Is green product certification just another government regulation program or is it a way to give the consumer the final say?
Seems almost every aspect of life today is viewed in the light of "green" and its impact on the environment. In order to even compete in this green influenced marketplace, everyone must show their green side. The cleaning product industry is no exception. In fact it's one industry that's been exploited, all in the name of green cleaning.
The demand for green and safe cleaning products is being met with a supply of "our cleaning product is green" products. What the chemical manufacturer labels as green implies to the consumer, the cleaning product is environmentally friendly and user safe. Unfortunately, the manufacturer's label might not be what it claims to be.
The practice of making false claims of environmental responsibility is known as greenwashing. Greenwashing is used to make a company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it actually is. Just because a formulator of cleaning chemicals makes one positive environmental claim doesn't mean the product is safe for the environment or isn't harmful to the user. For example, a cleaner can be labeled as "biodegradable" yet contain toxic chemicals which can be harmful to the environment, the cleaning service worker and the building occupant.
To complicate the issue, there is currently no universally accepted standards for green cleaning products. There are governmental guidelines for environmental claims by cleaning product manufacturers which require cleaning product claims to be supported by scientific evidence. Since these are only guidelines and not law, they are difficult to enforce unless there is sufficient evidence to get a court order forcing the manufacturer to remove the false claim. It's
like the fox watching the hen house.
This lack of clarity has led to green product certification.
Green product certification creates a standard on which to measure how environmentally friendly and user safe a product is. The key to creating this standard is through an unbiased, independent third party. An independent third party is the most reliable way of verifying cleaning product claims.
Certification by a third party organization requires a cleaning product manufacturer to disclose all ingredients along with all toxicity data to an unbiased laboratory. Through independent data reviews and lab testing the accuracy of the product claims can be verified. Rather than relying on government regulations, independent third party certification allows both consumers and manufacturers of green cleaning products to compare green claims to the same standards.
Green product certification provides benefits to both consumers and manufacturers
Certification helps consumers:
Certification helps manufacturers:
Practically every time we turn around, a new third party organization comes on the scene. Some third party organizations have been created as a way to provide a less expensive avenue for a cleaning product to be certified.
The cost to have a green cleaning product certified can be prohibitive for smaller companies with less capital. This doesn't mean their product wouldn't meet the standards of a more expensive third party certification organization. It does mean certification should be earned and not bought.
The following are independent third party certification organizations for green cleaning products:
The largest independent third party organization in the USA. This non profit organization was established in 1989 and certifies products based on multi-attribute (considering a product's environmental and health effects through the eyes of several parameters) including the entire life cycle of a product (from the raw materials to whether it is recyclable or disposable).
Since Green Seal has no affiliation with any government program and do not accept donations from manufacturers, funding comes from application and certification fees and from foundations.
The product standards Green Seal has developed are a blend of industry, government agencies, and public input. Although Green Seal is an independent organization, product standards must meet the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Standards Organization (ISO).
Green Seal certifies a whole host of products. GS-37 Cleaning Products for Industrial and Institutional Use is the category for carpet cleaning products, tile and grout cleaning products, and other institutional cleaning products.
This organization was founded by the Canadian government in 1988 and can be considered the equivalent to Green Seal. Similarly to Green Seal, The International Standards Organization considers Ecologo a "type-one ecolabel" which means it's life cycle based and multi-attribute.
The goal of EcoLogo is to provide public, corporate and end user consumers with the assurance that the products and services bearing the Ecologo mark meet stringent environmental standards that have been verified by a third party. Its purpose is to build consumer trust by providing scientific proof of environmental leadership thus building market share for the world's most sustainable products.
Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI):
What started with a program to test spot removers has blossomed and is now about green cleaning chemicals and equipment. As stated on the CRI website:
"Our purpose is to provide science-based information about carpet and rugs - from health benefits to improved air quality to care and cleaning".
Launched in 2004, the CRI Seal Of Approval program tests the cleaning effectiveness of spot removers, pre-spray and in-tank cleaning chemicals.
To earn the Seal of Approval, CRI and an independent laboratory use scientifically accredited cleaning standards to identify which cleaning solutions work best using the following criteria: overall cleaning effectiveness, rate of resoiling, pH, surface texture change, optical brighteners, and colorfastness.
Using water as the control standard, the performance of a cleaning product is measured against the cleaning performance of plain water in relation to the above named criteria.
Although CRI does not directly certify that a product is environmentally friendly, it does "partner" with nationally recognized green certifiers to certify that Seal Of Approval cleaning products do not damage the environment. In order to become a Seal of Approval green product, documentation proving a manufacturer's product meets a third party certifier's requirements must be provided to the CRI.
Design for the Environment (DfE)
This program is the US government's vehicle for the promotion of green practices. The DfE does not offer certification, but rather create partnerships with companies that voluntarily incorporate environmental considerations into their design processes.
The DfE will review a breakdown of a manufacturer's entire product formulation based on the qualifications of a third party certifier. The DfE will enter into a partnership with the manufacturer if the product is deemed green enough.
When it comes to green product certification, Green Seal and Ecologo are the two largest and most stringent independent third party certification organizations. There are however, many other green practices organizations that don't directly offer green product certification but form "partnerships" to deem a cleaning product as green.
The main purpose of having any cleaning product certified as green is to give the consumer trust and confidence that the certified product is environmentally and user safe. Unless the green product certification is directly through Green Seal and or Ecologo or is at least in a partnership based on the certifying standards of organizations such as Green Seal or Ecologo then buyer beware.
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