Green is the biggest buzzword in the cleaning industry. Cleaning in an environmentally friendly way is a hot trend that continues to gain traction as more government and private agencies adopt green cleaning requirements.

Although green cleaning certainly hasn’t reached critical mass, it is slowly working its way from the coasts into America’s heartland. As the trend gains momentum, building service contractors must become informed about what “green” means and then stay on top of the ever-evolving marketplace.

One of the most important aspects of going green is choosing products that have been certified environmentally preferable by an independent third party. Here, we look at what’s new among some of the nation’s top green certifying groups.

Green Seal
With more than 40 product categories already covered by Green Seal’s standards, it’s hard to believe that the organization has much room to grow. But last September, Green Seal introduced an important new certification — the Environmental Standard for Cleaning Services (GS-42).

Green Seal has always certified products, and the organization will now also certify cleaning services. To qualify for GS-42 certification, a BSC must use green chemicals and equipment, implement green cleaning procedures, provide employee training, communicate with building owners and occupants and establish a building-specific green cleaning plan.

“The time was right for this,” says Arthur Weissman, Ph.D., president and CEO of Green Seal, based in Washington, D.C. “We had covered most of the basic chemical products, but everyone knows it’s not simply enough to use green chemicals and equipment; they have to be used properly.”

GS-42 can be used for both certification and verification. It not only provides an incentive to service providers who can advertise themselves as green certified, it also serves as a reliable tool for purchasers to determine which services are environmentally responsible.

The new certification can be an advantage for BSCs, Weissman says.

“Any facility cleaned by these services can advertise they are cleaned by a service that meets the Green Seal standard. That’s a nice thing a BSC can offer its customers,” he says.

The complex standard has a difficult initial evaluation process. After certification, Green Seal continues to verify compliance by conducting on-site audits that may include the cleaning service provider’s own facilities, as well as a sample of the facilities cleaned by the service.

In other news, Green Seal may soon revise its GS-37 certification for institutional and industrial cleaners to better respond to sensitive populations. A final decision will come early next year, but Weissman says the certification may evolve into a two-tier standard, with a basic level and a more stringent level to address the needs of children and other vulnerable populations.

Originally founded in 1988 by the Canadian government, Ecologo is expanding its reach. The certifying organization recently opened its first U.S.-based office in Philadelphia. The new location is further evidence of Ecologo’s growth, which also includes a new certification for disinfectant cleaners. Launched in March, CCD-166 fills a gap in the organization’s offerings.

“We certified most other products and this was one area missing,” says Scott McDougall, president of Ecologo. “It is a significant development for service providers and end customers because many facilities have been searching for disinfectants that are both effective, but also less harmful to the environment.”

As a category, disinfectants have definite environmental disadvantages, which have prevented many groups from certifying them as green. CCD-166 was created, however, in recognition of the essential role disinfectants play in some facilities’ cleaning regimes.

“We became aware that there were some disinfectant cleaners that were less encouraging of microbial resistance,” McDougall says.

Don’t look for the Ecologo emblem on disinfectants, however. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to prohibit the products from being labeled or marketed as green. But BSCs should be aware of which products qualify under CCD-166 (a full list is available at because facilities managers may begin specifying disinfectants that have a green certification.

In the coming months, BSCs can also expect to see an Ecologo certification on products designed for highly sensitive populations.

Ecologo recently introduced a program of reduced scrutiny for cleaning formulations that are made with ingredients listed on the CleanGredients™ database, which is maintained by the Green-Blue Institute. The change means products that use ingredients on the database will not be re-tested before certification.

The Canadian-based group hopes to soon announce partnerships with several state and federal government agencies that will make Ecologo a purchasing specification. This is a potentially important change for BSCs who work with government agencies and must meet their approved-product requirements.

Every certifying organization has a unique mission. For GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI), that goal is to improve public health and quality of life by focusing on indoor air quality.

For six years, GEI had certified a wide range of products, from furniture to insulation, but not operational materials, such as cleaning products. Last October, the group announced it would begin certifying cleaners and cleaning systems for low chemical emissions.

The GEI testing process is unique. Instead of examining a product’s individual ingredients for green qualities, the organization analyzes a product’s tangible effect on air quality. The test lab uses a chemical in a controlled environment and then samples the air to determine what and how much the product emits into the air after application.

“When other certifying programs look at volatile organic compounds, they look at it in terms of content — X grams per liter,” says Carl Smith, CEO of GREENGUARD, which is based in Atlanta. “We look at what actually comes up into the air and what you are exposed to. It’s a more real-world way of looking at it. By looking at exposures, we can tie use of that product directly to various risks.”

The program covers everything from general cleaners and institutional cleaning systems to toilet cleaners and aerosol products.

Like its previous efforts, GEI’s new cleaning certification has two levels, GREENGUARD and GREENGUARD for Children and Schools. The latter certification, which includes GEI’s most rigorous set of standards, recognizes that different building types have different needs.

Carpet and Rug Institute
In 2000, Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) made its first foray into certifying cleaning products, when it introduced the Green Label program for vacuums. The standard tested how well a vacuum removed soil and then contained that soil within the vacuum without spewing it back into the environment.

Unfortunately, the organization soon realized the program wasn’t enough. CRI’s market research showed that cleaning and maintenance remained the top customer concern affecting carpet selection.

To address carpet customers’ concerns, CRI developed a Seal of Approval (SOA) testing program in 2004. The SOA label certifies products that meet high performance standards. The program started with cleaning solutions (spot removers, pre-sprays, and in-tank products) and then a year later added deep cleaning extractors. Last year, the SOA program grew to include extractor systems. Unlike the previous testing of extractors, which was done with water, the new systemic approach tests the equipment with chemicals.

“There is no one doing the kind of testing and certification we’re doing for cleaning efficacy,” says Werner Braun, president of CRI, Dalton, Ga.

CRI also has a program for service providers. BSCs who use SOA extractors and chemicals are allowed to display an SOA Service Provider decal.

Later this year, CRI will unveil a new SOA Green Label vacuum testing program, which will use an X-ray fluorescence technology adapted from NASA that does a better job of quantifying soil data.

Design for the Environment
The U.S. government is doing its part to promote green practices with the EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program, created in 1992. Instead of offering certifications, DfE creates “partnerships” with companies that voluntarily commit to incorporate environmental considerations into their design processes.

DfE’s latest effort is to sponsor and support the CleanGredients database. The two-year-old online subscription service provides a database of institutional and industrial cleaning ingredients that feature green formulations.

“That got started because the number one question we get is, ‘Is there a list where we can find safer ingredients for our products?’,” says David DiFiore, senior project manager for DfE in Washington, D.C. “The database is very much a collective effort with a lot of industry participation.”

Although CleanGredients currently lists only surfactants for hard surface and carpet cleaning and laundry and hand dish soap, DfE is working to add solvents to the list. Fragrances and colorants will also soon be added as ingredient criteria.

Although BSCs will likely have no need to access the database, they should be aware of it because many more government agencies and purchasing groups are instituting green purchasing programs that require the use of DfE-recognized chemicals. Contracting Profits
Becky Mollenkamp is a freelance writer based out of Des Moines, Iowa.