While many industries will be impacted by the new green guidelines recently released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), few will be as affected as the professional cleaning industry. One reason for this is that the industry has wholeheartedly embraced green cleaning. In most cases, an environmentally preferable product is considered first, with a traditional, non-green product selected when a green alternative is not available or for some reason not cost or performance effective.
However, because the industry has jumped on the green bandwagon so enthusiastically, some of the environmental claims the industry has used to identify their products and services will need to be reexamined in light of the new FTC guidelines. Further, this will impact all parties in the industry—manufacturers, distributors, and you, the end customer—ultimately for the benefit of all.
Of the new guidelines, the first that building owners, managers, and purchasers should be aware of has to do with certification. The certifications and “seals of approval” found on the labels and marketing materials of many cleaning products, tools, and equipment fall into three categories:
- First-party certifications and seals are those that are created by the manufacturer of the product. Under the new guidelines, manufacturers must explain that the product has been “self-certified” and that this certification or seal has not been verified by an independent testing lab or similar organization. Of the three new categories, as owners, managers, and purchasers transfer to green cleaning strategies, this first-party form of certification may prove to be viewed as the least credible.
- Second-party certifications are those created by industry associations. At this time, ISSA, the leading association for the professional cleaning industry, is actively embarking on its own certification program. While this is certainly welcomed and will likely benefit the industry, products receiving such certifications will have to disclose this information, which may or may not be accepted by all purchasers of green cleaning products.
- The final category, third-party certifications, are considered the most credible. These certifications are earned after a product has been independently analyzed and meets the standards and criteria established by such organizations as green Seal, UL/Environment, and other respected enterprises.
Although it may seem easy to make a selection based on these categories—just look for a second- or, more likely, third-party seal when selecting a cleaning product—the FTC has made the process a bit more complicated.
While a third-party seal does not require a qualifying statement, as do first- and second-party seals, the new guidelines require allmanufacturers to specify which attributes of the product meet the certification. This can be confusing and may require purchasers to do more due diligence when making purchases, but the goal here is to clarify that the certification may not apply to the entire product, just certain attributes, ingredients, or aspects of the product.
So what other changes has the FTC handed down that most specifically will impact the end customer?
First of all, terms such as “environmentally friendly,” “environmentally responsible,” “eco-friendly,” even the word “green” are now discouraged and may result in a fine or violation for the manufacturer and the distributor marketing the product. The FTC believes these terms have become too vague and can be deceptive, especially when used for marketing reasons. However, a manufacturer or distributor can use these terms if they explain why the product is considered a healthier alternative, assuming they meet specific FTC guidelines and criteria.
The FTC guidelines apply to environmental claims in labeling, advertising, promotional materials, and all other forms of marketing in any medium, whether asserted directly or by implication, through words, symbols, logos, depictions, product brand names, or any other means. More information is available here and here.
Another term that we may hear less and less is “free of.” In some cases, manufacturers have said a product is “free of” a potentially harmful ingredient when another ingredient, often considered just as potentially harmful, has been substituted. In addition, the term cannot be used on a product that has never contained the harmful ingredient.
These changes apply not only to the manufacturer but also, as referenced earlier, the distributors who market these products. Any environmental claims promoted for a product in marketing and sales materials must now be substantiated.
So what’s the bottom line? For the professional cleaning industry, the bottom line is that all environmental claims must be much more specific and verified. And this is actually the bottom line for the end customer as well. This greater specificity will result in much greater transparency so that purchasers will know more exactly why the products they select for use in their facilities have been labeled Green.
By Stephen Ashkin, The Ashkin Group – Originally published in Environmental Leader, April 15, 2013.
The following are the “lessons learned” from the winners of the 2012 Green Cleaning Awards for Schools and Universities. These tips may make an important impact on buildings, their occupants and the environment. And most are feasible, readily available and affordable.
1) Products. In 2012, every winner used an assortment of green chemicals, paper, equipment, tools and other products, but so did every entrant. Thus, it is clear that green products are widely available, meet performance requirements and are cost-effective.
Innovations in this area included efforts to reduce product consumption by using those that have higher performance and greater durability. The use of microfiber products is expanding (although concerns are increasing about quality because of the lack of any product standards in this category). And there is growth in the use of devices that ionize, ozonate, electrolyze and otherwise turn water into cleaning solutions.
2) Training. Every program provided training to custodians; after all, it is the law. But the winners went beyond the minimum OSHA requirements and those for new employees.
Innovations included training custodians on how they can reduce energy, water and waste while increasing recycling and composting. The winners went above and beyond by engaging and providing training to students, staff, visitors and other stakeholders on what they can do to create a cleaner, safer and more healthful environment.
3) Outreach. The winners worked to engage others through their schools, districts and campuses. Posters, newsletters, competitions, events, and social and traditional media helped make green cleaning and sustainability efforts clear, visible and frequent.
Innovations included garnering the “public” support of senior leaders in the school or university, as well as in the community, to give credibility and importance to the issue.
4) Teamwork. One of the more important lessons from the winners was teamwork that includes the entire institution and not just the custodial department. Schools and universities, large and small, urban and rural, are dealing with budget and staffing cuts. So, working constructively with teachers, students, staff, parents and others was a key to success.
Innovations varied from those actually engaging students in cleaning to higher-level engagement on green teams to help administer, manage and expand programs. Just imagine what could be achieved if schools elevated participation on the green team to the same level as being on the basketball or cheerleading squads.
5) Formula. Cleaning is a process, and the winners took the concept to the next level. They had a “formula” for everything, including the process of cleaning, selecting and reviewing products on an established basis, training of custodians, outreach to stakeholders, building the team and more. This year’s winners scored high in all areas.
Innovations in this area included clear and written processes and expectations, along with efficient execution that measured progress and identified opportunities for improvement.
6) Verification. Although it was common to find the use of independent third parties such as Green Seal, EcoLogo, EPA’s DfE Program and the Carpet & Rug Institute to verify product claims, the leaders did much more. For example, several of the winners used third parties such as Green Seal and ISSA to verify the performance of the entire cleaning program, including products, training and management systems.
Innovations in this area included the use of new technologies such as ATP meters to measure soil on surfaces. The use of such measurement tools objectively determined how clean surfaces really were so resources could be applied effectively in an effort to create and maintain buildings that are most conducive to learning.
By Stephen Ashkin, The Ashkin Group
Bloomington, IN – March 4, 2013 – Researchers at the Imperial College London have tracked the occurrence of asthma in a group of nearly 9,500 people born in Britain in 1958.
Not including those that had asthma as children, 9 percent developed asthma by the age of 42. While one in nine of these cases were attributed to smoking, an even higher number of cases—one in six—were workplace related.
According to the researchers, there are many occupations that are thought to cause asthma.
In this study, 18 occupations were clearly linked with asthma risk, four of which were cleaning jobs and a further three of which were likely to involve exposure to cleaning products.
Farmers, hairdressers, and printing workers also had an increased risk of developing asthma. And, in addition to cleaning/disinfecting products, adult-onset asthma was associated with exposure to flour, enzymes, metals, and textiles.
The study was published earlier this year in the journal Thorax, considered one of the world’s leading medical journals that focuses on respiratory health.
“Occupational asthma is widely under-recognized by employers, employees, and healthcare professionals,” says Dr. Rebecca Ghosh of the MRC-HPA Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial College London and the study’s lead author. “Raising awareness that this is an almost entirely preventable disease would be a major step in reducing its incidence.”
Commenting on the report, Stephen Ashkin, President of The Ashkin Group and long considered the father of Green Cleaning, says the report is not really news to the professional cleaning industry.
“While the study did not note whether [the cleaning workers in the study] were using Green or traditional cleaning products, we have known for more than two decades that exposure to cleaning chemicals on a regular basis can be a health hazard. This study now confirms this.”
The study concluded that healthcare professionals treating adults with asthma and similar respiratory problems consider the patients’ occupations and tailor their recommendations and treatments with this information in mind.
*Ghosh RE, Cullinan P, Fishwick D, et al. Asthma and occupation in the 1958 birth cohort. Thorax. Published Online First: 21 January 2013. doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2012-202151