by Bill Balek — Not so many years ago, distributors of commercial cleaning products would only venture to stock a handful of green chemical cleaners, and often, there was little or no demand for these products.
Fast forward to today, and it is an entirely different picture. In a recent survey conducted by ISSA and Sanitary Maintenance magazine, distributors reported that almost one-third of their total sales were green cleaning products, and they covered the gamut of commercial cleaning products—chemical cleaners, powered equipment, paper and plastics, and every other janitorial product.
While this statistic is a wonderful testament to green cleaning gaining traction in the marketplace, the cleaning industry (and green cleaning market in particular) will continue to evolve and take on new characteristics in the near future. Changes to green building certifications, new green cleaning products, purchasers’ demand for transparency, and a greater focus on cleaning for health will all affect the green cleaning marketplace.
LEEDING the Way
To assess the future direction of green cleaning, it is helpful first to look at how the green building market is growing.
The dramatic expansion in green buildings, fueled by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, will continue to shape the market for green cleaning products and services. LEED for Existing Buildings: Operation and Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) has a robust green cleaning component, and, to a large extent, the evolution of the green cleaning marketplace has mirrored its green cleaning provisions. The LEED program continues to grow exponentially and its influence on green cleaning will continue to grow as well. Consider the following:
- Overall, LEED-registered floor area is up 45 percent compared with last year’s registrations
- LEED certification is expected to reach 2 billion square feet in 2012
- LEED registrations rose by 53 percent overseas and 39 percent in the United States in the past year
- LEED-EBOM experienced an 18 percent system-wide increase in registered floor area.
This illustrates the importance of looking at the LEED program and its treatment of green cleaning when considering the future of green cleaning. Presently, the LEED-EBOM standard is being revised with a finalized program expected in November 2012. The current draft provides insight into the direction green cleaning will be headed in the not too distant future.
First, the USGBC has proposed to amend LEED-EBOM by increasing the amount of green cleaning chemicals and janitorial paper products a facility must buy and use in order to obtain credit towards certification from 30 percent to 75 percent. It also has proposed to increase the amount of powered cleaning equipment that must meet the LEED-EBOM environmental specifications for this product category from 30 percent to 75 percent
Second, the USGBC has proposed two additional pathways to comply with the Green Cleaning Policy prerequisite in LEED-EBOM. If the facilities outsource their cleaning services to contractors who are certified by the ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard-Green Buildings (CIMS-GB) or the Green Seal Environmental Standard for Cleaning Services (GS-42), they will be deemed in compliance. Given the increase in the outsourcing of cleaning services, this revision represents a practical approach that will continue to ensure adherence to green cleaning principles.
Lastly, the USGBC is considering expanding the methods used in qualifying green chemical cleaners in LEED-EBOM. At the present, LEED-EBOM references products that meet or exceed the appropriate environmental standards set by Green Seal and EcoLogo. It has been proposed to amend LEED-EBOM by expanding the referenced third-party programs to also include the U.S. EPA Design for the Environment (DfE) Standard for Safer Cleaning Products and Transpare, the first online platform to help purchasers of green cleaning products easily differentiate options using an unprecedented level of comprehensive and transparent environmental, safety, and health attributes. This proposed revision will ensure that there is a robust supply of environmentally preferable cleaners available at competitive prices.
A limited number of green disinfectants and sanitizers will begin appearing in the marketplace in the near future under the auspices of an EPA pilot program. To appreciate the importance of this development, one must first appreciate the extensive regulations that govern these products.
Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), EPA has the exclusive authority of regulating hard surface disinfectants and sanitizers. Pursuant to FIFRA, EPA prohibits the claims of “safety” in reference to these and other pesticide products because the agency has determined that these types of claims would be false and misleading. This policy has been extended to claims of environmental preferability, including third-party ecolabel certifications. This is why disinfectants and sanitizers are not labeled as “green.”
However, due to market pressures, the EPA realizes the importance of developing a program that incentivizes manufacturers to develop more environmentally benign disinfectants and sanitizers and understands purchasers want products with a superior environmental profile.
For these reasons, the EPA launched a pilot program in December 2009 to recognize disinfectants and sanitizers with a preferred environmental profile under the it’s DfE program. Under the pilot, a product must first be reviewed by EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) to ensure the product is effective and does not present any unreasonable harm to human health. The product must also be reviewed by DfE to ensure the product meets DfE’s stringent environmental standards. Products will be awarded DfE recognition if they pass reviews by both OPP and DfE.
As of mid-November, only two products have been approved with four more products working their way through the review process. The numbers are so small because of the stringent environmental screen that DfE is applying to these products’ active ingredients that kill harmful microorganisms. Only a few active ingredients are capable of passing the screen.
As a consequence, DfE is revisiting the environmental screen it currently applies to disinfectants and sanitizers and will try to develop one that better balances the product’s intended functionality (i.e., kill germs) with an acceptable level of environmental performance.
Institutional buyers and product specifiers will continue to drive the demand for environmentally preferable products. However, now, they are also demanding reliable and proven information to more efficiently and effectively compare products.
This demand for transparency will continue to grow for a number of reasons: Today, more than ever, there is strong competition between green products. Facility buyers as well as suppliers of cleaning products need effective tools to differentiate environmentally preferable products based on specific attributes and reliable data. Traditional ecolabel programs do not lend themselves to this degree of product differentiation. Purchasers are demanding additional information in support of a product’s claimed environmental attributes so that they can make informed choices.
Moreover, today’s facility managers realize that green cleaning products and processes can go a long way in supporting corporate sustainability objectives and institutional customers are adopting sustainability goals as part of their overall business strategies and as a way to position themselves in the marketplace.
As a consequence, purchasers are becoming more sophisticated and discerning in the nature and extent of the information they demand to review green cleaning products to ensure that they are selecting products that are supportive of their overall sustainability goals. They not only want green products, but they want to know how green it is, why it is green, and the corporate sustainability practices of the manufacturer.
Traditional ecolabel programs do not provide this information. Therefore, information based models for exchanging environmental information are being developed to meet the demand for greater detail. This is why ISSA and Ecoform developed Transpare to expressly provide the transparency purchasers demand.
Cleaning for Health
Looking into the future, we can expect to see an increased interest in cleaning for health. This growing interest is partially due to the widespread acceptance of green cleaning. The adoption and use of green cleaning products and services has renewed the awareness and appreciation of the primary purpose of cleaning—i.e., to remove unwanted matter and pathogenic microorganisms from facilities to ensure they are in a state conducive to the occupants’ health and well being. The growing interest in cleaning for health is also borne out of greater awareness and an increase in the transmission and prevalence of infectious pathogens that threaten human health, such as MRSA and the norovirus. Cleaning, of course, plays a crucial role in breaking the “infection connection” and protecting human health.
Today, we have devices like Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) testers that can scientifically measure the effectiveness of a cleaning process. ATP testers are becoming more common in the marketplace because they are relatively inexpensive and provide almost instantaneous results. These devices play an important role in not only measuring effectiveness, but also in improving cleaning processes.
In fact, ISSA and the Cleaning Industry Research Institute are collaborating on a three year research project using ATP testers to establish a uniform, scientific measure of clean from a public health perspective so that when a facility is declared “clean” it means that it is healthy and sanitary for the occupants’ welfare. When completed, the findings will have the most relevance in a K-12 educational setting, but it is expected that the results will be readily transferable to most institutional settings. The research is also expected to prove the positive connection between a clean and healthy school building and student performance.
This article first appeared in the 2012 February issue http://issatoday.issa.com of ISSA Today.
ISSA Director of Legislative Affairs Bill Balek has more than 25 years of experience working with various legislative and regulatory organizations that create rules that have a direct impact on the cleaning products industry, including antimicrobial pesticide registration, hazardous material transportation, safety and health regulations, and general environmental laws.