In the early years of the green cleaning movement, when purchasers wanted environmentally friendly products they could simply buy those certified by Green Seal, EcoLogo or EPA's DfE Program, or independently verify that products met these standards. Using third-party certifications was a good strategy when only a few manufacturers used them.

But things have changed. There are literally hundreds of manufacturers who offer third-party certified products and the total number of certified products is in the thousands. As a result, purchasers have begun looking for strategies to use in addition to certifications to identify and purchase "the greenest" products.

For these purchasers, one new strategy is to look for complete ingredient disclosure in the cleaning chemicals they use. The belief is that this information will help purchasers identify products that might better meet a specific need, such as protecting vulnerable occupants. Also, if manufacturers divulge complete information they're likely to use more care when selecting ingredients; manufacturers won't be able to hide problematic ones by simply keeping them under legal reporting requirements.

The requirement for reporting ingredients is based on the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's (OSHA) Hazard Communications Standard, which created the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). The MSDS requires disclosure of hazardous ingredients in the formula above one percent and carcinogens above one-tenth of one percent for chemical products. But there is no requirement to disclose hazardous ingredients below the minimum thresholds, nor to disclose any ingredient not considered hazardous.

For many cleaning chemicals the MSDS actually provides purchasers with little insight into the product's ingredients or even its impact on the environment, as the MSDS is focused on protecting worker's health and safety.

While the MSDS was a good start, a new ingredient disclosure effort is now underway. Led by state governments, universities and even Wal-Mart, these facilities want full ingredient disclosure and believe it will help reduce the health and environmental impacts of products and will reward innovative manufacturers who go beyond the minimum requirements of MSDS and third-party standards.

The reason ingredient disclosure is now taking hold is because an approach has been developed that meets the needs of purchasers as well as health and environmental advocates, but is also protective of manufacturers' confidential business information.

This new approach was led by the Consumer Products Specialties Association (CSPA), which is a major chemical industry trade association, and the Sierra Club, which is one of the oldest, largest and most respected environmental organizations in the United States. It lays the foundation for a voluntary ingredient communication program to be adopted by purchasers and can be used by building service contractors to separate themselves from the competition. And this approach will likely be the foundation for federal legislation on this subject.

Ingredient disclosure is easy for BSCs to use. All you have to do is to look on the label of the chemical products you purchase to see if it includes the following:

  • Disclosure of all intentionally added ingredients;
  • Disclosure of ingredients on the product label, on the formulator's website, at a toll-free number, or on other media; and
  • A listing of the highest percentage of concentrations in descending order.

If this information is provided, then that particular manufacturer is taking part in the program. If your current cleaning chemicals do not include this information, discuss it with your distributor as he or she may represent a different manufacturer who practices ingredient disclosure and can point you in the right direction.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group and executive director of the Green Cleaning Network. He can be reached at