Faced with the ongoing challenge of keeping pace with emerging terminology, new green certifications and evolving environmental claims, today's jan/san industry is caught in a green whirlwind. As evidenced by the countless end users who've embraced more sustainable initiatives, green cleaning has arguably been the number one trend in the cleaning industry for the past five years — and it's showing no signs up letting up any time soon.

Today's end users in the process of "going green" are relying on proper direction from their jan/san distributors on appropriate cleaning methods and product usage that will help achieve their sustainable goals. But with a number of third-party organizations and governmental agencies certifying products as green and some manufacturers making misleading green claims, the green cleaning concept can be incredibly confusing for distributors, since there is no one universal standard.

Thus, the following overview of green product certifiers, green buildings and green legislation compiled by Sanitary Maintenance is designed to be an update for distributors to help distinguish credible green cleaning initiatives.


Green Seal

Formed in 1989, Green Seal is a non-profit, third-party certifying organization that looks at the entire lifecycle of a product — from the raw materials used to make it to whether it is recyclable.

These high standards for products have garnered attention by other certifying organizations that now require the use of these products. For example, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) requires the use of Green Seal-certified products in facilities working to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Also, state and federal facilities that require green practices highlight the mandatory use of Green Seal-certified products within those facilities.

Cleaning products certified by Green Seal in its facility operations and maintenance sector include floor strippers and finishes, hand soaps and hand cleaners, institutional and industrial cleaners, as well as paper towels, napkins and tissue paper.

In 2008, after more than a year and a half of stakeholder involvement, Green Seal released an update to its most familiar standard: GS-37 for institutional and industrial general-purpose restroom, glass and carpet cleaners. The revised standard criteria emphasizes consideration of vulnerable populations including children in institutional settings such as schools, day-care facilities, nursing homes and other facilities.

However, the revised standard was met with discontent from several stakeholders during the process. Protesters claimed Green Seal failed to follow its own written guidelines for consensus standard setting, specifically in the areas of stakeholder input and risk assessment.

Green Seal responded to these charges, claiming the ballot process was open and transparent. The organization says it adhered to the ISO standard and other stakeholders fully supported the hazard-based approach and that the ballot was split. At this time Green Seal has no immediate plans to change or revise the standard.

Product certification may be considered the organization's forte, but Green Seal has continued to expand its offerings and has evolved with the cleaning industry. In late 2006, Green Seal introduced GS-42, an environmental leadership standard targeting cleaning departments. This program establishes environmental requirements for cleaning service providers of commercial, public and institutional buildings, including in-house and contract cleaning services, to create a green cleaning program that protects human health and the environment.

Distributors can help facilities achieve GS-42 certification by meeting requirements in planning, products, supplies, equipment, procedures, training, communications and labeling.


Operating under the environmental marketing firm TerraChoice since 1995, EcoLogo was originally introduced in 1988 by the Canadian federal government. Since then, however, the multi-attribute environmental setting and third-party certification organization has expanded its reach into the United States by opening its Philadelphia office a few years ago.

With more than 7,000 products in 120-plus categories, cleaning industry personnel can access the EcoLogo database to find, understand and research certified green products.

EcoLogo has partnered with several state and federal government agencies to make the certification a purchasing specification. Certification criteria is reviewed at least once every three years to incorporate new scientific developments and a third party auditor performs the testing.

In addition to green product listings and certifications, EcoLogo also calls attention to fraud and greenwashing. A relatively new section to the EcoLogo Web site is its fraud advisory page, www.terrachoice-certified.com/en/fraudadvisory. This section identifies manufacturers and products that are falsely claiming product certification from EcoLogo's Environmental Choice Program. This can be a helpful page for distributors who seek clarification of green products.

Further warning end users about misleading claims or "greenwashing," EcoLogo recently released results from a study that found that out of 1,018 products cleaning products surveyed in the U.S. and Canada, all but one made claims that were false or committed at least one of "The Seven Sins of Greenwashing."

In fact, some marketers are exploiting the demand for third-party certification by creating fake labels or false suggestions of third-party endorsement. Thus, despite the number of legitimate eco-labels out there, Buyers must still remain vigilant in their green purchasing decisions.

Design for the Environment (DfE)

The Design for the Environment (DfE) Safer Product Recognition Program, one of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) premier partnership programs, works diligently with the cleaning industry to compare and improve human health and the environmental profiles of existing and alternative products, while also maintaining high performance and cost competitiveness.

Since 1997, DfE has offered recognition to companies who manufacture safe chemicals. To date, more than 1,000 chemical products have been recognized by the program. Most recently, DfE is looking to add disinfectants to the program. The EPA does not allow a disinfectant to be labeled or marketed as green in the United States, even though such products are recognized as green in other parts of the world.

Currently, disinfectants are classified as pesticides and therefore not considered safe for the environment and therefore cannot be green certified. Disinfectants can only be labeled EPA Registered, indicating they have been tested and proven to be effective against a large spectrum of blood-borne or body fluid pathogens. However, in early 2009, the EPA agreed to begin an internal pilot program with the DfE to reevaluate the agency's position that would allow hard-surface disinfectants and sanitizers to attain environmental preferability claims.

After months of reviewing the policies, the EPA outlined the guidelines manufacturers will have to meet under the green disinfectant movement and sanitizer pilot program in early September. Products will be allowed to use the DfE logo on its label and in promotional materials after completing a two-part review process under which products would have to complete the DfE review and then complete a review by EPA's Antimicrobial Division.

The pilot program will also include a track that allows registrants to make certain limited factual statements of environmental preferability in regard to disinfectants and sanitizers.

Carpet and Rug Institute

The Carpet and Rug Institute's (CRI) Seal of Approval program currently recognizes high-quality carpet cleaning solutions and equipment that, when properly used, remove soil and stains without damaging carpet. The Seal of Approval program focuses on testing for cleaning effectiveness in vacuums, extractors and deep cleaning systems, as well as carpet chemicals.

For extractors to qualify for the Seal, they must meet stringent standards in soil removal, water removal and texture retention. Extractors that exceed average soil removal levels receive a Bronze rating. Those achieving higher soil removal level receive a Silver Seal rating and those that remove the highest level of soil earn the CRI Gold Seal of Approval.

The Seal of Approval program for carpet chemicals tests the effectiveness of spot removers, pre-spray and in-tank cleaning chemicals. To earn the Seal of Approval, they are rated on overall cleaning effectiveness, rate of resoiling, pH, surface texture change, optical brighteners and colorfastness.

CRI's long established Green Label vacuum cleaner program, which measures soil removal, containment of dirt and dust within the machine, and carpet fiber protection, is being phased out in 2010, but now falls under the Seal of Approval program.

The new Seal of Approval/Green Label vacuum program, takes the standards a step further than the Green Label program by requiring a 10 percent improvement of cleaning performance for its entry level Bronze certification. Vacuum cleaners can also achieve Silver and Gold certification.


GreenGuard Environmental Institute's (GEI) mission is to improve public health and quality of life by focusing on indoor air quality. Founded in 2001, the group initially focused on certifying building products and materials such as air filters, paints, flooring and furniture. In 2006, however, the group expanded its reach and began certifying cleaners and cleaning systems that have low chemical emissions through a third-party standard.

Recognizing that cleaners and cleaning systems can contribute to indoor air pollution, GreenGuard's program measures the chemical off-gassing of the products during recommended use and application. It then compares the measured emission levels against publicly available short-term and long-term risk exposure levels.

The program covers specific product categories such as general cleaners, glass cleaners, toilet cleaners, floor cleaners, hard surface cleaners, institutional cleaning systems, aerosol products and carpet cleaners.

GEI's cleaning certification has two levels — GreenGuard and GreenGuard for Children and Schools. The latter certification, which includes GEI's most rigorous set of standards, recognizes that different building types have different needs.

In late 2008, GEI announced initiation of its comprehensive health-based emissions standard for indoor products. The first of its kind, the standard encompasses a broad range of stringent health criteria, with applicability across the total indoor environment. This includes schools, homes, hospitals, extended care facilities and commercial space.

GreenGuard certification does not assure that a product is green in all respects, however. Instead of examining a product's individual ingredients for green qualities, the organization only analyzes a product's tangible effect on air quality.


Healthy Schools Campaign

Fresh off the heels of its successful 2007 advocacy for legislation requiring green cleaning in Illinois schools, Chicago-based Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC), is dedicating its time to bringing together industry leaders, state advocates and national partners to develop strategies that promote state policy and encourage greater adoption of green cleaning programs.

The last two years the HSC hosted its "Green Clean National Summit" in Washington, D.C., where the organization is working to identify leaders in states where they can partner to support and introduce green cleaning policies in schools. The HSC's primary efforts behind the summits is to explore the area of common ground between non-governmental organizations, industry and education advocates to develop effective green cleaning policy.

An independent not-for-profit organization, the HSC's mission is to advocate for policies and practices that allow all students, teachers and staff to learn and work in a healthy school environment. HSC itself does not certify products or process. It looks to the marketplace for pertinent green certification and relies largely on Green Seal, Ecologo, CRI's Seal of Approval Program and EPA standards.

The HSC also recently released the second version of its "Quick and Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools," which is a national initiative aimed at changing the way schools clean. The guide outlines five steps a school can take to establish a green cleaning program. Version three is planned to be released in October 2010.

U.S. Green Building Council

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is one of the most recognized certifying organizations because of its numerous programs. Specific to the cleaning industry is its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (LEED-EBOM), the new version of LEED-EB.

LEED-EB originally became available in 2004 as a way to certify the operations and maintenance within a facility. It also created a plan for ensuring high performance over time by institutionalizing the processes of reporting, inspection and review over the lifespan of the building.

Utilizing sustainable cleaning products and materials is one way maintenance departments can earn points towards LEED certification. Looking at all the things that cleaning services can contribute — cleaning, site maintenance and landscaping, waste management, and pest management — and comparing it to the draft revisions for the newly released LEED-EBOM 2009, credits have been reduced by three points from 14 to 11.

One of the specific changes to LEED-EBOM is in IEQ Credit 3.4, which covers the purchase of cleaning chemicals, janitorial paper and plastic trash can liners. This credit has been reduced from three points to one point in LEED-EBOM 2009. Also, one credit is now available for meeting the "Custodial Effectiveness Assessment" instead of two.

Green cleaning is a requirement to earn LEED-EBOM certification and a total of six points are awarded. In order for a facility to earn these credits, they must have a green cleaning policy for the building and site addressing the following requirements: have in place a high-performance cleaning program, supported by a green cleaning program that provides an appropriate staffing plan; low decibel vacuum cleaners, carpet equipment and floor machines; develop guidelines addressing guidelines for safe handling and storage of chemicals; conduct an audit with APPA Leadership in Educational Facilities' "Custodial Staffing Guidelines;" employ permanent entryway systems (grilles, grates, mats) at least 10 feet long in the primary direction of travel to capture dirt and particulates entering the building at public entry points; and develop, implement and maintain an indoor integrated pest management plan.

Aside from its LEED accreditation programs, the USGBC is in year three of its National Green Schools Campaign, a broad-based initiative involving policy makers, teachers, parents and students who want to substantially improve the indoor environmental quality of America's schools.

In September 2009, the USGBC and 11 educational and environmental groups kicked off the Coalition for Green Schools at a meeting featuring remarks from the U.S. Department of Education, about the multiple, but critically important pathways for greening America's schools. This first ever alliance between the nation's leading educational and environmental organizations brings together the country's strongest advocates for healthy, safe and sustainable K-12 learning environments.

Practice Greenhealth

Practice Greenhealth, evolving from what was formerly known as Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E), the Green Guide for Health Care and the Healthcare Clean Energy Exchange, is a learning community working toward the greening of healthcare facilities.

Rolled out in February 2008, Practice Greenhealth offers a host of services that help healthcare facilities achieve concrete environmental goals through environmental purchasing resources — including recommendations for green cleaning practices.

Under the group's specifications, which promotes the use of green-certified products recognized by Green Seal and EcoLogo, healthcare facilities are recommended to use sustainable products when it comes to general purpose cleaners, bathroom cleaners, glass cleaners, carpet cleaners, floor cleaners, floor finishes and strippers, and hand cleaners and hand soap.

Under the platform of Practice Greenhealth is the "Green Guide For Health Care Version 2.2 Operations," which was revised in January 2009. Initiated in 2002, the Green Guide is a voluntary educational manual and sustainable design toolkit that integrates environmental and health principles and practices into the planning, design, construction, operations and maintenance of healthcare facilities.

Revisions include updated regulatory standards, best practices, and resources reflecting the most current available information, including alignment with LEED-EBOM, an emphasis on continuous improvement and the connection between greening a facility's operations and human health.


State By State Legislation

In 2004, Vermont's Department of Buildings & General Services formalized a policy ordering all state facilities to purchase and use environmentally preferable custodial cleaning products.

This law has been updated numerous times to incorporate advancements within the cleaning industry. It now requires all cleaning products used within state facilities meet specific environmental safety and occupational health criteria, as well as Green Seal's GS-37 Standard for Industrial and Institutional Cleaners.

In 2005, New York became the first state to pass legislation requiring the use of environmentally sustainable and sensitive cleaning products in public and private K-12 schools. The state has provided a list of approved products, Green Seal or EcoLogo certified, that meet specifications in five categories: cleaning products (glass cleaners, bathroom cleaners, carpet cleaners and general purpose cleaners), floor finish products, floor stripper products, soaps and vacuums.

New Jersey Governor Richard J. Codey signed Executive Order No. 76 in 2006, mandating that all state departments purchase and use environmentally preferable cleaning products that are certified by Green Seal, EcoLogo and the U.S. EPA's DfE Program. According to the Executive Order, "All state departments, authorities and instrumentalities with purchasing responsibility shall procure and use cleaning products having properties that minimize potential impacts to human health and the environment consistent with maintaining the effectiveness of these products for the protection of the public health and safety."

In Illinois, the "Green Clean Schools Act" passed in 2007 that requires all public and private K-12 schools to use environmentally sensitive cleaning products in six categories: bathroom cleaners, carpet cleaners, general purpose cleaners, glass cleaners, hand cleaners and soaps, and paper products. The products need to be certified by Green Seal, EcoLogo or the DfE program. The legislation also recommends the use of green air fresheners, tissue products, degreasers, floor care products, graffiti removers, disinfectants, chrome cleaners and plastic bags.

Moving past the educational market, in July 2009, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law legislation that requires all state owned buildings establish a green cleaning program. The bill requires the buildings to use only cleaning products in compliance with the state guidelines and specifications for the Illinois "Green Cleaning for Schools Act." The guidelines specifically refer to restroom cleaners, carpet cleaners, hand cleaners, hand soaps, general purpose cleaners and glass cleaners.

Rather than mandating the use of green cleaning products in schools, Maine became the first state to promote the implementation of green cleaning programs in schools in 2007. The state provided a list of environmentally preferable, third-party certified products to schools as well as cleaning procedure recommendations that reduce the use of toxic chemicals and improve indoor air quality.

Similarly, in 2008, legislators in Missouri outlined green cleaning guidelines and specifications, not requirements, in schools and educational settings that recommend cleaning supplies that have been third-party certified by "any of several eco-labeling organizations." The guidelines also recommend purchasing criteria and best practice policies.

In 2009, Connecticut passed a new law that requires all schools to purchase green general-purpose cleaners, floor finishes, floor strippers, hand cleaners and soaps certified by GreenSeal and EcoLogo. The bill went into effect on October 1, 2009. Schools are required to use only green cleaning products by July 1, 2011.

Maryland also passed legislation in 2009 that requires all K-12 public schools in the state to use only green cleaning products if economically feasible. All green products must be biodegradable, have low toxicity, low volatile organic compound (VOC) content, reduced packaging and low life cycle energy use. The legislation acknowledges product certifications such as the DfE program, Green Seal, The Carpet & Rug Institute's Seal Of Approval, EcoLogo and the USGBC.

Hawaii was the third state in 2009 to require green cleaning in schools. The bill requires all public schools to purchase and use Green Seal approved products when feasible. The bill only covers restroom cleaners, carpet cleaners, general-purpose cleaners, glass cleaners, hand cleaners and hand soaps, and paper towels used for cleaning.

Finally, Nevada also enacted green cleaning for schools laws in 2009 — however, it has taken a little different approach than the other states. Starting July 1, 2010, the state requires all public K-12 schools to use green products only when cleaning floor surfaces. However, the legislation does allow the board of trustees of a school district to use green cleaning products on other surfaces.

As the penchant for green cleaning grows stronger, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and Rhode Island have also introduced some form of green cleaning legislation in 2009.