest successful rate(s).

Improved production cycle times can be achieved using site maps and scheduled training with operators on how to best route a site or a portfolio of sites.

Optimize. Optimize dry salt output by “pre-wetting” dry salt flow with salt brine at the spinner of the spreader. Salt is only effective for melting snow in its liquid form which is brine. Pre-wetting dry salt with a small quantity of brine helps to expedite the brine reaction that is desired.

Meanwhile, new plow technology options are available that enable greater efficiencies for clearing snow accumulation from parking lot surfaces down to near bare conditions. Less snow and ice accumulation left on the parking lot surface means less salt is needed to melt.

SWiM: Retail Parking Case Study

The NYPPI/RIT case study of SWiM certified sites conducted last winter season 2017-18, for a multi-location retail property owner located in the snow belt region of Syracuse, NY, validated significant cost, risk, and environmental benefits. Two sets of retail store properties owned and operated by the same company, with virtually the same parking space quantity and footprint, and located only a few miles from each other is compared. One set of stores followed SWiM guidelines, and one set did not follow the guidelines (see Table 1).

Winter ManagementWhether the parking setting is that of retail or office, public or private, the standards of policy are consistent for developing a sustainable winter management program. Following the SWiM guidelines in the proper order and holding maintenance operations accountable to implement these standards of practices are important to manage for achieving similar results and benefits.

Winter ManagementSexton is founder and managing director of WIT Advisers and industry adviser to the Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA). WIT Advisers administers the Sustainable Winter Management (SWiM™) program and certifications for properties. Sexton also serves as adjunct professor at the Center of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cobleskill. He holds degrees in agriculture, horticulture, and business economics from the State University of NY and a master’s degree in Sustainability from Harvard University where he focused his studies on corporate innovation and sustainability and researching salt use by the winter management industry.

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