The movement towards so-called “green” products is best described as an evolution ... not a revolution. That said, it is hard to deny the significant momentum enjoyed recently by “green” advocates and entrepreneurs.

For example, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) continues to develop new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification programs, which is gradually but steadily increasing the value of housekeeping departments to green building management. Manufacturers are also creating and acquiring certifications of more green products every day, including “bio-based” agriculturally-derived products from corn, soy, coconut and citrus fruits and exciting new space age technologies including “bio products” that eat away stains, and titanium dioxide nanoparticles with many of the same cleaning properties as bleach. Building owners, architects, builders, jan/san distributors, and cleaners are continuing to employ these green methods in an effort to differentiate their businesses.

The more attention green cleaning gets, the more urgently the market responds. Green cleaning practices and purchasing are definitely being driven by the marketplace, says Steve Ashkin, core criteria committee member for LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) and owner of The Ashkin Group. This of course bodes very well for the future of green cleaning, because as any business person knows, nothing ‘speaks’ like the bottom line when it comes to sustainable change. And, adds Ashkin, as statistics and case studies from today’s green cleaning leaders are captured and shared, we will see an even stronger push toward healthy green cleaning.

Ashkin doesn’t envision legislation regulating green initiatives, but says he is observing more executive orders for green purchasing. “There is a trend to move in that direction,” he says. “Legislatures want to buy products without ingredients that harm the environment. Government agencies buy $650 billion worth of goods and services every year and are looking towards green. Of course the manufacturers will respond.

ISSA, USGBC, Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E), International Executive Housekeeping Association (IEHA) and others have launched or expanded green or sustainability initiatives,” continues Ashkin. He also sites the Commission on Environmental Cooperation, an environmental purchasing partnership between the governments of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Partnerships such as this continue to drive interest.

Here in the United States, many industry representatives say that the glue holding all of this together is the USGBC LEED program.

LEED-EB: A Green Cleaning Standard for Everyone
Eight years ago, the USGBC launched it’s first LEED certification: LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC). Today, there are six building certifications available, including LEED-EB. Of the minimum 32 points required for earning a basic LEED-EB certification, the potential points outlined below are directly or indirectly related to housekeeping. Creative, insightful housekeepers may identify even more points in the LEED-EB rating system where housekeeping can have an impact.

Water Efficiency
•Water Use Reduction: 2 Points.

Energy & Atmosphere
•Building Operations and Maintenance: 3 Points.

Materials & Resources
•Source Reduction and Waste Management: Required.
•Toxic Material Source Reduction: Required.
•Sustainable Cleaning Products and Materials: 3 Points.
•Occupant Recycling: 3 Points.
•Additional Toxic Material Source Reduction: 1 Point.

Indoor Environmental Quality
•Indoor Chemical and Pollutant Source Control: 1 Point.
•Green Cleaning: 6 Points.

LEED standards serve as more than a manual to earning LEED points – they’ve become a guide for any size outfit looking to “green” their operations. “All the programs: H2E, the Healthy Schools Campaign, etc. are following the same road map and using the same standard,” says Ashkin. He recalls working with the housekeeping manager of a large corporation who was told they were going green. “He didn’t have a clue what it meant to be green,” says Ashkin, who suggested the following:

1. Use LEED-EB as your guide. Implement a green program consistent with these requirements.
2. Find local resources and support. Search out organizations with green buildings. Contact your local chapter of the USGBC. “That’s where you’ll find other people that have walked that path. These people will be a good resource,” says Ashkin.
3. Make your janitorial supply distributor work for you. “Every distributor can drop off a case of green certified chemicals and toilet paper with recycled content, but finding distributors with experience implementing green programs and knowledge of LEED-EB credits can easily help you get through the learning curve.”

To make this happen, Ashkin recommends asking the right questions when distributors call. Have them outline what they know about the USGBC, or provide success stories of greening programs they have helped with in the past. These types of questions will weed out which distributors can help with your program from those who just want your business.

As Green Evolves
Ashkin predicts that as green cleaning continues to evolve, it will encompass an even broader definition.

“Consider that the real driver isn’t green building, it’s sustainability,” he says. “How do you have a cleaning program if you can’t find workers? People are now starting to talk about the social aspects of our industry. I think the real leaders are asking questions of service providers like: Are you paying living wage? Are you providing full time employment with healthcare?

“It comes down to facility people recognizing that this is an important issue,” Ashkin continues. “They’ll also realize that when they take care of people, they’ll reduce turnover and absenteeism, and get better qualified workers who will contribute to the economy.

“As we capture data that reveals going green is the right thing to do – and saves businesses money – more will do it. That’s how it works in America. It has to be good business.”

Lauren Summerstone is a business writer based in Madison, Wis.

Green Seal Certifications Help Housekeeping Managers Specify Green Products and Chemicals

While a chemical or supply may be green without the Green Seal, the independent certification program gives a green claim substance. This is why LEED standards refer to Green Seal for industrial and institutional use, also referred to as GS-37.

Green Seal Inc.’s President and CEO Arthur Weissman, says the organization accredits 40 different categories of products, submitted on a voluntary basis by manufacturers. It measures performance as well as “greenness” and publishes its standards online by product category.

“It’s all very open,” says Weissman. “We use the life-cycle of the product category as the basis for evaluating it. The less impact on each phase, the more green the product is.”

Other organizations offer seals and labels, but you’re not comparing the same “green” apples. For instance, a product manufacturer may have its own seal, but since it’s not tested and awarded the seal by an independent source, purchasers don’t give it much credibility.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has a label through its Design for Environment (DFE) partnership program, but, says Weissman, the label program does not require any minimum standards to be met, and is not intended as a form of certification.

“We’ve been around more than any other, since 1989, looking at life-cycle, not just efficiency,” says Weissman. “Ours are leadership level standards. Only the top 15 to 20 percent of products can meet our standards. But we’re voluntary, so it’s possible that a product that is as good doesn’t apply, and doesn’t get it.”

Last year, Green Seal posted draft standards for a new Environment Standard for Cleaning Services Certification, which means that housekeeping departments, companies and building service contractors can soon earn the Green Seal “stamp of approval.”

“We’re very aware of LEED and are trying to make the two consistent,” says Weissman, adding that the new certification goes “way beyond” LEED in its level of detail.

Weissman agrees with Ashkin that end users are driving demand for green cleaning products. He says applications for Green Seal, particularly in the housekeeping arena, have doubled every year since 2002.

“There is a revolution in the cleaning industry for green cleaning,” he says. “There’s a big interest from chemical suppliers and product suppliers alike. The marketplace – the end users – are driving it.”

Equipment Certification
Weissman says Green Seal currently has no plans to incorporate equipment into its certification system. For green equipment, some housekeeping managers look to the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), which offers a voluntary “Green Label” for vacuum cleaners, and tests for three things: soil removal, dust containment, and carpet appearance retention.

“We began this program in 2000,” explains Carroll Turner, CRI’s technical services manager. “There was no other program where users could find out what vacuum was meeting at least these three standards... We feel it’s part of customer satisfaction with our product – carpet.”