It’s clear that the demand for green products and services in commercial facilities is growing, and in many cases housekeeping managers are being asked to help lead the organizational charge. In the process, they’re being given more resources, and acquiring newfound respect.

“It’s really an opportunity for managers to do some leading by understanding green cleaning and taking an active role in promoting and implementing it in their organization,” says green cleaning consultant Michael Arny, president of the Madison, Wis.-based firm The Leonardo Academy.

But in the effort to learn what constitutes “green” it’s not uncommon to become confused by the growing number of words, phrases and acronyms. Being fluent in the lexicon will help to establish you as an expert, and make it easier to define your green cleaning best practices with clarity and confidence.

Create your green library
The best way to understand green is to become familiar with all the terminology that surrounds it. Start by bookmarking the USGBC Web site ( and printing a free copy of the LEED-EB (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – Existing Buildings) rating system. Acquire an overall understanding of the program, and get to know those sections that pertain to cleaning and facility management in detail. (It can’t be said often enough: Green cleaning points are some of the easiest, lowest cost points available to achieve LEED-EB certification.)

At the U.S. EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program Web site ( housekeeping managers can print out as many free documents as they like. This site is full of guidelines created to help housekeeping managers navigate the green marketplace and compare the variety of independent certifications that are currently available.

Managers can also visit the Green Seal Web site ( for help in understanding green. This organization has been at the forefront of setting green standards for cleaning products in the U.S., and understanding its mission, policies, and procedures will make you more savvy when it’s time to compare products and certifications.

Sorting through the green lexicon
Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary sites this as, “the copying or imitation of a natural phenomenon's or environment's efficiency and survival mechanisms in manufacturing processes or in applied case-based reasoning; also written biomimickry.”

“For example,” says Steve Ashkin, president of green cleaning consultancy The Ashkin Group, “instead of using a solvent to dissolve grease, we’re going to use bacteria to digest it. That’s what bacteria does.”

Bio-based. Many traditional cleaning products are based on petroleum or other nonrenewable resources. Bio-based products are based on renewable resources, often agricultural, such as corn, coconut oil, or citrus fruit. “The 2002 Farm Act mandates that the federal government begin using bio-based products, and in the coming year more manufacturers will switch to bio-based ingredients,” explains Ashkin.

Certification. For a green certification to be meaningful it must be the result of testing and analysis conducted by a third party. To date, certification organizations include Green Seal, Environmental Choice, LEED, Energy Star, and the Carpet & Rug Institute.

Independent labs can also determine whether a product meets defined criteria. This is known as self-certification. More and more manufacturers are looking to self certify, which could have a positive effect on price, and the number of green products available, by creating competition within the marketplace.

The U.S. EPA encourages federal purchasers to make a decision about the overall best value, taking into account the organization’s policies and priorities and by asking manufacturers to clearly and specifically define their green claims, provide test data, and, when possible, life cycle studies.

Cleaning for health. This concept claims that cleaning has value beyond the aesthetic, and can positively impact human and environmental health by reducing exposure to chemicals, improving air quality, and reducing germs that prevent disease, allergic reaction, and infection for building occupants — as well as cleaning crews. What speaks to management: the resulting benefit of increased productivity.

Cradle to cradle This is a product that is designed so its materials are perpetually re-circulated into new products. “You’re on the cutting edge of green thinking now,” says Ashkin. As competition for the earth’s raw materials intensifies, this concept will surely grow in stature.

Cradle to grave. See Life cycle.

Design for the Environment (DFE). This is a voluntary U.S. EPA supply chain and formulator initiative where the federal government helps manufacturers make products and processes greener. (Not to be confused with a certification, or that a product is actually environmentally preferable.)

Eco-labeling. Eco-labeling is a logo affixed to a product that suggests sustainability. Many countries have a dominant eco-label program, as listed at Some, in this country, are from certifying organizations like Energy Star, Green Seal, Canada’s Environmental Choice, or the Carpet and Rug Institute. Manufacturers also may put their own eco-labels on products, which is called self certification. (Also see: Certification and Self certification)

EcoLogo. Formally known as the Environmental Choice Program, this is Canada’s eco-labeling program. It certifies and recognizes products and services that are environmentally preferable. This program is comparable to U.S. certification program, Green Seal. Products manufactured in the U.S. can get certified by EcoLogo, and visa versa. (Also see: Green Seal)

Environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP). According to the EPA, environmentally preferable purchasing is a federal program that “encourages and assists executive agencies in the purchasing of environmentally preferable products and services.” It’s motto: Environment + Price + Performance.

Formally, this means the purchasing of products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose.

Benefits include improved ability to meet existing environmental goals, improved worker safety and health, reduced liabilities, and reduced health and disposal costs. Additional information can be found at

Green. To be “green” means reducing the negative impact on human and environmental health through cleaning, building, etc. (Also see: Life cycle, and Sustainable)

Green cleaning. Green cleaning incorporates products and methods that help improve the health and environment of a building and its occupants. These cleaning procedures emphasize on health and environment more than other products in their category with the same function. (Not to be confused with cleaning systems such as team, day, or zone cleaning.)

Green Labels. See Eco-labeling.

Green Seal. Green Seal is a nonprofit eco-label in the U.S. that creates green standards for a variety of products, and provides product certification. An outline of all the Green Seal standards can be found at and are available for free to anyone interested. The LEED-EB program currently specifies that certain products meet Green Seal standards, but does not guarantee certification by Green Seal.

Green Seal will soon offer a certification for in-house cleaning programs and building service contractors who meet the criteria in their standard. According to Green Seal President and CEO Arthur Weissman, the final standard will be posted online this fall. (Also see: Certification, and Eco-labeling)

Greenwashing. The form definition for greenwashing is: Sales or marketing information that overstates the environmental attribute or benefit, expressly or by implication. As the green initiative took off, independent third-party certifications became necessary to differentiate a green product from one with no environmental benefit. The federal trade commission, in cooperation with the EPA, has developed guidelines for manufacturers to ensure that their environmental advertising and labeling claims (such as "environmentally preferable") comply with the law and do not mislead buyers. This document, Guide for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, may be printed free of charge at

“It comes down to companies being able to document their claims, and be specific,” says Ashkin. “This is where certification programs are really important…what separates claims from documented achievements.”

Green products. See Sustainable products.

LEED. LEED is an acronym for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system and certification program. Today there are seven different categories of certification available. Those that directly affect the cleaning industry include LEED-EB (existing buildings), LEED-NC (new commercial construction and major renovation projects), and the LEED-NC Application Guides (retail, multiple buildings/campuses, schools, healthcare, laboratories, lodging).

LEED-EB. As mentioned above, LEED-EB is just one certification program, sponsored by the USGBC, which impacts cleaners. It is a federal LEED certification that includes a variety of available points that can be earned through green cleaning and facilities management. LEED-EB specifies that certain products used in these buildings meet Green Seal standards — not that they be Green Seal certified. For details on the steps necessary to become LEED-EB certified, visit

Life cycle. The life cycle of a product is a concept that recognizes the products impact on the environment not only when it’s used, but across its entire life cycle. This includes everything from the extraction of raw materials to the manufacturing process, transportation, and recycle or disposal of the product.

Restorative. A restorative product will not only reduce impact, but it will actually help to restore the environment.

Self certification. This is when a manufacturer employs an impartial third party to test and certify their product using specific criteria. These test results, and sometimes additional details such as life cycle studies and inspections of operations, are then made available to purchasing agents for review when determining the product’s viability for their particular cleaning program.

Sustainability. This term is often tossed around in the industry, but few truly understand its meaning. Sustainable cleaning means to clean in a way that wont harm future generations’ ability to do the same thing by minimizing cleanings impact on people and environment. Recent definitions also include the concept of incorporating the social aspect of fair labor practices. (Also see: Green)

Sustainable products Sustainable (green) products have less environmental and human health impact than other products in the same category, and with the same function. They are also made in a way that doesn’t harm future generations’ ability to use the same products.

U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC is a membership organization comprised of owners, manufacturers, service providers, and architects that has become the leading proponent of green building in the U.S. It designed the LEED rating criteria and continues to oversee the certification process.

Talkin’ the talk
“I recommend housekeeping managers understand these terms,” says Ashkin, adding that they can apply them to the value proposition of their particular industries.

“In schools, you’d talk about creating a healthier environment for students and staff, resulting in better scores on standardized tests,” he says. “At a hospital, you’d talk about reduced exposures to patients and staff and fewer complications. Everyone wants to know what’s in it for them! It’s not just the big global picture – it’s ‘here’s how it affects you.’

“[Housekeeping managers] should be driving the ship, and not just be reactive,” he continues. “I think the people in our industry have to become fluent and articulate with these issues so they can be the driver, as opposed to responding to someone else telling them what to do.”

New green terminology and phraseology will crop up as the green movement continues to build — another good reason to get a handle on the vocabulary now. “I think we’re in a relatively early phase of definitions,” says Arny.

“We’re in a cultural evolution,” adds Weissman. “And as with any culture change…people have different slants, so there is a plethora of terms, programs, and ways of doing things.”

“It’s a marketplace of ideas,” Arny concludes. “I think definitions for cleaning and building will improve and consolidate over time.”

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