Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online
March 2013 Facility Focus

The Standard For Commercial And Institutional Cleaning Services

Digging deep to find what GS-42 certification from Green Seal means for the professional cleaning industry.

March 19, 2013

In December 2008, MJV Group — a leading building service contractor (BSC) in Indiana — became that state’s first contract cleaning service to earn GS-42 certification from Green Seal*.

“Certification under GS-42 demonstrates our utilization of products and equipment that have a reduced impact on the environment,” says James Heck, who was president of MJV Group at the time of its certification. “But, further, it helps us embrace processes and procedures that protect the health of our staff, as well as building occupants.”

*Note: While the MJV Group was GS-42 certified in 2008, they have since lost their GS-42 certification with Green Seal.

GS-42, known officially as Green Seal’s Environmental Leadership Standard for Commercial and Institutional Cleaning Services, is a rigorous environmental standard for both commercial and institutional cleaning services.

While scores of contract cleaning companies throughout the country have earned this certification since its inception in 2006, some BSCs may still not be familiar with it.

GS-42 compiles industry best practices and standards regarding green cleaning, of which all commercial and institutional cleaning services — but especially BSCs — should be aware.

The goals and potential benefits of GS-42 certification include:

  • Protecting human health and the environment by incorporating effective green cleaning programs
  • Helping cleaning workers to work more effectively and productively, improving results and lowering costs
  • Allowing BSCs to create valuable marketing opportunities that can lead to larger and more prestigious client bases
  • Creating higher standards regarding cleaning quality and effectiveness.

Processes And Procedures

In many ways, embracing more environmentally preferable processes and procedures, as Heck mentioned earlier, is what GS-42 is all about.

“The standard goes beyond simply switching to green-certified cleaning tools, chemicals and equipment,” says Dr. Arthur Weissman, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Green Seal. “It’s not enough to simply use green chemicals and equipment; they must be used properly with appropriate user training and communication.”

An example of GS-42 implementation is described by Cynthia Akins, director of environmental services for the Army Distaff Foundation’s Knollwood retirement center — the country’s first military retirement community.

GS-42 provided her facility with what she calls, “A blueprint for a more comprehensive and sustainable green cleaning program.”

This blueprint contains a wealth of educational material, including:

  • Instruction regarding product selection, including education about third-party certification
  • Training regarding healthier and more environmentally preferable cleaning techniques and strategies
  • Information regarding strategies for communicating the benefits of green cleaning — and GS-42 specifically — to custodial workers, staffs and building occupants.

GS-42 In Action

One of the best ways to understand GS-42 and its potential benefits is to study the way in which Akins implemented the program at Knollwood.

The GS-42 program helped her facility to make a number of very specific changes that enhanced resident satisfaction and improved overall cleaning efficiency — two of the key goals of certification.

The Knollwood program began with the elimination of most, if not all, of their traditional, non-green cleaning chemicals.

“These were replaced with environmentally preferred products, which we believe are better for the environment and safer for staffs and residents,” notes Akins.

From there, the program took the following steps:

  • Replacing traditional upright and canister vacuum cleaners with high-filtration systems that protect indoor air quality
  • Transitioning to environmentally preferable soap and paper products; Knollwood actually took this a step further, installing touch-free systems that can help reduce waste, consumption and the spread of contamination
  • Selecting floor scrubbers and other larger cleaning tools and equipment that meet ergonomic and safety standards to protect the health of custodial workers
  • Changing from feather dusters to microfiber cleaning cloths that capture dust and soils; in many cases, this also helped the facility to cut back its use of cleaning chemicals overall.

The GS-42 steps implemented by Knollwood must be viewed as a beginning because, even after an in-house or contract cleaning service has been certified, the process is never completely over.

“After certification, Green Seal continues to verify compliance by conducting on-site audits of a sample of the facilities cleaned by the service,” proclaims Weissman. “This kind of follow-up ensures that facilities are staying on track with their goals for a greener cleaning program.”

Outcomes Of Green Strategies

According to Akins, one of the key challenges of implementing a GS-42 green cleaning strategy was explaining the reasoning behind the program to staff members.

Historically, cleaning professionals have been reluctant to make changes in how they perform cleaning tasks.

In fact, in many cases, cleaning workers have been taught greener or more effective cleaning techniques only to return to their old methods over time.

To avoid this phenomenon, Akins conducted frequent meetings designed to get everyone on the same page and encourage enthusiasm for the new program.

These meetings included not only custodial workers; other staffs and residents were involved as well.

“We built awareness about the new green products and GS-42 compliant procedures; slowly and steadily, we aligned everyone with our goals,” asserts Akins.

One outcome of the GS-42 program at Knollwood was an overall reduction in the number of cleaning products used in the facility.

This is not uncommon when changing to any green cleaning strategy and is possibly more likely to occur when a facility implements a GS-42 green cleaning program.

According to Akins, after implementation, staff members who had been using up to six different products were sometimes able to reduce their usage to only one chemical.

Atkins says the program has also caused the facility’s cleaning workers to redefine how they view themselves and their work.

This is another phenomenon that often occurs when a facility implements a green cleaning program, especially one with a formal strategy such as GS-42.

As Akins concludes, her facility’s workers no longer view themselves simply as custodial workers; instead, they think of themselves as “environmental technicians,” enjoying a newfound sense of pride in their occupation and its importance.

Key Requirements Of GS-42 Certification

There are several requirements that must be met before an in-house or contract cleaning service can earn GS-42 certification.

A complete list is available at

Some of the more general requirements include:

  • Written operating procedures that are available to all cleaning personnel and clients
  • A building-specific green cleaning plan
  • A communication strategy for all cleaning personnel, building management and occupants, as well as a system for facilitating feedback from all stakeholders
  • Cleaning schedules that carefully address all of the cleaning needs of a facility
  • A detailed description of green cleaning implementation throughout the facility, including heavily used locations such as entryways and foodservice areas
  • Easy-to-understand directions for cleaning professionals written in appropriate languages or utilizing graphic presentations that cover all of the facility’s cleaning tools, machinery and products
  • Tactics to address the special cleaning needs of vulnerable populations such as young children or the elderly
  • Using only green-certified cleaning chemicals, as well as vacuum cleaners that meet the minimum requirements of the Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI) Seal of Approval (SOA) program
  • Using a chemical measuring and dilution system to limit human exposure to cleaning chemicals and facilitate proper dilution while eliminating waste.

Generating Buzz

Just as Green Seal–certified cleaning products are allowed to use the Green Seal logo on the product and in marketing materials, once building service contractors have earned GS-42 certification, they may advertise or market themselves as GS-42 certified.

One thing to note, however, is that GS-42 applies only to the cleaning and maintenance of a facility’s interior spaces; it does not apply to exterior areas such as parking lots, sidewalks, grounds, etc.