Scrubbing Down To The “Nitty-Greeny”

“Using a third party to do the evaluation makes buying these products easy, especially when considering how complicated it can be to evaluate all of the short- and long-term health issues associated with products, as well as their environmental impacts to air and water, energy consumption, packaging, training and other requirements,” says Stephen Ashkin, president of the Ashkin Group, which specializes in green cleaning.

While these organizations are independent of one another and have different criteria for certifying a product as environmentally preferable, they are all dedicated to protecting the environment and the public from toxic cleaning products. Some of the qualities these organizations look for in products are:

• Biodegradable

• Phosphate-free

• Zero ozone-depleting potential

• Non-flammable

• Free of alkylphenol ethoxylate surfactants and nonylphenol ethoxylates

• No additives used with the sole purpose of changing the scent of the product

• Minimal to no VOCs

• Reduced or recycled packaging.

This is only a short list of what these groups look at when certifying a product as green; in most cases, the lists are quite extensive–down to specific chemical compounds. The work of these groups carries even more weight when one considers that manufacturers are not required to list all the ingredients, only active disinfectants and chemicals known to be toxic.

It is important to choose products that have been independently verified, as manufacturers have begun to make environmental and health claims that are not substantiated. Simply because a product is labeled green or natural does not necessarily mean it is safe for the environment. For example, finding the word “natural” on a product does not confirm or validate that it is safe or less toxic, as there is no industry standard for the term. The NPA (Natural Products Association), a nonprofit group, has a list of standards a product must meet to carry that seal. The NPA stamp ensures that a product is composed of 95%-natural ingredients.

The term “environmentally friendly” is more confusing, forcing the consumer to figure out what part of the product and/or packaging is environmentally friendly. You may be using a traditional toxic cleaner packaged in an environmentally friendly box! Your best bet is to talk with the janitorial-supply representative, to look for the independent organizations listed above, and to trust your instincts–if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Where Do I Start?

The U.S. Green Building Council, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) is a good place to start any green campaign. Even if you are not interested in having a building LEED-certified, there is a wealth of information on how to develop and implement a green-cleaning program. The Green Seal 37 (GS-37) standard is an exceptionally effective place to start when looking to purchase green cleaning products. Many state and local governments now require GS-37 certification as a minimum requirement for any prospective cleaning product.

The EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) program is also a great resource for green cleaning. While it is a program tailored to the federal government, it is a valuable asset to any government agency. The EPP Web site offers guidance on numerous green products and services, including cleaning products, office supplies and even fleet information. This is a valuable place in which to see how other agencies made green strategies work.

Similar to the first electric cars of the modern era, green cleaning products face a similar developing life cycle that includes clarifying the misconceptions, creating benchmarks in the industry, and establishing guidelines. The advantages of green products go beyond reducing the impact on the environment; they can also have a positive effect on the bottom line. Coupled with saving our planet, their use begs the question, “Why not?”

Steve Yeskulsky is a CPRP currently working in the parks and recreation industry in Sarasota, Fla. He can be reached via e-mail at


How To Dispose Of Unwanted Cleaning Products

When replacing or discarding unwanted cleaning products, begin with the label on the container. Many times, it will have guidance for disposal and contact information for further assistance. Contact your local government as most accept certain types of products during specific waste-collection days.

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