Green Cleaning In the 21st Century

Green Cleaning continues to evolve and grow.

In fact, one of the most significant events in the movement has just recently gone into effect. The U.S. Green Building Council and its members have adopted the latest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification rating system, LEED v4.

One of the big changes is that instead of receiving LEED credits for using Green Cleaning products, as was true with older versions, the latest version requires the use of environmentally preferable cleaning products. Further, v4 requires that facilities increase their purchases of Green Cleaning chemicals, paper products, plastic liners, and similar items from the current 30 percent to 75 percent. It also doubles the required purchases of Green Cleaning equipment, such as high-air-filtration vacuum cleaners, from 20 percent to 40 percent.

In addition, new compliance options give cleaning product manufacturers, janitorial service providers, and facility managers more flexibility and options, for instance:

  • Besides UL/Environment and Green Seal®, previously the only certification bodies recognized for LEED certification,v4 now also recognizes the EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE), EcoForm, and the Transpare Program of the ISSA (the worldwide cleaning association)..
  • CIMS-GB (Cleaning Industry Management Standard–Green Buildings) and GS-42, Green Seal’s standard for commercial/institutional cleaning, have been added as options to meet the Green Cleaning prerequisite.
  • The new version encourages the development and use of technologies that clean effectively using just water, without cleaning chemicals.
  • Greater emphasis is placed on conserving energy and water.

However, LEED v4 is not the only major change impacting the professional cleaning industry. Others include the following:

Ecolabels: As we discussed earlier, selecting Green Cleaning products used to be a challenge. With the advent of certification, standards, and ecolabels, buyers have been given more tools to choose appropriate products. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes it can be difficult for purchasers to tell which ecolabels and standards are authentic and appropriate.

To help, the EPA recently announced the publication of Draft Guidelines for Product Environmental Performance Standards and Ecolabels for Voluntary Use in Federal Procurement. While the guidelines are designed to help federal purchasers, they may also help other public sector and private sector markets that rely on ecolabels and standards to make purchasing decisions. Some manufacturers in the industry are concerned that these new guidelines will stifle innovation, however, and it remains to be seen if or how this directive will evolve.

Transparency: Another trend in the industry is for manufacturers to disclose more information about the ingredients in their cleaning products. A step beyond certification and ecolabels, this move is intended to help purchasers better understand all the environmental, safety, and health characteristics of products before they select them. Very simply, users want to know what’s inside the products they use—even if it is Green. For instance, one certified-Green product may include an ingredient that can cause an allergic reaction in very small children. Knowing this, a purchaser can select another Green Cleaning product that does not include this ingredient.

GHS: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has modified the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) now used in the United States. The modifications are designed to make chemical information and warning labels consistent with those in many other countries around the world and with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.

The key reason for the integration is to ensure all chemicals manufactured or used in the United States are labeled so that information on use as well as precautions and warnings are similar around the globe. In other words, a cleaning worker using a cleaning chemical in India or China will have, know, and understand the same set of warning and hazard labels as a cleaning worker in North America. The ultimate goal is safety for the worker as well as building users.

It is clear we have made some significant progress since Silent Spring. Professional cleaning and cleaning products today are safer, more sustainable, more effective, and more cost effective than those made just a few years back. These changes have also had a major impact on the professional cleaning industry in general. The days of cleaning workers being an invisible part of building operations is long gone. Today, and much the result of the Green Cleaning movement, they are considered one of the most crucial parts of a facility’s or business’s operation.


Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry, and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which offers a cloud-based dashboard that allows organizations to measure, report, and improve their sustainability efforts. He is also coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies