In the 1990s, it became clear green was more than just a trendy buzzword and big brands realized green cleaning chemicals could have mass appeal.

“Initially it was fairly small brands that went to market with green cleaning products,” says McFadden. “When the bigger brands entered the cleaning space, that changed the game. They had to spend time figuring out how to improve price and performance.”

The EPA helped the cause by creating its Safer Chemical Ingredients List (SCIL) in the late 1990s. SCIL allows chemists to easily find better alternatives for their formulations.

“The focus on removing bad chemicals is being replaced with identifying good chemicals,” says McFadden. “Let’s find a way to take the chemicals that don’t have hazardous characteristics and formulate them into cleaning products. That’s a huge transformation.”
By the early 2000s, certifiers of green products began instituting stricter performance requirements and buyers began paying more attention to their labels. Manufacturers worked harder to ensure their products passed muster.

Third-party labels such as Green Seal, UL Environment and the EPA’s Safer Choice have grown from only a handful of certified products to more than 2,000 on each list.

Also, scientists were now better educated. Major universities offered graduate degrees in green chemistry and required chemistry undergrads to take courses in toxicology.

“There’s a bigger, broader portfolio for BSCs to choose from than there was 25 years ago,” says McFadden. “There’s been a huge evolution in chemistry. This isn’t a marketing ploy. There’s real evidence the products work better.”

As green cleaning products improved, consumer interest grew. To reach a broader buying base, however, companies had to reconsider their marketing tactics.

“Companies realized targeting green purchasers and adding a premium wouldn’t fly anymore,” says Mark Petruzzi, senior vice president of outreach and strategic relations for Green Seal, Washington, D.C. “There’s no more room to charge more just because a product is green.”

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