Green cleaning plays a significant and supportive role in helping education institutions meet their sustainability goals. However, identifying cleaning products, supplies and equipment that truly are environmentally preferable can be daunting.
The marketplace is inundated with products and services purporting to be "green" or environmentally preferable. The proliferation of products and services purporting to offer an environmental benefit has made it difficult to distinguish between those that are truly "green" and those that make false or misleading claims. This situation creates a challenge for schools looking to start a comprehensive green cleaning program and for the cleaning professionals who use the products.
The good news is that schools can choose from many credible ecolabel programs for their green cleaning programs. Such programs help schools identify green cleaning products and services that truly are environmentally preferable and effective.
A number of credible ecolabel programs have won acceptance in the marketplace. By lending a level of certainty to the procurement process, ecolabel programs help schools avoid greenwashing and deliver a clean, healthful and safe learning environment.
Chemical cleaning products
In the realm of chemical cleaning products, three ecolabel programs have established themselves as reliable in qualifying environmentally preferable and effective products.
Green Seal (www.greenseal.org), EcoLogo (www.ecologo.org) and the U.S. EPA Design for the Environment (www.epa.gov/dfe) have developed credible environmental standards, along with certification or recognition programs for chemical cleaners that qualify effectively as green products. Each of these programs covers a broad swath of cleaning products, such as general purpose, carpet, bathroom, glass and toilet-bowl cleaning products. In addition, each of these programs covers floor finishes and strippers, along with hand soaps and sanitizers.
The labeling established by Green Seal, EcoLogo and the U.S. EPA DfE programs uses standards based on multiple environmental, health and safety attributes including but not limited to corrosivity, skin sensitization, biodegradability, toxicity, combustibility and VOC content. In addition, each of these programs has a performance component that ensures the products recognized by these programs also perform their intended cleaning function.
Janitorial Paper Products
A comprehensive green cleaning program also should require that janitorial paper products meet applicable green criteria. This includes paper towels and napkins, facial and toilet tissue, hand towels and wipes. Both Green Seal and EcoLogo have recognized standards for various categories of paper products and offer certification to those that meet the requirements. Green Seal's GS-01 Standard (Sanitary Paper Products) applies to the categories referenced above, as well as toilet-seat covers, tray liners and placemats. All of these standards are based on multiple attributes, including absorbency and post-consumer recycled content; whether the product is processed chlorine-free; and whether it contains additives that release carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxins.
A third resource that applies to janitorial paper products is the EPA's "Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines," which set forth levels of post-consumer content and pre-consumer waste for six product categories, including plastic trash liners. More information on these EPA guidelines can be found at www.epa.gov/cpg.
Each of these programs has gained marketplace acceptance; government and other institutional procurement professionals rely on the programs to help identify and select green cleaning paper products.
Powered Cleaning Equipment
Although only one major green certification program exists for powered cleaning equipment, environmental criteria have been published for other types of powered equipment within the body of standards designed to qualify green cleaning services and green buildings. In essence, a comprehensive green cleaning program should ensure that equipment, including vacuum cleaners, carpet extractors, burnishers, propane-powered floor equipment and automatic scrubbers, comply with these criteria:
The ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard–Green Buildings (CIMS-GB), as well as in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.
Carpet & Rug Institute. (www.carpet-rug.org). The Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI) operates the Seal of Approval program, which tests vacuums, carpet extractors and carpet cleaning solutions against performance criteria to ensure that they are capable of removing soil and cleaning carpet effectively. Those products that demonstrate their capability to meet the criteria are awarded CRI Seal of Approval certification.
Additional Criteria for Equipment–CIMS-Green Building and LEED. Both the CIMS-GB and the USGBC LEED-EBOM standards set forth criteria to ensure that other powered cleaning equipment is as environmentally preferable as practical. For example, both standards note that automatic scrubbers should be equipped with variable-speed feed pumps. They also note that they should have either an on-board chemical metering system or a dilution-control system for refilling, or use only water with no additional chemical products.
Further, propane-powered floor equipment should have high-efficiency, low-emission engines with catalytic converters that meet EPA or CARB standards. Both standards also set forth sound-level limits for propane-powered equipment, as well as high-speed floor maintenance equipment and vacuum cleaners.
The use of green chemical products, paper and equipment clearly is necessary in a green cleaning program, but simply relying on the purchase and use of such products is not sufficient. It is equally important that cleaning services and the way they are delivered contribute to a school's overall green cleaning efforts. Education institutions must make sure that cleaning service professionals have been trained on the use of environmentally preferable products; that the organization has a well-defined green cleaning policy; and that it is capable of delivering high-performance, healthful service.
The ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) and CIMS-Green Building program (www.issa.com/cims) sets forth a management framework to help a cleaning service organization develop and maintain a high-performance cleaning operation; CIMS-GB sets forth the key elements of a green cleaning program. To meet the CIMS/CIMS-GB criteria and achieve certification, institutions may undergo a comprehensive on-site assessment that includes review of all policies, procedures and systems, as well as visits to customer site accounts to ensure the program is put into effect in the field. In order to ensure compliance, an independent third-party performs all assessments.
Schools that wish to validate their green cleaning program or who wish to select a third-party provider that is capable of delivering a comprehensive green cleaning program should rely on CIMS-GB certification as a validation or prequalification/selection tool.
It also is worth noting that the CIMS-GB criteria largely are based on the green cleaning requirements in the LEED:EBOM standard, so that a school facility and its cleaning service provider may partner in the pursuit of LEED certification.
In the education marketplace, establishing an effective green cleaning program can be facilitated greatly by reliance on credible ecolabel programs. They make it easier to develop a cleaning program that not only reduces the impact on the environment, but also ensures that the facility is clean, healthful and safe.
Demand for Transparency
Schools, government agencies and other institutional buyers continue to drive the demand for environmentally preferable products. They also are demanding transparent information that makes product comparison more efficient and effective.
This demand for transparency will continue to grow. Institutional buyers, as well as suppliers of cleaning products, need tools that are effective at differentiating environmentally preferable products based on specific attributes and reliable data. Traditional ecolabel programs do not lend themselves to this degree of product differentiation; therefore, institutional purchasers are demanding additional information in support of a product's promised environmental attributes.
Moreover, education institutions are adopting sustainability goals as part of their overall strategies. And facility managers realize that green cleaning products and processes can go a long way in supporting their sustainability objectives.
As a consequence, schools and universities are growing more sophisticated and discerning in the nature and extent of the information they demand when reviewing green cleaning products. They want to know how green the products are and why they are green. They also want to buy from green companies.
Traditional ecolabel programs do not lend themselves to this dynamic. Therefore, information-based models for exchanging environmental information are being put forward as a solution to the demand for greater detail.
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