(For an updated version on green certifications and legislation, click here.)

Certify many of today’s environmentally friendly product distributors as “green with confusion.”

Most are, to put it mildly, obsessed with being perceived as green, or with carrying products certified as green. And while the intent is, for the most part, admirable, let’s hope all the green obfuscation doesn’t get in the way of the original goal — sparing the planet and its inhabitants irreparable harm from a slowly decaying environment.

Without question, the so-called greening of the planet is critical. But, as a buzzword, it can also be abused by marketers who want to position their products as politically correct. Or, quasi-green labeling might be used as a carrot to lure more product sales from end users who have marching orders of their own regarding green cleaning.

So, as one of the more important product gatekeepers in the world of supply and demand, the jan/san distributor may be the cleaning world’s last line of defense when it comes to the perils of “green wash” — unscrupulous and unfounded green product claims.

According to Steve Ashkin, when a customer asks a distributor questions about certification, but walks away questioning the distributor’s credibility and knowledge, that distributor has some fires to put out. Distributors, he says, must make sure the products they carry are certified by credible organizations.

Ashkin, president of the Ashkin Group LLC, also serves as executive director of the Green Cleaning Network — among other things, an information entity that was recently chartered to perform as a sounding board regarding the credibility of certifying authorities (see sidebar below).

“More and more people are cropping up and there really isn’t much behind what they’re doing,” he says. “I’m not trying to suggest that some of them don’t have good intentions, but the marketplace needs to be discriminating.”

The following overview of green product, green cleaning and other green authorities is designed as a reference for distributors — SM’s attempt at helping product buyers and sellers separate the forest from the trees relative to green cleaning initiatives.

*denotes a green certifier

Green Seal is a non-profit that was formed in 1989 and it is now the largest ecolabeling organization in the United States. A member of the Global Ecolabeling Network (GEN), Green Seal is a multi-attribute program — it looks at the entire lifecycle of a product, from the raw materials used to make it, to whether it is recyclable or disposable.

Product standards are developed with the input of the public and industry stakeholders, academia and government agencies. Standards must meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements, International Standards Organization (ISO) requirements and the requirements of third party certifiers.

“The third party certification just gives the purchaser verification that any claims that are made aren’t just self-proclamations, that they have been verified by someone who doesn’t have a conflict of interest or a stake in the profitability of that product,” explains Linda Chipperfield, marketing director for Green Seal.

Funding comes from foundations as well as application and certification fees. It is not affiliated with a governmental program and does not take donations from manufacturers.

Green Seal is listed under approximately 12 state purchasing policies, and several local municipalities purchase green products based on Green Seal certification. Chipperfield also notes that Green Seal works with the U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Postal Service. Products that have Green Seal certification are also listed in the state of New York’s purchasing guidelines for schools.

The open, rigorous testing process is probably Green Seal’s defining characteristic, says Chipperfield.

“We’re proud of the fact that we don’t cut corners and it’s a very collaborative and fair process — it’s transparent all the way through,” she says.

In addition to product certification, Green Seal recently developed a new cleaning services standard. This standard evaluates the products, equipment and processes used by building service contractors (BSCs) and commercial in-house cleaners.

Founded by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, authors of “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” this non-profit organization works with industry coalitions to develop tools and practices to implement sustainable product design, according to Lauren Heine, Ph.D, director of applied science for GreenBlue.

According to Heine, GreenBlue is very different from organizations that certify products as green. It works closely with the Design for the Environment (DfE) program for the Cleangredients database project, which is a “one-stop-shop” of ingredients for green formulations.

“We basically help formulators find the chemical they need to help them become certified or partnered with DfE,” says Heine. “A good amount of the information on the chemicals in our database is third party verified. We want them to be able to trust the information.”

To develop the database, GreenBlue worked with stakeholders including the EPA, a number of people on GreenBlue’s technical advisory committee, industry associations and formulators.

The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) developed its Green Label testing program for new carpet in 1992. Vacuum cleaners were added to the testing program in 2000 (the CRI Green Label Vacuum Cleaner Testing Program).

“We started taking more of an interest in maintenance, so we started the vacuum cleaner program,” says Carroll Turner, technical services manager for CRI. “We feel that people with allergies need that assurance that the vacuum they are purchasing will be good.”

The Green Label vacuum Cleaner Testing Program recognizes companies that manufacture vacuums that contribute to healthier indoor air quality (IAQ). Vacuums undergo testing on soil removal, dust containment and carpet appearance retention.

Turner says the New York State purchasing department makes reference to the Green Label Vacuum Cleaner program.

CRI has several programs aimed at carpet, adhesives and cushions. CRI recently launched a “seal of approval” for chemicals based on product performance.

Operating under the environmental marketing firm Terra Choice since 1995, EcoLogo was originally formed by the Canadian government in 1988.

Scott McDougall, president and CEO of the EcoLogo program, says EcoLogo sets environmental criteria, and Terra Choice helps market products with EcoLogos.

EcoLogo certifies products in almost 200 product categories — including cleaning chemistry. An advisory board of environmental advocates, consumer groups, professional purchasers, regulators, industry and environmental academia develop and update criteria. Standards are based on the International Standards Organization (ISO) — both the 9000 (quality management) and 14000 (environmental aspects) series.

“Ecologo is what ISO calls a type-one ecolabel,” McDougall explains. “Type-one means it is life-cycle based and multi-attribute, so [EcoLogo] considers energy, toxics, or anything that represents a potential environmental impact of the product.”

Certification criteria are reviewed at least once every three years to incorporate new scientific developments. A third party auditor performs the testing.

The EcoLogo Plus and EcoLogo Premium programs are additional services that assist companies with their green product marketing goals.

“Once we establish that a client meets the standards of EcoLogo, we think the very best thing that we can do for the environment is to help them succeed,” McDougall says of the plus and premium programs.

Working under the umbrella of the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), an office of the EPA, the DfE Formulator program addresses cleaning products, according to David DiFiore, senior project manager for the Formulator program.

Manufacturers first submit a product’s entire chemical formulation. The program uses a group of EPA aquatic toxicity specialists, human health experts and green chemistry experts that review a breakdown of the product, as prepared by a qualified third party.

If a company’s products are deemed green enough, DfE will enter into a “partnership” with that manufacturer.

DiFiore explains that DfE will develop a continuum of improvement based on the product’s characteristics. It will suggest chemicals that perform as well as a currently used chemical, but are safer for the environment.

“Formulators need to pick something that will be high-performing but also safer for health and the environment,” says DiFiore. “When that formulator is able to line up his ingredients on the green end of the spectrum, then we have the basis for a partnership.”

Oftentimes, a product contains an ingredient that doesn’t have a green alternative, so DfE puts the product into a “continuous improvement mode” — in which formulators agree to continue to strive to make a product as green as possible.

In October, Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) released its “10 Step Guide To Green Cleaning Implementation,” a document that outlines steps hospitals can take to green their operations.

“We find there are a lot of people who don’t feel like experts in terms of evaluating products or services, so something like a certification program can really help them be sure that a product is meeting performance guidelines, verifiable environmental preference, and so forth,” says Sarah O’Brien, environmentally preferable purchasing specialist for H2E.

According to O’Brien, green cleaning in hospitals poses a unique challenge. “Unlike most institutional purchasing, healthcare really needs to be focused on maintaining infection control standards and very high levels of hygiene,” she explains. “At this time there is no such thing as a green disinfectant, because they are designed to kill, so there’s no magic bullet in the disinfection arena.”

H2E does promote the use of green-certified products, particularly those recognized by Green Seal or EcoLogo. “We encourage [hospitals] to look at things like glass cleaners, floor stripper, better filters on vacuum cleaners, and a whole array or products that don’t deal with the areas of disinfection and infection control,” O’Brien says.

We’re not really trying to differentiate ourselves from any of the green cleaning standards,” says Doug Gatlin, director of LEED-EB. “In fact, we’ve incorporated green cleaning standards into LEED because we’re more than just a cleaning rating system.”

LEED-EB — an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-Existing Buildings — is a U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) program. It doesn’t certify green products or processes, it certifies buildings with “sustainable footprints.”

Gatlin explains that of the 80 possible base points that help a facility earn recognition, 12 can be obtained through cleaning products or practices that are green. “Green cleaning is a good way to get started on greening a whole building,” says Gatlin. “We promote it pretty heavily through the LEED rating system because there are so many credits that are focused on green products and processes.”

LEED-EB has an in-house review team and a group of USGBC-trained consultants. Once a building has been reviewed, recognition will be awarded.

LEED-EB is relatively new — it was launched in October 2004 and updated in July 2005. Currently, it lists 50 certified buildings and approximately 150-175 projects in the pipeline, according to Gatlin.

Development of the Greenstar Certified program began in 2005 with a review of existing ecolabeling programs, such as the Environmental Choice Program, Nordic Ecolabeling’s Swan Program and the Australian Environmental Labeling Association’s Environmental Choice.

The review of existing programs — in conjunction with input from Greenstar Certified staff — led to the development of a product labeling and certification program, including certification process, regulations, standards and application instructions.

According to Steve Beicos, a representative of the company, Greenstar Certified currently has one standard: GCCP01. Greenstar staff did the original research and drafting of the standard, which was sent to technical experts for review and comment. That feedback was considered for incorporation into the standard. The new draft was posted on the group’s Web site for comment. During this stage, standards were also sent to stakeholders, such as consumers, manufacturers, trade organizations, governmental agencies, public interest groups and non-governmental organizations. After the public input period, the standard was completed and posted on Greenstar Certified’s Web site.

GREENGUARD Environmental Institute’s (GEI) mission is to improve indoor air quality (IAQ). The institute originally focused on building products and materials ranging from flooring and furniture to air filters and paints. At ISSA/INTERCLEAN® 2006 in Chicago, GEI announced its partnership with JohnsonDiversey, whose products are the first in the cleaning industry to be GREENGUARD-certified.

Laura Spriggs, communications manager for GEI, says the GREENGUARD Certification Program for Cleaners and Cleaning Systems was developed from the organization’s other standards, which are based on criteria developed by the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Because cleaners and cleaning systems are ongoing maintenance products, their impact on occupant health is often different than other building products whose chemical emissions decline over time,” says Spriggs.

GEI worked with JohnsonDiversey to determine how its cleaning products are used — from the products’ formulations to the actual application. Chemical emissions from cleaning products are measured relative to their effect on IAQ.

GEI uses a third-party testing lab to measure the chemical emissions from cleaning products before awarding certification.

Spriggs says there are approximately 80 participating manufacturers across the product spectrum, and more than 125,000 certified products.

Spriggs emphasizes GEI’s focus on indoor health. “People spend 90 percent of their time inside,” she says. “While everyone knows about outdoor pollution, your house or office may be two to five times more polluted. People distributing cleaning products, need to remember that there are people using the product every day.”

In 2005, the California Film Extruders and Converters Association (CFECA) began developing a pilot accreditation program, as a way to create a list of plastic processors that are compliant with state and federal laws, as well as best-management practices (BMP).

The Environmentally Preferred Rating (EPR) is the first environmental accreditation for the plastics industry. Since its creation, CFECA has accredited four companies, including Heritage Bag, a manufacturer of can liners and trash bags, located in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. All accredited companies are located in California, but the EPR program is available nationally.

The EPR program focuses on the operations of plastic processor facilities, says Pete Grande, president of CFECA. “There are no limitations to the type of plastic products being made or the processes employed by their operations.”

EPR has an oversight committee comprised of members from the printing, colorants/additives, recycled resins, technology, manufacturing, and science/academia sectors that establish standards, revise the program and discuss issues during the auditing process.

The Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) recently released its “Quick and Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools,” which Rochelle Davis, HSC executive director, describes as a national initiative to change the way schools clean. It outlines five steps a school can take to establish a green cleaning program.

HSC itself does not certify products or processes. It looks to the marketplace for pertinent green certification. It largely relies on Green Seal, Ecologo, CRI’s Green Label Program and EPA standards.

“Our experience shows that school administrators who want to make green cleaning changes find the marketplace confusing and overwhelming,” says Davis. “We hope our guide gives them a way to navigate the marketplace, in terms of chemicals, equipment and other elements that are really important to a green program.”

HSC takes a “holistic” approach to greening schools, so it searches for comprehensive standards that apply to a number of products.

At Greenbuild 2006, held in Denver in November, the formation of the Green Cleaning Network was announced. The group — a 501 C 3 not-for-profit — was developed to eliminate confusion about green cleaning. Stephen Ashkin, president of the Ashkin Group LLC, will serve as executive director of the network.

The Green Cleaning Network was founded by the Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC), Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E), International Executive Housekeepers Association, Responsible Purchasing Network and the U.S. Green Building Council.

“All of these organizations, as part of their bigger mission, have a small component looking at green cleaning,” says Ashkin. “What we’re all realizing is that it is totally counterproductive for these organizations to keep coming out with their own unique definitions because it just creates confusion in the marketplace.”

The group’s intention is not to become another “big organization,” rather, Ashkin says it aims to bring concerned parties into the network, to share information on green cleaning. It will not certify anything, but will recognize the issues faced by the cleaning industry. It will also be a place for concerned parties to discuss the credibility of specific industry organizations.

More Government Entities Require
Cleaning Products Be Green Certified
No question about it, federal, state and municipal governments are requiring the use of cleaning products that have earned green certifications. Most agencies reference Green Seal's standards and those of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Formulator Program.

Green Seal currently has 11 state and seven local governmental purchasing agencies that reference Green Seal.

“I'm certain there are other governments out there that reference Green Seal's standard,” says Linda Chipperfield, director of marketing and outreach. She adds: “At the federal level, the Department of the Interior and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) both reference its standards.”

“It definitely makes sense for distributors to become knowledgeable about Green Seal’s GS-37 standard, just as a starting point; that's a really good place for distributors to begin approaching the local government market,” says Eric Nelson, environmental purchasing analyst in King County’s (Washington) Procurement and Contract Services Section. King County has been soliciting bids for its upcoming 3- and 5-year contract for cleaning products. Nelson expects to get several dozen bidders, including local distributors, in this latest solicitation.

In Minnesota, the state government references Green Seal’s GS-37 standard in specs for cleaning products that the state buys. And local governments are buying these products off of the state contract, says Angela Bourdaghs, environmentally preferable purchasing specialist for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Minnesota cities, counties and school districts account for between five and ten percent of purchases off the state’s cleaning products contract, estimates Bourdaghs.

The EPA has its Design for the Environment (DfE) Formulator Program that encourages and assists formulators in designing products (including cleaning products) with more positive environmental and health profiles than conventional products.

“The states of Washington, Oregon and Vermont consider DfE-recognized products to be environmentally preferable, and direct state purchasing toward DfE-recognized products and also toward products certified by Environmental Choice and Green Seal. New Jersey and Texas are among other states moving toward including DfE in their EPP guidelines,” says Enesta Jones, EPA press officer.

Jones adds: “DfE does not partner directly with cleaning supply distributors. However, many of our partners, have distribution networks that offer DfE-recognized products.”

Michael Keating is research manager for Government Product News and Government Procurement magazines. He can be reached at mkeating@penton.com. His Web site is www.mikekeat.net