What You Need to Know About Product Certification

October 16, 2010
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With the door continuing to open wider and wider for Green carpet cleaning, many technicians will likely have questions about what Green carpet cleaning encompasses, the differences between Green and traditional carpet cleaning methods, and, more specifically, what it means when a carpet cleaning chemical has been designated with Green certification. 

What Certification Means

First, we need to understand what it means for a product to be labeled “Green-certified.”  For carpet cleaning technicians, it should be clear that using environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals is just one component of Green carpet cleaning. For instance, if the carpets are cleaned using an extractor that has a high moisture recovery rate, drying speed is enhanced with air movers or low-moisture carpet cleaning products and equipment. Typically, these are considered a part of the Green carpet cleaning arsenal.

Additionally, some Green experts suggest that carpets be cleaned using cold water rather than hot water. They believe that cold water will help minimize the possibility of chemical fumes from becoming airborne. Further, the Greening of carpet cleaning also applies to other products, such as spotters. The bottom line is that Green carpet cleaning should be viewed as a chain: the program is only as strong – or in this case, Green –as its weakest link.

With that, we can move forward discussing what it means for a product to be Green-certified, also known as “proven Green.” The certification organizations that have had the greatest impact on the professional cleaning industry include EcoLogo, Green Seal, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment Program, which goes by the acronym DfE, and, specifically for carpet products and equipment, the Carpet Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval program.

In all cases, accredited, independent laboratories are used to analyze a cleaning chemical and all ingredients must be revealed in order to evaluate their impact on human health (user and building occupants), the environment, as well as how well they perform. This third-party analysis provides the necessary credibility to the certification process. There may be over a dozen criteria and standards that must be met-or exceeded-in order for a product to be certified, such as:
  • The product does not contain ingredients known to be harmful to human health and the environment; there is also limited toxicity for aquatic and other organisms
  • The product does not contain ingredients likely to have specific environmental impacts that will harm, for instance, indoor air quality or ground-level ozone formation
  • The product is readily biodegradable and non-toxic
  • The product is packaged in recycled materials that are also recyclable
  • The product meets indoor air quality criteria.
  • The product demonstrates that it is as effective as comparable, conventional brands used for the same purpose
  It should also be noted that Green cleaning and sustainability are becoming more and more intertwined. Sustainability involves several issues, but for our purposes it means using natural resources-from fuel for trucks and vans to tools and equipment necessary in the cleaning process-in such a way that we meet our own needs (economic, social, and environmental) while protecting the needs of future generations. 

The Certification Journey

One of the easiest ways to understand the certification journey, and it definitely is a journey, is to use a fictional product as an example. In our case, let’s call our fictional carpet pre-spray cleaning chemical GreenWay Pre-spray, which is manufactured by GreenWay Chemicals.

First, GreenWay Chemicals selects a certification organization. The organization will want to know which product category GreenWay Pre-spray falls under. Is it a window cleaner? A floor stripper? A restroom product?

The company informs the certification body that GreenWay PreSpray is a pre-spray cleaning agent used for cleaning carpets. This product would likely fall under the category “cleaners and shampoos to remove soils from carpet fibers and fabrics.” GreenWay Chemicals then sends the product, or formulation, to the required independent labs to conduct the necessary tests. The product and all its ingredients are analyzed to see if it meets the specific health and environmental standards and criteria for that product category. If the tests are positive, the results are forwarded to the certification organization, which verifies the results.

Then the “site audit” begins. In addition to verifying that specific standards have been met, the site audit goes one step further. This audit examines the entire manufacturing of GreenWay PreSpray from start to finish, reconfirming that the product contains only the ingredients listed on the label. If these results are positive, GreenWay PreSpray is certified and the manufacturer is allowed to proudly bear the Green label or “mark” of the certification organization on the product’s label and in marketing materials.

Time, Costs, Surprises and Performance

The certification process can be rather slow and tedious. In the past, it could take several months for a product to be proven Green. Today, it often moves along a bit faster. The manufacturer must pay the certification organization and the laboratory to evaluate its product, which can cost several thousand dollars. Because of the time it takes to certify the product and the costs involved, most manufacturers are fairly certain their product will meet the necessary Green criteria before starting the certification process; however, it is not uncommon that changes may need to be made to the product.

Once the product has been certified, the manufacturer may be subjected to a surprise audit. During a surprise audit, the certification organization revisits the manufacturing site and verifies that the same ingredients and processes used to manufacture the product when it earned Green certification are still being used. And, the product is not certified forever. Usually the certification is for annual periods and/or until the criteria is changed – typically 24 to 36 months. If the standards and criteria have changed for this product category during that time the product may only be re-certified if it can pass the new criteria.

It is important to repeat that the product must meet performance standards. Although the performance standards of Green cleaning products can vary, just as with conventional cleaning products, in order to achieve certification, the product must also be effective. According to Mark Petruzzi, Green Seal’s vice president of certification, this is “first and foremost.”

This also means that carpet cleaning technicians may need to try different Green-certified products to select the ones they believe work best and meet their specific needs. Working with an astute distributor, who is well-versed in Green cleaning, can be invaluable during this selection process.

Further, the manufacturer of the product should be questioned. Some manufacturers treat Green cleaning products as a “sideline” of their business, filling out their product lines. Others focus primarily on environmentally preferable cleaning products and place more of their time, energy, training, and resources into developing these products. This can make a difference in quality and performance, and how well the products work for you.

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