Third Party Certifications
When it comes to choosing products for your green cleaning program, third party certifications can be a valuable resource—or a real source of confusion. Let us take the guesswork out of your product choices. Here you’ll learn about the most important third party certifications (also known as standards and ecolabels) in the marketplace today. Just remember, these third party certifications are constantly updated so check back frequently to keep informed.
What Is a Third Party Certification?
A third party certification is a voluntary label given to products by manufacturers that signifies that the product meets certain environmental standards. Unfortunately, these third party certifications can be developed by anyone—government agencies, environmental groups or stakeholders in the company. That’s why it’s so important to look for well-respected and recognized third party certifications whose standards have been created by an environmental authority.
Why Are Third Party Certifications Important?
The marketplace is constantly evolving, and certain third party certifications have emerged as reliable measures of a product’s environmental and health impact. Recognized third party certifications from respected third parties can help purchasers like you navigate the marketplace and weed out products that simply claim to be green from those products that actually are green. Once you learn to identify third party certifications, you can use them to find products that are safer for human health and the environment.
What Does HSC Recommend?
When it comes to third party certifications, the three names we recommend are Green Seal, UL ECOLOGO® and the EPA’s Safer Choice program. These third party certifications have been around the longest, have health promoting criteria and are regulated by respected third-party organizations. When you choose to purchase products with these labels, you can ensure that 90 percent or more of your chemical purchases are third-party certified. The other 10 percent of products, including most disinfectants and some emerging product categories, don’t have certifications available yet.
In addition, for non-chemical purchases like training, paper and plastic products, there are more specialized third party certifications. Today, well-respected organizations like the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Global Ecolabelling Network are helping to regulate green third party certifications.
The Big Three Third Party Certifications
Founded in 1989, Green Seal is an independent, nonprofit organization that uses science-based testing and a rigorous set of criteria to identify sustainable products. In addition to health and environmental third party certifications, Green Seal also tests for performance and quality.
Products: Green Seal certifies all sorts of products—from personal care to paint and light bulbs. Green Seal also certifies institutional cleaners, hand soaps, paper products, cleaning contract providers and floor care products.
Criteria: Green Seal’s GS-37 Standard is their third party certification for general cleaning products used in industrial buildings such as schools. This standard covers a large majority of the products a school would use in its cleaning program. Green Seal also has separate standards for floor care, hand soaps, degreasers and specialty cleaning products. For all standards, Green Seal requires products to be sold in concentrated form, prohibiting harmful chemicals, specifying sustainable packaging and limiting VOC content.
EPA Safer Choice
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Safer Choice label indicates that every ingredient in the product has been through an EPA review.
Products: The Safer Choice third party certification is used to label more than 2,700 products, including institutional and household cleaners, hand soaps, laundry detergents, floor care products and more.
Criteria: A product is only allowed to carry the Safer Choice label if each ingredient is among the safest in its class, as determined by the EPA. The EPA evaluates every ingredient against a stringent set of health and environmental criteria from a chemical perspective. These criteria address potential health and environmental concerns, including VOC content and whether the chemical accumulates in human tissue.
Additionally, the product as a whole has to meet safety criteria, qualify as high-performing and be packaged in an environmentally friendly manner. Safer Choice products must disclose a complete ingredient list to consumers.
UL Environment’s ECOLOGO® label refers to a set of voluntary, multi-attribute, lifecycle-based environmental certifications. The ECOLOGO® label indicates that a product has undergone rigorous scientific testing to prove its compliance with third-party, environmental performance standards.
Products: The ECOLOGO® certification process certifies institutional and household cleaners, floor care products, laundry detergents, hand soaps, paper products, bathroom tissue, paper napkins, facial tissue, industrial wipes and plastic trash can liners.
Criteria: This third party certification is designed to reduce environmental impacts by specifying criteria for safer chemicals and materials, using recycled and recyclable materials, and minimizing pollution generated by the production, use and disposal of these products and their packaging. The certification process requires that chemicals are not toxic to humans according to stringent scientific requirements.
Other Third Party Certifications and Programs
is a management training program that can be used to evaluate a school’s overall cleaning operational performance, including training and staffing, product and equipment choices, recycling programs and more. The CIMS-GB criteria is based on the green cleaning requirements found in the LEED: EBOM rating system. It relies on a comprehensive assessment that includes on-site observations and interviews.
Energy Star is a government-backed program that identifies energy efficient products for home, commercial and institutional use. Products with the Energy Star label have passed third-party testing in an EPA-recognized laboratory and meet international standards for quality, have been reviewed by an EPA-recognized certification body and are subject to ongoing testing. Certified products for commercial use are listed here.
The Carpet and Rug Institute
The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) Seal of Approval program certifies carpet cleaning systems, solutions and products as well as vacuum cleaners and extractors for effectiveness and dust containment. Cleaning solutions and equipment must meet standards for soil removal, dust containment and carpet appearance without affecting the texture or harming the carpet. Additionally, their Green Label Plus program certifies carpet, adhesives and cushions to ensure low levels of emissions.
The Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA)
The CFPA is an independent, not-for-profit organization that evaluates products on the basis of chlorine usage. The label is a useful resource for identifying products without the corrosive chemical chlorine. Look for “Totally Chlorine Free” and “Processed Chlorine Free” logos.
In an effort to minimize air pollution, California sets limits on the concentration of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) for consumer products. When there are no third party certifications available from Green Seal, UL ECOLOGO® or U.S. EPA Safer Choice, this label can be a helpful tool for gauging a product’s environmental and health impact. Ask your vendor for products that meet the California VOC standard.
EPA Recycled Content
The U.S. EPA establishes recycled content requirements for paper and plastic products under its Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines. These guidelines are based on manufacturer information and the EPA’s recommended percentages of post-consumer content. All products must be manufactured with materials that are recovered or diverted from the solid waste stream. This is not a certification but rather a guide to help make informed decisions.
UL Environment’s GREENGUARD certification is a rigorous, internationally recognized chemical emissions certification and labeling program for manufacturers of low-emitting indoor products. Certification to a GREENGUARD standard indicates that a product has been tested for low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and contributes to healthier Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) by reducing product chemical emissions. GREENGUARD certification can support a school’s efforts to reduce exposures to VOCs above and beyond a single multi-attribute certification mark such as GreenSeal, UL ECOLOGO or U.S. EPA Safer Choice.
ASTM International, formerly American Society for Testing and Materials, is a global organization that has developed technical, highly scientific standards for a diverse range of industries. ASTM’s Standard Guide for Stewardship for the Cleaning of Commercial and Institutional Buildings (publication E1971- 05) includes standards for cleaning products as well as cleaning process and building structure as they relate to sustainability and health.