What’s Happening in the Standards and Ecolabel Arena? A Look Back and Ahead…

This month’s issue of DestinationGreen focuses on our recent webinar on the changing landscape of standards and ecolabels — and to invite you to our upcoming webinar on the Changes to the Cleaning Credits in LEED-EBOM V4.

In this issue you will find lots of great articles and updates from the leaders; along with some fun and interesting ones on greening the supply chain and greenwashing (check out Play the Name that Greenwashing Sin game).

But again, the focus of this issue of DestinationGreen is to alert you to a new effort from EPA and to ask your help. Because we have been so successful in our efforts to “green” the cleaning industry, the unintended consequences of EPA’s efforts could affect you! So please read on.

First, a quick history on ecolabels in the cleaning industry…

It has been a dozen years since the Commonwealth of Massachusetts became the first state to use third-party standards to purchase “green” cleaning products — and my personal thanks to Marcia Deegler who recently retired from the Commonwealth and who was a real pioneer and true champion for environmentally preferable purchasing. Thank you Marcia, you won’t be forgotten!

Back then it was difficult because there were so many unknowns. For example, we didn’t know if the standards actually reduced risks to health and the environment or if the “green” products would meet their performance requirements (the word “greenwash” hadn’t been invented yet).

Additionally, we didn’t know if Green Cleaning products were readily available, if there would be adequate training for workers, or if there would be any cost implications. We did our best, but we had many blind-spots due to the newness of environmentally preferable purchasing and third-party standards and ecolabels.

We’ve come a long way…

A dozen years ago there was literally a single standard/ecolabel in the US (Green Seal) and a single manufacturer (Rochester Midland Corporation) with certified “green” products. Today it is the rule, not the exception with hundreds of manufacturers and thousands of certified cleaning products.

As a result of our success there are now billion dollar corporations (UL) offering “green” product standards and certifications; along with our federal agencies (EPA’s Design for the Environment Program) joining the mix resulting in better standards, improved customer service and lower pricing.

With the continued strength of purchasing programs aided by the USGBC’s LEED Rating Systems, state laws for Green Cleaning in Schools, along with other private and public procurement programs; the use of standards and ecolabels is only going to grow in our industry; and beyond.

So what’s the problem?

Standards (like regulations) can raise the bar and lift up those at the very bottom. We in the cleaning industry (including our purchasers) should be proud that we have developed greener products that eliminated ingredients that are carcinogen, reproductive toxins, hormone disrupters and problematic after they enter the environment after use/disposal. For example, ammoniated, chlorinated and butyl-based cleaners are products of days long gone. Good riddance!

But at the same time there is the real possibility that the unintended consequence of our newest efforts to develop standards and ecolabels in other sectors could result in a system rewarding companies for meeting the minimum requirements at the lowest possible price, while totally removing any incentive for manufacturers to innovate. This would hurt the cleaning industry. Frankly, this would hurt everyone as the experience of the cleaning industry is one that all sectors will face as their success matures in this area.

What can we do?

Last week The Ashkin Group sponsored a webinar with EPA to discuss guidelines on standards and ecolabels. The webinar was extremely well attended and for those who missed it, we recorded it and you can view the program HERE.

EPA is trying hard to provide input to federal purchasers on what constitutes a credible standard and ecolabel. They have created an opportunity to provide comment and are hopeful that the cleaning industry can help inform their recommendations.

My concern about EPA’s effort is that they will get lots of input from sectors just getting started with “green” standards and ecolabels, and as a result will build their guidance around the issues the cleaning industry faced a dozen years ago. As a result, their guidance could unintentionally hamper the work in our industry and the desire of our manufacturers to innovate and be rewarded for their efforts.

Thus I am interested in asking EPA to work with the cleaning industry on a specific “pilot project” to assess how sectors that have widely embraced standards and ecolabels can use them to encourage innovation. I am interested in EPA helping our industry figure out what comes after the simple “mark” or “seal of approval”, when every product has the same mark or seal.

I am interested in a pilot project to help our industry potentially pioneer the use of product declarations that would allow manufacturers to toot their horns about all kinds of health and environmental benefits; and what we have to do to get purchasers who are so inclined to adopt this approach.

EPA has extended its comment period until April 25th, 2014. You can find more information on the EPA initiative by clicking HERE. And, let me know if you would like to “sign on” to a letter submitted by the Green Cleaning Network. Together I think we can make an important difference.

Best regards,



P.S. Are you interested in a FREE webinar on the Changes to the Cleaning Credits in LEED-EBOM Version 4? If so, we are doing such a program on Wednesday, February 26 at 1pm ET Click HERE to register for the event.

P.S.S. Earth Day is just around the corner. This is a good time to start planning your events, and getting invitations out to customers and prospects. We’ll have more ideas and tips next month.