Within the last decade, the green movement has really taken shape in the jan/san industry and the demand for certified products and equipment has grown. As this environmental consciousness continues to evolve, so does the development of products and equipment that meet the “green” needs of the facility manager.

Roughly seven years ago, Dalton, Ga.-based Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) conducted a survey among carpet customers in residential and various commercial market segments. It was determined that the number-one issue among every demographic was that carpets couldn’t be properly cleaned or maintained. Upon further examination, Werner Braun, president of CRI, found that no organization was testing or certifying carpet cleaning products — which is when CRI got into the game.

“We started addressing this concern pretty quickly after the survey,” says Braun. “The first set of products we looked at were spot removers. We developed protocols and then went out and bought existing products off the shelves for testing. To our amazement only four of the 24 performed better than water.”

This initial revelation was followed by a positive response from the industry and CRI further expanded their certification program to also include equipment such as vacuums, extractors and complete carpet systems.

Certification Checklist

Spot removers (pre-spray and in-tank) were the first target for CRI. When evaluating these products for their Seal of Approval (SOA) program, CRI officials test for a number of things. First, testers determine whether a product actually removes spots. Then the chemical is analyzed for accelerated resoiling.

“You might have a spot remover that gets a spot out, but it has other solvents included in its formulation that attracts soils,” Braun explains the “resoiling” phenomenon. “Over the next few days, that spot might come back with a vengeance by attracting additional contaminants.”

The third certification step tests how the spot remover effects color fastness and whether the product causes any bleaching. Lastly, the pH is measured, since certain levels of pH can damage carpets. A product that passes all these tests is approved for the SOA certification.

On the equipment side, vacuum cleaners are tested for their ability to remove soil, but also receive close scrutiny relative to the pollutants they emit.

“CRI measures the total emissions from the vacuum, which comes from three different sources,” says Braun. “We measure the emissions from the filter and from under the housing, and we know the vacuum has plastic and rubber parts so we measure those as well.”

Other certifying bodies might only evaluate the emissions from the vacuum filter, and according to Braun, this is a disservice to those seeking a truly “green” machine.

The final test measures the wear and tear the vacuum has on the carpet.

“We know there are vacuums out there that do a good job of removing soil, but they can also put a years worth of wear on carpets in just 10 passes because the brushes are so aggressive that they damage the carpet fibers,” says Braun.

As interest in certified equipment grew, CRI ultimately expanded testing and certification to include deep cleaning extractors and carpet care systems.

Extractor testing is designed to answer key questions: Does it get the soil out? Does it extract the water? Finally, does the machine have a deleterious effect on the carpet’s texture? Passing all three of these tests is mandatory in order to receive any of the three levels of certification (Bronze, Silver and Gold).

Carpet care systems must meet the standards for each individual system component. For instance, if the system vacuums and extracts, it must meet the certifying requirements for both those types of equipment.

Benefits Of Certification

The CRI continues to streamline its certification programs, providing the jan/san industry with a guideline to the most environmentally effective carpet care products possible.

“Using the right cleaning chemical and equipment has highly desirable environmental benefits,” says Braun. “If you have a carpet that has a design life of 10 or 11 years and you use poor cleaning chemicals or equipment, you are going to shorten that design life and the carpet will end up in a landfill prematurely — flushing out half the financial investment.”

Because of this, many carpet manufacturers require the use of CRI SOA-certified chemicals and equipment for the warranty to remain validated.

In addition to the life-cycle cost incentive, there are many green and overall health benefits associated with the use of certified products. Specifically in the vacuum category, CRI developed the “SOA Green” program to target indoor air quality and reduce airborne contaminants from the equipment. Launched in 2000, the SOA Green program required an emissions level at 100 micrograms per cubic liter. At the testing program’s inception, only a quarter of the machines passed the certification requirements.

By 2008, the CRI renamed the program “SOA Green Label Vacuum” and tightened emission requirements to just 35 micrograms in order to achieve the gold label. These elevated emissions standards have substantially contributed to improved indoor air quality in facilities across the country.

“If you think about it, emissions from the vacuum are important because you don’t want to spew dust back into the room or the air you breath,” says Braun. “There are also huge benefits for building occupants or workers with allergies or asthma.”

As the CRI continues to move its certification forward, the demand for stricter certification grows among facility managers. For example, two large districts sought help from CRI in order to improve their indoor environment without sacrificing cleanliness.

After reviewing the benefits of the SOA programs and the improved health that cleaning green can provide, both districts signed a memorandum of understanding to use only SOA products in their carpet cleaning. The move has brought such positive response by workers and parents that the superintendent of schools is considering implementing the policy state wide.

Moving Forward

The concept of green and its demands among facility managers is constantly changing. To meet the growing demands of the industry and in a quest for improved environmental efficiencies, CRI is continuously making changes and improvements to its certification program.

“When we develop a program, it probably isn’t perfect,” says Braun. “But we take feedback from those in the field and we modify it on a fairly regular basis as we become aware of how to do things better and smarter.”

CRI started with a modest spot remover program and now they provide the “Seal of Approval Green” program to promote green carpet cleaning chemicals, as well as the “Seal of Approval Green Label Vacuum” program. They are even exploring a Seal of Approval Green category for extractors and carpet care systems for introduction in the next year or two.

Working towards the introduction of green protocols for extractor and system certification, CRI has enlisted the help of NASA. To help measure equipment efficiencies, NASA developed a machine called X-Ray Fluorescents (XRF Gun), which measures the precise amounts of soil removed from carpets. Tools and measurements such as these will aid in the development of new and improved standards for the industry.

“We are also looking at SOA for pet stains and odor removal,” says Braun. “Cleaning for health is also something we are pursuing, which would expand upon green to include testing for dust mites, mold spores, viruses, bacteria, etc. This introduction would have applications across the entire carpet spectrum.”

CRI is always looking for new ways to advance their certification programs in an effort to support the green and environmental movements within the jan/san industry. As Dr. Howard Elder, former chair of CRI’s sustainability committee, once said, “Let’s not let perfect get in the way of progress.”

Providers Plus Program

In addition to the existing certification programs from the Carpet and Rug Institute for chemicals and equipment, cleaning departments can also seek certification through the “Seal of Approval (SOA) Service Providers Plus” program.

Departments involved with this program must agree to use SOA products exclusively in their cleaning by adhering to a code of conduct and customer satisfaction. Another qualification for inclusion in this program is an involvement and certification from the Institute for Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC).

“To have the very highest desirable outcome from cleaning, you have to have three things,” says Werner Braun, president of the Carpet and Rug Institute. “One, you must have the right cleaning chemicals. Two, you need to have the right equipment. And three, you need a trained and qualified cleaning professional and the IICRC does a great job of training technicians and certifying departments.”