going green

Spring often invokes images of new growth and rejuvenation. As nature starts to come back into focus, being “green” and “sustainable” become important and useful talking points for the promotion of new products — or the development of cleaning programs that are safer for the environment.  

To that end, Green Seal, a non-profit organization that works to certify and ensure that products are as environmentally friendly as possible, has developed a consistent and respected process for offering product certification. Getting that coveted approval is a feather in the cap of manufacturers looking to offer products that make everyone feel a little better about the overall impact on the earth’s ecosystems.  

Sanitary Maintenance asked representatives from Green Seal, including Sara Risley, vice president of certification, and Taryn Tuss, vice president of marketing and communications, to explain a little about the background of the Green Seal certification process, what the standards mean, how they’re maintained and more. Here is their feedback. 

Sanitary Maintenance (SM): Tell us a little about the Green Seal standards — what’s the elevator pitch if someone asks what goes into creating the standards, enforcing them, testing them, etc.? 

Green Seal (GS): Our environmental scientists evaluate the major health and environmental impacts of a product category and develop initial draft criteria based on that evaluation. We then solicit input from a variety of stakeholders to help ensure relevance and feasibility and refine optimal achievement thresholds for the criteria. This input is incorporated into the final draft set of criteria, which is released for public comment for a minimum of 60 days. We hold as many rounds of public comment as necessary to overcome any sustained opposition to proposed criteria. Staff then finalize standard criteria using collected input. 

SM: Who has input throughout the process when it comes to creating these standards and deciding what’s feasible? 

GS: We invite manufacturers, raw material suppliers, distributors, retailers, product users, purchasers, regulators, researchers, trade groups, health and environmental groups, other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), advocates and anyone else who may be affected by the products or their use. Our process is open to the public and anyone who wants to participate is welcome. 

SM: How do the standards measure the true impact of products on both the environment and the people using them? 

GS: When developing or revising standards, our environmental scientists evaluate the greatest health and environmental impacts that occur across all phases of the life cycle of the product or service using published research sources and stakeholder feedback. We then develop standard criteria so that certified products or services mitigate those impacts to the greatest extent possible. The intent is to develop criteria that are feasible but reflect environmental and health leadership compared to conventional products, practices, and spaces.  

For example, on a life cycle basis, the major impacts from the production of sanitary paper products include deforestation, the emission of greenhouse gases from production and disposal of virgin fibers, and pollution from chlorine compounds used in bleaching. Green Seal certification requires 100 percent recycled fiber content, as well as a chlorine-free bleaching process — and these attributes result in reductions of negative health and environmental impacts.  

As a result of this process, Green Seal allows products to make pre-approved claims in conjunction with the Green Seal trademark that are supported by the scientific and stakeholder research performed during the life cycle evaluation phase of standard development. Green Seal reviews any other claims made in conjunction with Green Seal trademarks, and any claims determined to be misleading as to the extent or nature of Green Seal certification result in appropriate action, which may include termination of the product certification. 

SM: How often are the standards re-evaluated or revised?  

GS: Green Seal revisits each standard every three years, or as needed. If we notice a significant change in the market, or if a stakeholder highlights a major shift in the market, and we see that shift being adopted by a significant minority (15-20 percent of the market), then we will announce a Standard Revision.  

SM: How long does it take for a product to be certified once it reaches the point where it’s ready to go to market? 

GS: The certification review process for a full product generally takes between 2 and 3 months once all required documentation is submitted. Factors that help reduce the overall time include being prepared and familiar with the standard, providing complete information early in the process, and using the client portal and information templates. 

SM: How long does a certification last for a particular product? Does it have to undergo any further testing or documentation processes? 

GS: Green Seal conducts periodic monitoring to ensure certified products continue to meet our high standards. Products will remain certified as long as they remain in compliance with the latest version of our standards. 

SM: Are Green Seal standards applicable internationally? 

GS: Green Seal operates under the international guidelines for environmental labeling programs — ISO 14020 and 14024 — set by the International Organization for Standardization. Green Seal follows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) requirements for third-party certification. Green Seal is also a founding member of the Global Ecolabeling Network (GEN), and undergoes peer review via the GENICES process. Green Seal standards have been recognized and used by the federal government, many state governments and other civic and environmental entities. 

SM: What is it that makes the Green Seal standards trustworthy?  

GS: Green Seal’s standards are developed based on science through an open, transparent process that prioritizes public and stakeholder input. Our reputation for rigor and credibility makes Green Seal one of the most trusted ecolabels worldwide. More than 100 federal, state and local purchasing policies specify Green Seal, and more than 33,000 products meet our standards for uncompromising performance, safety and health. 

Additional information about Green Seal and their standards can be found at www.greenseal.org

Jackson Silvanik is managing editor for Sanitary Maintenance, Facility Cleaning Decisions, and Contracting Profits magazines, as well as CleanLink.com.