A decade or more ago, there were less than a handful of manufacturers in the professional cleaning industry producing green-certified cleaning products.
Today, virtually every major chemical manufacturer has a line of cleaning products that have been certified, many by Green Seal Inc., recognized as one of the leading certification organizations in the world.
Some of the earliest certified products were the ones cleaning professionals use most frequently, such as window cleaners and all-purpose cleaners.
However, the goal of a green cleaning program is that all products used in cleaning — from chemicals to vacuum cleaners — meet specific criteria for certification standards.
To better understand this, picture all the components and products used in green cleaning as the spokes on a wheel: If one of those spokes is lost or broken, the entire wheel may collapse.
This is how we must view green cleaning and all the products used; all the spokes must be strong, sturdy and in place for building occupants and the environment to benefit from green cleaning and green cleaning products.
This also means that all cleaners, including those commonly referred to as “specialty cleaners,” should be green certified.
While specialty cleaners may not be used as frequently as, for instance, window cleaners, they are used at some point in virtually all facilities to address scores of cleaning needs.
Among the most commonly used specialty cleaners are the following:
- Furniture polishes
- Graffiti removers
- Grout cleaners
- Leather and upholstery cleaners
- Odor removers
- Oven cleaners
- Enzymatic cleaners
- Automotive cleaners
- Dish soaps.
“Cleaning professionals, along with industrial and institutional purchasers, are continuing to seek cleaning products that are safer for workers and building inhabitants, and this applies to specialty cleaning products as well,” says Dr. Arthur Weissman, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Green Seal Inc. “In fact, today, many are mandated to do so. It is because of this that we launched the Green Seal Standard for Specialty Cleaning (GS-53). Now, virtually all cleaners [including specialty cleaners] can be Green Seal-certified, which helps make facilities healthier and the job of securing environmentally preferable products much easier and more efficient.”
What Makes Them Green?
While most cleaning professionals and facility managers have heard the terms “green certified” and “environmentally preferable” when referring to cleaning products, it is often surprising how few — even in the professional cleaning industry — fully understand what they mean.
The terms date back to early the 1990s when President Bill Clinton issued mandates requiring green or environmentally preferable products to be used in all federal facilities around the world.
In 1993, Executive Order 12873 included the phrase “environmentally preferable products” (EPPs), which was used to describe products, including cleaning products, that have a reduced impact on the environment when compared to conventional products used for the same or a similar purpose.
The Executive Order also directed purchasers to consider the lifecycle of products and services.
Subsequent presidential administrations have continued the trend.
In 2009, for example, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13514 requiring the use of environmentally preferable products with ingredients that are non-ozone depleting, nontoxic or less toxic in federal facilities as long as such products meet agency performance requirements.
As mandates and directives to purchase environmentally preferred products and services have become more prevalent, third-party, independent organizations such as Green Seal have developed standards and criteria that manufacturers must meet in order for a product to be labeled “green certified.”
The label allows cleaning professionals and others to easily identify such products.
Today, a call for Green Seal certification is invariably included in “requests for proposals” (RFPs) for building maintenance products and services.
This is because “Green Seal certification is a useful tool for identifying effective ‘green’ products and services,” says Stacey Foreman, sustainable procurement coordinator for the city of Portland, Oregon.
As it pertains to specialty cleaning products, GS-53 helps cleaning professionals, as well as procurement managers like Foreman, identify those that are environmentally preferable.
As with other green cleaning product standards, GS-53 criteria cover such things as the following:
- Functional performance criteria
A GS-53-certified cleaning product must meet specific performance requirements to demonstrate that it cleans common soils and surfaces in its category effectively per the manufacturer’s recommended dilution levels for routine cleaning.
- Health and environmental requirements
Carcinogens and other potentially hazardous chemicals have traditionally been used in specialty cleaning products.
GS-53 prohibits the use of such chemicals as formaldehyde donors, 2-butoxyethanol, phthalates, heavy metals and more.
These products must also have low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), be readily biodegradable and be nontoxic to aquatic life.
- Manufacturing sustainability requirements
GS-53 requires that manufacturers keep records on the use of resources in manufacturing and distribution, including energy and water use, emissions and waste from manufacturing.
They must also demonstrate social responsibility regarding fair labor practices and safe working conditions.
- Packaging sustainability requirements
Because packaging can be a significant factor in the environmental impact for specialty cleaning products, GS-53 requires responsible use of packaging materials including plastic packaging that, among other things, is either recyclable, lightweight or includes 25 percent post-consumer material.
- Training and labeling requirements
The final criteria in GS-53 focuses on proper training and use of the product, including applicable step-by-step instructions for dilution and use as well as information on consequences of improper dilution and use, proper disposal and the use of personal protective equipment.
What This Means To You
Using certified green or environmentally preferable cleaning products allows cleaning professionals to meet the requirements of the Executive Orders discussed earlier.
But, there are far greater and much broader implications for the professional cleaning industry as well.
It also means that these products, including those specialty products now certified under GS-53, are safer for the user.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, janitors and cleaners suffered more than 46,000 injuries requiring days away from work.
They also had the sixteenth highest injury rate of all occupations.
Many of these injuries were the result of using powerful, non-green cleaning chemicals as well as using cleaning products improperly.
The use of green cleaning products is designed to help reduce these injury numbers.
In addition, the availability of credible, independent certification for manufacturers to pursue makes it easier for purchasers to identify green and sustainable products.
This has eliminated considerable confusion, allowed purchasers to make more reliable decisions and greatly enhanced protection of the environment and the health and safety of all building users.