What is "green cleaning?" That’s a question that’s appeared many times on Internet discussion forums, at trade shows, in the pages of magazines — and, everyone seems to have their own definition.

Two new certification programs are beginning to change that, though. Last month, Washington, D.C. based-Green Seal announced it was seeking comment and funding for its proposed standard for certified cleaning firms and in-house cleaning departments. Around that time, Salt Lake City-based Managemen Inc., announced its own green program, for users of its (OS1) cleaning-management system.

While the programs are still in their early stages, they likely will share some common features — contractors and others who obtain certification will be able to use the appropriate certifying body’s logo for marketing purposes. Also, building service contractors will be able to present prospective and current customers with independent proof of their green-cleaning claims, as the certification criteria are well documented and independently verified.

Contracting Profits spoke with the key players in the new world of green-cleaning certification to find out how the programs work (or will work).

A seal of approval
Green Seal probably is best known in the cleaning industry for its GS-37 standard, which outlines strict criteria for cleaning chemicals. Products that pass the stringent tests can be labeled “Green Seal Certified.”

Right now, the nonprofit agency is developing a standard for cleaning operations themselves. Green Seal is in the process of finding sponsorship funding and also is seeking comment from building service contractors and other interested parties. CEO Arthur Weissman expects the full program to launch within six to nine months.

“Our expectation — and it is only that — is that the standard will cover products (chemicals, paper products), equipment (machines, cleaning tools), procedures and training,” he says. “Everyone in the business knows and repeats that you can’t get green cleaning without having both green products/equipment and green procedures, and we agree with that, so the standard will address both sides in depth.”

This proposed certification is a natural extension of Green Seal’s other programs, as the agency has addressed cleaning procedures in the past, says Weissman.

“We have a long-standing program in the lodging industry and an environmental standard we use to certify green hotels.” he explains.

This includes many operating procedures and systems as well as products purchased. Green Seal also produced a guidance manual for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

“The manual contains large sections on both cleaning procedures and cleaning products,” says Weissman. “In fact, we now evaluate facilities to an environmental standard based on the manual.”

The hospitality industry and government agencies were two of the main catalysts for Green Seal to certify cleaning operations. Although the Green Seal guidelines for lodging and government facilities cover more than just cleaning, many facilities want to start their sustainability efforts with the housekeeping area and expand from there.

“So, it seemed a natural for us to develop a standard specifically for cleaning service providers,” says Weissman. “This will complement our work in developing environmental standards for cleaning chemicals.”

While the exact procedures a green-cleaning operation would have to follow are still in development, Weissman believes contractors interested in certification will be required to use GS-37 and other Green Seal-certified products.

“Our expectation… is that the certification process will be greatly complicated if this is not required,” he says. “Even if a Green Seal standard has to be met (without certification), that could potentially require extensive evaluations of many chemicals. So it would be much easier to require use of certified products, especially where a number exist on the market.”

Weissman doesn’t believe such a requirement will push smaller manufacturers out of the market, as there already are a number of small companies whose products are Green Seal certified.

BSCs, manufacturers and other stakeholders are invited to discuss the standard and offer suggestions, says Weissman.

“Green Seal develops all of its environmental standards in an open and transparent process,” Weissman says. “There will be opportunity to comment in the scoping phase and later when the standard is proposed for public review.”

Because the standard still is in development, Weissman isn’t sure exactly what procedures BSCs will use to obtain certification; however, he anticipates a process similar to that of Green Seal’s other programs — site visits, independent audits, annual re-certification. There will be as-yet-undetermined fees involved, but Weissman says the greater expense for BSCs will be bringing their operations in line with the standard in the first place.

Green Seal’s certification also may eventually help BSCs whose customers are LEED-EB certified or who are interested in it, because the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) already uses some Green Seal standards.

“The LEED-EB rating system does reference Green Seal’s Standard GS-11 for low-VOC paints and coatings and GS-37 for cleaning products,” says LEED-EB project manager Tom Hicks. “Meeting these standards is one way buildings can earn credits within the rating system.”

“Green Seal is a separate organization from USGBC, although we work closely together and share many common goals,” Weissman adds. “Therefore, we expect that this standard will certainly complement LEED-EB, meaning that a building serviced by a certified cleaning provider should fulfill the janitorial aspects of the LEED-EB standard.”

Contractors interested in commenting on or contributing information to the proposed Green Seal green-cleaning standard can e-mail or call (202) 872-6400.

A green operating system
In contrast to Green Seal, ManageMen’s (OS1) Green Certified Cleaning Program is fully fleshed out; in fact, the company recently certified its first organization, the Boeing Co.’s operation in Anaheim, Calif.

That’s because ManageMen already had much of the infrastructure in place to offer such certification — its (OS1) cleaning-management system offers users a very detailed list of processes, products and procedures — down to specific chemicals for floor, restroom and glass cleaning, and even hand tools and vacuums. Operations that stick as closely as possible to the (OS1) guidelines submit to an audit annually, and a score of 80 percent or more means that operation is running the program to specification, explains communications director Benjamin Walker.

To achieve green certification, organizations submit to a similar process; any organization successfully running an (OS1) program will be able to demonstrate green practices. However, neither (OS1) nor its green certification are easy standards to meet, Walker says.

“Sometimes even the most avid users of (OS1) have trouble reaching the standard. The audit gets more in-depth every year because the benchmarking data from the symposium gets stronger,” Walker says.

Managemen acts as an auditor for its users, but Walker says the system has received external validation as well, including for its environmentally friendly features.

“In 2002, Sandia National Laboratories, which is a division of Lockheed Martin, won the New Mexico Green Zia award for their custodial practices,” Walker says. “It’s the first time we’ve ever heard of an operation winning a green award for their custodial practices alone.”

In order to obtain the (OS1) Green Certified Cleaning Program, contractors must first implement the (OS1) standardized cleaning system, which is available only through ManageMen. To find out more about (OS1), BSCs can call 877- 755-6711 or e-mail.

End-user interest?
Both Walker and Weissman say interest in their respective programs has been strong from BSCs, in-house cleaners and other service providers.

“We have been gratified by the generally positive response from the industry, especially major building service contractors,” Weissman says. “While some are waiting to see how this evolves, the proactive ones appreciate the opportunity and growing demand for green cleaning from many institutional customers.”

ManageMen’s existing customer base suggested the company create a green certification, says Walker.

“They have been presenting white papers over the past four symposia on this subject and they suggested that we create a green certification for a cleaning program,” Walker says.

However, firms that are not users of the (OS1) system also seem to be interested in green products and processes, if not the specific standard itself.

And that, say both Walker and Weissman, is key — not so much the drive for certification, but the drive for the greening of the industry, of which certification can be a part.

“As with our other standards and certifications, Green Seal hopes to help catalyze the greening of the cleaning industry by having the actual providers of the service embrace environmental responsibility,” Weissman says. “If service providers demand greener chemicals, products and equipment, manufacturers will try to meet the demand. And certified green cleaning providers will apply procedures that ensure the most healthful and environmentally responsible application of cleaning to buildings and homes.”

Side-By-Side Standards?
Although the timing of ManageMen and Green Seal’s respective announcements may seem suspect, both Benjamin Walker and Arthur Weissman stress that the standards are not intended to compete with one another. In fact, while it is too soon to tell whether the standards will conflict (i.e. specify radically different products or procedures), it is possible BSCs might be able to obtain both Green Seal and (OS1) certification.

Also, the organizations might collaborate in the future.

“Green Seal seeks to catalyze greening of the economy, and we are happy to work with any party similarly dedicated to the environmental mission we embrace,” says Green Seal’s Weissman. “We will gladly incorporate any other party’s expertise and knowledge that they are willing to impart in the open and transparent process to which we subscribe.”

Nothing about the greening of the economy is really easy, Weissman says, and developing environmental leadership standards is always a challenging process because of different views of what is truly green or what is a leadership level.

“However, Green Seal always tries to use the best available science and expertise, informed by life-cycle evaluations and stakeholder input,” Weissman adds. “In terms of cleaning procedures, we will try to identify those practices that are most environamentally beneficial — both to human health and the environment at large — and the products and equipment that go along with them. Where appropriate environmental standards already exist for particular components, we will use them.”

It’s possible that (OS1) will adopt the Green Seal Certification standards as part of the (OS1) requirements, says ManageMen’s Walker.

“We have in the past with other standards and requirements that were consistent with (OS1)’s overall effort to be leaders in environmentally sustainable cleaning,” he adds.

“I want to make it clear that we do not want this issue to be about competition over certification,” says Walker. “The real issue here is the environmental impact of a cleaning operation — that’s what we’re certifying and that’s what we care about.”