Roadmaps and Standards Make Green Cleaning Easy

By Stephen Ashkin

Green Cleaning is often thought of as “low hanging fruit” when facility managers work to “green” their buildings. And what was once quite challenging has become easy because so much work has been done over the years to identify “best practices” and to collate them in succinct “roadmaps”, along with third-party programs and product standards, which will take a facility as fast and far as it wants to travel along the green journey.

Roadmaps to Green Cleaning

At the turn of the century amid all the fanfare and hysteria surrounding Y2K, a facility manager trying to implement a comprehensive Green Cleaning program would have been forced to undertake an enormous amount of effort to determine exactly what such a program contained. From cleaning chemicals to floor and carpet care to janitorial paper products to vacuum cleaners and other pieces of maintenance equipment to plastic trash liners and the list went on. And typically the facility manager found that information was incomplete, contradictory, confusing and when coming from vendors often amounted to nothing more than a thinly veiled sales effort wrapped in pretty pictures of nature and with little to no documentation about what made the product “green”.

But today the facility manager trying to implement a new Green Cleaning program or improve an existing one will find that the amount of effort to identify the components of a comprehensive program and the specific products in each product category has become vastly easier. This is because of the past 10 years of efforts in almost all facility segments including commercial and government office buildings, property management, education, healthcare, retail and more has identified the common themes and have translated them into what is often thought of as “roadmaps” for Green Cleaning.

These roadmaps clearly identify all of the product categories that would constitute a comprehensive Green Cleaning program and perhaps more importantly, the roadmaps identify the standards and specifications to make it easy for facility managers to actually procure such products. And it is important to clarify that the roadmaps rely on readily available third-party standards and not specific brands, which makes purchasing easier regardless of the geographical location or other factors that might affect the selection of vendors.

Furthermore, the roadmaps also identify other areas that help to ensure that not only are Green products used, but that they are used correctly and result in buildings that really are healthier and more productive. These other areas include requirements for training of cleaning personnel, written standard operating procedures, quality control provisions, receiving feedback from cleaning personnel and occupants, and a process for continual improvement.

Some of the most notable “roadmaps” are:

  • US Green Building Council’s LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance Rating System (LEED-EBOM).
    Within LEED-EBOM is a prerequisite for Green Cleaning (EQ Prereq 3), along with a number of specific credits found in EQ Credit 3 that can help identify the chemicals, paper, equipment, entry mats, training, strategies, etc. in a Green Cleaning program, as well as some methods by which the program can be reported and measured.
  • Practice Greenhealth’s (a program of Health Care Without Harm) Green Guide for Health Care (GGHC).
    There are many parallel requirements found in the GGHC as compared to LEED-EBOM, but the cleaning credits found in the GGHC has been further refined to meet the specific cleaning needs of healthcare.
  • Healthy Schools Campaign’s Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools.
    This Guide was developed in partnership with about 20 of the leading schools organizations and labor unions, and contains similar requirements for Green Cleaning, as it was based on LEED-EBOM. What makes this roadmap of extra value to K-12 facility managers is the extensive information on some of the specific challenges implementing such a program in a school setting due to the fact that they are public/community-based institutions.

Third-Party Standards for Cleaning Services

In addition to the roadmaps identified above, in the past few years a number of “service standards” have been introduced. Importantly, these service standards are built around the requirements of LEED-EBOM and they go beyond just product requirements and provide additional details to increase the likelihood for meeting the intent of a Green Cleaning program (an effective cleaning program that protects health and is conducive to occupant performance, and which reduces adverse environmental impacts).

In addition, these service standards offer independent third-party auditing to validate compliance that the organization is actually performing to the standard. While both of the following services standards are fee-based due to the certification/validation process, it should be noted that the “standards” themselves can be download for free and used as a “roadmap” in addition to those discussed above.

These service standards include:

  • International Sanitary Supply Association’s (ISSA) Cleaning Industry Management Standard for Green Buildings (CIMS-GB).
    This consensus-based industry standard goes beyond “green” issues by addressing management practices such as quality control processes, training, etc., which when appropriately utilized, results in better cleaning practices and can be applied to cleaning from outsourced vendors as well as in-house operations.
  • Green Seal’s Standard for Cleaning Services (GS-42).
    This consensus-based standard developed by a nonprofit organization is based largely around the requirements of LEED-EBOM and provides third-party auditing to validate compliance with their standard. As with the CIMS-GB program, GS-42 can be used for both outsourced and in-house cleaning operations.

Standards for Products

Identifying the appropriate minimum requirements for protecting worker and occupant health and safety; reducing potentially harmful environmental impacts to air, water and waste; and accomplishing all of these while meeting appropriate performance criteria can be a time consuming and even an overwhelming task for a facility manager. The good news is that this has been made easy through the use of third-party standards, especially when those standards are independently validated/audited to ensure that manufacturers are actually doing what they say.

The following is a short list of some of the more widely used third-party standards found in the roadmaps for Green Cleaning:

  • Green Seal
    An independent non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding the environment and transforming the marketplace by promoting the manufacture, purchase, and use of environmentally responsible products. They certify hundreds of products using credible, science-based, and transparent standards. The Green Seal certification program meets ISO 14000, the standard set by the International Organization of Standards (ISO). Within the cleaning industry, Green Seal certifies a variety of cleaning chemicals, janitorial paper products, and recently added a certification standard for cleaning services.
  • Environmental Choice (EcoLogo Program)
    A standard sponsored by the Canadian government known as the EcoLogo program that certifies over 3,000 products based on Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) standards that address resource use, chemicals used during production, waste and emissions reduction, energy consumption and packaging. EC-certified products are widely available in Canada and are becoming more available in the United States. Environmental Choice has a mutual recognition agreement with Green Seal recognizing one another’s programs.
  • The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI)
    CRI is the national trade association representing the carpet and rug industry. Headquartered in Dalton, Georgia, the Institute’s membership consists of manufacturers representing over 90% of all carpet produced in the United States, and suppliers of raw materials and services to the industry. CRI introduced its Green Label Testing Program for vacuum cleaners in 2000 (and has more recently updated it with their Seal of Approval Program). This program tests two general categories of vacuums: a) general purpose vacuums approved for use on all conventional carpet styles; and b) vacuums specifically approved for use on carpet with a low pile, or surface texture, measuring approximately 1/4 inch or less.
  • US EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG)
    The EPA establishes recycled content requirements for paper and plastic products under its Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines. The CPG guidelines are based on producers’ information rather than third-party certification. Ideas for product conservation and promoting recycling, as well as a database of manufacturers and suppliers of CPG-rated products can be found at
  • US EPA’s Design for the Environment Program (DfE):The EPA Design for the Environment (DfE) program is voluntary program working with cleaning chemical manufacturers among other industry sectors to compare and improve the performance and human health and environmental risks and costs of existing and alternative products, processes, and practices.
  • EcoForm’s Information-Based Environmental Label (IBEL)
    EcoForm is a nonprofit standard developer who has developed numerous leadership standards for the computer, building materials and other industries, and has led the development for standards used by Green Seal and Environmental Choice. Their IBEL label is not a pass/fail standard but resembles the food nutrition label and can help facility managers by providing information in a consistent and systematic framework to allow for comparisons to be easily made.

    Stephen P. Ashkin is Executive Director of the Green Cleaning Network a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating building owners and suppliers about Green Cleaning, and president of The Ashkin Group a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry. He is considered the “father of Green Cleaning” and is coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies.

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