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LEED / Green Seal / DfE / Sustainability / Standards And Certifications
August 2013 Feature 3

A Guide To Navigating Green Certifications

Finding the most reputable and respected sustainable products can benefit both cleaners and clients.

August 12, 2013
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It’s hard to believe, but green products and processes were once a luxury in the commercial cleaning industry.

Sustainable, environmentally-friendly chemicals were once expensive and not easily obtainable — but now, green cleaning is the point of entry.

Facility managers have come to expect virtually harmless chemicals, energy efficient machines and sustainable products.

They’re challenged to cut resource consumption at every turn, and may be striving to earn government-backed green certifications for their space.

As a result, the commercial cleaning industry is now overwhelmed with terms and acronyms to label green products.

Many of these programs are reputable and well respected in the industry.

Others may be a bit misleading if you don’t thoroughly research the label.

It’s important to stay afloat on all of today’s green certifications, and identify products that best meet a facility’s sustainability goals.

Using LEED As A Guide

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the most widely recognized and accepted program for certifying high-performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods.

Developed and enforced by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED rates both new buildings and existing structures.

Many of today’s buildings are striving for the LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EBOM) certification.

Whether or not the certification is a goal for a facility, LEED’s requirements are the best guidelines to follow for finding the most sustainable and environmentally-friendly products and processes.

The current standard, LEED-EBOM 2009, awards a facility one point towards certification when 30 percent of its cleaning products are green-certified.

These products range from glass and hard surface cleaners, strippers, hand soaps, janitorial products, trash bags and beyond.

LEED-EBOM recognizes two independent programs that certify green cleaning products: Green Seal and Environmental Choice.

Green Seal

An industry standard for nearly 25 years, Green Seal develops life-based sustainability standards for products, services and companies.

The third-party certification body evaluates every step and aspect in the development, manufacturing, transportation, use and disposal of green cleaning products.

These points include:

  • Potential impact on the natural environment, indoor spaces and people exposed to the product
  • Level of safety in the disposal process
  • Amount of recycled content in product packaging
  • Dissolution rate of chemicals
  • Manufacturing plant audits on a three-year cycle
  • Natural resource consumption during the actual use of the product or process.

A product or service will maintain its Green Seal certification as long as all chemicals and processes remain the same.

Environmental Choice

The second third-party certification body recognized by LEED is Environmental Choice, also known as EcoLogo.

The program compares products and services with others in the same category, and like Green Seal, evaluates the entire lifecycle.

Like Green Seal, EcoLogo also places a strong emphasis on efficacy testing.

In short, products can’t just claim to be green — they have to actually be effective at cleaning, too.

Design For The Environment

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Design for the Environment (DfE) program is expected to be recognized by the next version of LEED.

Much like Green Seal and Environmental Choice, DfE labels green cleaning products.

The program’s stringent testing criteria evaluates every ingredient in a product for environmental impact and effectiveness.

Beyond Green: Fiber Protection For Carpet

Even if a product or service is green certified, it’s important to confirm it won’t damage material during the cleaning process.

Specifically for carpet cleaning, there are two organizations that certify fiber-safe products and processes.

WoolSafe-certified cleaning products are tested and guaranteed to not damage wool carpet.

There is also a green WoolSafe seal that ensures sustainability.

The Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI) Seal of Approval (SOA) programs ensure the safety of chemicals on nylon carpet, while also testing product efficacy.

Be Aware: Self-promoted Green Programs

When evaluating products, be wary of trusting any green certification.

Find out if the label is endorsed by a third-party organization, or if it’s a self-promoted green program established by the manufacturer.

Some companies have developed their own in-house label for green products.

While they may be sustainable, without the support of independent, neutral testing organizations such as Green Seal and Environmental Choice, it may be difficult to verify a green product claim.

The Future Of Green Certifications

While Green Seal and Environmental Choice are currently the most trusted certifications of green products, it’s important to stay updated by referencing recommendations of future LEED versions.

In addition, LEED has specific criteria for every type of cleaning process and products, so use it as a benchmark for all of a facility’s operations.

Whether or not a facility manager is striving for LEED certification or mandated to make their building more sustainable, cleaning itself is an environmentally beneficial practice.

Thorough, regular cleaning protects and extends the life of a facility’s assets, which results in less carpet and other materials ending up in a landfill prematurely.

A truly clean building not only looks better, unpolluted air makes it healthier, too.

When evaluating green cleaning products for a facility, the most important step is thorough research.

Many products and processes claim to be green, but some are not truly sustainable and effective at cleaning.

Using the LEED program and third-party certifications as a guide, you can rest assured you are using the best green products on the market.


Stephen Lewis serves as technical director for MilliCare, a provider of environmentally sound textile and carpet cleaning services for commercial facilities. He is responsible for the company’s research and development efforts, provides technical training to its network of more than 80 franchise partners and is the company’s key point of contact with the textile and carpet maintenance community. For more information, visit

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