Greening Your Purchase of Cleaning Products: A Guide For Federal Purchasers
Key Policy, Guidance Documents
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing, or EPP, seeks the overall best value, taking into account price competitiveness, availability, regulatory requirements, performance, and environmental impact. Because purchasers typically have clear sources of information on procurement and regulatory requirements and well-established methods for evaluating price and performance, the US EPA has developed these purchasing guides to help government purchasers consider environmental factors in purchasing decisions. EPA realizes that there are not universal answers for all scenarios and that purchasers must take into account local conditions when weighing the various attributes of a particular product. Please note that EPA is not endorsing any of the products, services, or organizations described in the guides, and has not verified information provided by these organizations. Read more information about the EPP Program's history, tools, and resources.
- Why Green Your Cleaning Products?
- Federal EPP Authority and Mandate
- Five Guiding Principles
- What Can You Do?
- Product Content and Use
- Contacts and Resources
- EPA's Purchasing Tool Suite
Cleaning products are necessary for maintaining attractive and healthful conditions in the home and workplace. In addition to the obvious aesthetic benefits of cleaning, the removal of dust, allergens, and infectious agents is crucial to maintaining a healthful indoor environment. But cleaning products can present several health and environmental concerns. They may contain chemicals associated with eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, or other human health issues. Additionally, the concentrated forms of some commercial cleaning products are classified as hazardous, creating potential handling, storage, and disposal issues for users. Reducing the human health and environmental concerns is an important incentive for implementing an EPP cleaning products program. Many of the recommendations in the guide are based on the fundamental pollution prevention principles of reducing the quantity and hazards of materials used.
The purpose of the guide is to provide practical information that will assist federal purchasers in making purchasing decisions. The guide is not a risk assessment document nor is it intended to substitute for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), labels, or similar documents that provide information on proper storage, handling, use, and disposal. More comprehensive information on cleaning processes and practices is available from a variety of sources, a number of which are listed in the "Contacts and Resources" section of the guide.
Why Green Your Cleaning Products?
Environmental and Health Concerns
NOTE: The following discussion primarily addresses hazards associated with cleaning product ingredients. The actual risks from these chemicals at typical exposure levels are often uncertain, and in many cases are probably low. Regardless of the expected risk levels, however, reducing the intrinsic hazard of a product is a desirable pollution prevention objective as part of decisions that also take into account other important product attributes.
Cleaning products are released to the environment during normal use through evaporation of volatile components and rinsing down the drain of residual product from cleaned surfaces, sponges, etc. Janitorial staff and others who perform cleaning can be exposed to concentrated cleaning products. However, proper training and use of a Chemical Management System (a set of formal procedures to ensure proper storage, handling, and use) can greatly minimize or prevent exposure to concentrated cleaning product during handling and use.
Certain ingredients in cleaning products can present hazard concerns to exposed populations (e.g., skin and eye irritation in workers) or toxicity to aquatic species in waters receiving inadequately treated wastes (note that standard sewage treatment effectively reduces or removes most cleaning product constituents). For example, alkylphenol ethoxylates, a common surfactant ingredient in cleaners, have been shown in laboratory studies to function as an "endocrine disrupter," causing adverse reproductive effects of the types seen in wildlife exposed to polluted waters.
Ingredients containing phosphorus or nitrogen can contribute to nutrient-loading in water bodies, leading to adverse effects on water quality. These contributions, however, are typically small compared to other point and non-point sources.
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) in cleaning products can affect indoor air quality and also contribute to smog formation in outdoor air.
(Sources: Choose Green Report on General Purpose Cleaners, Green Seal, March 1998; Green Seal Standard and Environmental Evaluation for General-Purpose, Bathroom, and Glass Cleaners Used for Industrial and Institutional Purposes, October 2000; Hormonally Active Agents in the Environment, National Research Council, National Academy Press, 1999)
Magnitude of Potential Exposure
The cleaning industry employs about 2.8 million potentially exposed janitors. In addition to these professional janitorial staff, who can be assumed to use cleaning products daily, many other building occupants perform light cleaning on a routine or occasional basis, e.g. dusting, wiping off desks and counters, etc. All building occupants are potentially exposed to the volatile components of cleaning products.
Data from Washington State show that about 6 percent of janitors experience a job-related injury from chemical exposure to cleaning products every year.
(Sources: Green Seal Standard and Environmental Evaluation for General-Purpose, Bathroom, and Glass Cleaners Used for Industrial and Institutional Purposes, October 2000; Greening the Janitorial Business- How to Select and Use Safe Janitorial Chemicals, Workshop for NISH, US Dept. of Interior, November 2001)
Benefits of Buying Green
Choosing less hazardous products that have positive environmental attributes (e.g., biodegradability, low toxicity, low volatile organic compound (VOC) content, reduced packaging, low life cycle energy use) and taking steps to reduce exposure can minimize harmful impacts to custodial workers and building occupants, improve indoor air quality, and reduce water and ambient air pollution while also ensuring the effectiveness of cleaning in removing biological and other contaminants from the building's interior.
Buying cleaners in concentrates with appropriate handling safeguards, and reusable, reduced, or recyclable packaging, reduces packaging waste and transportation energy.
Buying less hazardous cleaners may reduce costs when it comes time to properly dispose of any leftover cleaners.
Federal EPP Authority and Mandate
Spending approximately $230 billion annually on a large quantity and wide variety of products and services, the federal government leaves a large environmental "footprint." However, by purchasing environmentally preferable products and services, the federal government can wield its spending power to increase national demand for greener products as well as to help meet environmental goals through markets rather than mandates. In 1995, in response to Executive Order 12873 ("Federal Acquisition, Recycling, and Waste Prevention (PDF)" (9 pp, 32 Kb, About PDF)), EPA established the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) program to encourage and assist Executive agencies in the purchase of environmentally preferable products and services. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which establishes uniform procedures and policies for federal acquisition, was amended on August 22, 1997 to support federal procurement of "green" products and services. And in 1998, Executive Order (E.O.) 13101, entitled "Greening the Government through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition", directed Executive agencies to "consider . . . a broad range of factors including: elimination of virgin material requirements; use of biobased products; use of recovered materials; reuse of product; life cycle cost; recyclability; use of environmentally preferable products; waste prevention (including toxicity reduction or elimination); and ultimate disposal" when making purchasing decisions and to "modify their procurement programs as appropriate."
Similarly, the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000 (page 72 of the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000, P.L.106-224 (PDF) (100 pp, 339KB, About PDF)), Section 9002 of the 2002 Farm Bill (also known as the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002), and Executive Order 13134 on "Developing and Promoting Biobased Products and Bioenergy" (PDF) (6 pp, 71KB, About PDF), have emphasized the potential importance of biobased products to national economic and environmental interests. Together these authorities encourage a strong federal role in the development and early adoption of biobased products and recognize the role of procurement as part of an overall federal policy on biobased products.
Five Guiding Principles
To help federal government purchasers incorporate environmental considerations into purchasing decisions, EPA developed five guiding principles. The guiding principles provide a framework purchasers can use to make environmentally preferable purchases. The five principles are:
- Include environmental factors as well as traditional considerations of price and performance as part of the normal purchasing process.
- Emphasize pollution prevention early in the purchasing process.
- Examine multiple environmental attributes throughout a product's or service's life cycle.
- Compare relative environmental impacts when selecting products and services.
- Collect and base purchasing decisions on accurate and meaningful information about environmental performance.
What Can You Do?
When purchasing cleaning products, the overall best value takes into account performance, price, availability, regulatory requirements, and environmental impact. Purchasers should examine as many relevant product attributes as possible, recognizing that tradeoffs are inevitable. For example, one product may be made with renewable resources (a desirable characteristic), while another product has a lower VOC content (also a desirable characteristic).
Purchasers should be especially careful in interpreting vague or generic claims such as "environmentally friendly," "eco safe," etc. Purchasers should ask vendors and manufacturers offering green cleaning products to clearly and specifically define their green claims. Guidance on the use and interpretation of environmental marketing claims is available from the Federal Trade Commission.
In addition, purchasers should ask manufacturers if they have conducted life cycle studies on their products. In the absence of comprehensive life cycle data, purchasers must simply make the best decision possible with the information available. Purchasers have to make a decision about the overall best value, taking into account their own organization's policies and priorities.
So how can you make an informed purchasing decision? Consider this list of attributes, in addition to price and performance, when selecting environmentally preferable cleaning products. Many organizations incorporate some of these attributes into their cleaning service contract specifications.
Product Content and Use
- Minimal presence of or exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, such as:
- Corrosive or strongly irritating substances.
- Substances classified as known or likely human carcinogens or reproductive toxicants by authorities such as the National Toxicology Program, the U.S. EPA, the International Agency for Research on Cancer or the State of California.
- Ozone-depleting compounds as listed in Clean Air Act regulations.
- Regulated hazardous materials (e.g. products classified as hazardous waste; products that trigger OSHA hazard communication requirements).
Use of renewable resources, such as biobased solvents from citrus, seed, vegetable, and pine oils.
Low VOC content.
Biodegradable by standard methods and definitions, e.g. ready biodegradability as defined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) . "Ready biodegradability" is a definition meant to ensure that a material degrades relatively quickly in an aquatic aerobic environment.
Low toxicity in aquatic species such as fish or aquatic invertebrates, e.g. LC50 or EC50 > 10 mg/L (chronic) reported on MSDS or other product literature.
Low flammability, e.g. flash point > 200 degrees F.
Designed for use in cold water in order to conserve energy.
Limit use of disinfectants to areas where people are likely to come into contact with contaminated surfaces (e.g., bathroom fixtures, doorknobs, other high-touch surfaces). Many general purpose cleaning tasks do not typically require the use of disinfectants (e.g., walls, floors, other surfaces with minimal hand contact).
Conduct training on proper use of products.
Product Packaging and Shipping
Concentrated formulas with appropriate handling safeguards.
Efficient packaging (e.g., light weight, reduced volume).
Pump sprays rather than aerosols.
Packaging and dilution systems designed to reduce exposure to the product.
Products shipped in bulk.
Clear labeling and information on use and disposal.
Corporate Environmental Performance
Does the company have a formal environmental management system? (e.g., steps to reduce waste and emissions, efficient use of energy and materials, use of alternative fuels or renewable energy)
Does the company have International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 certification?
Does the company have a formal partnership with the Design for the Environment Formulator Initiative?
Contacts and Resources
Design for the Environment (DfE)
The DfE program allows use of its logo on products that are made of safer chemicals. A DfE logo on a product means that the DfE scientific review team has screened each ingredient for potential human health and environmental effects and that the product contains only those ingredients that pose the least concern among chemicals in their class.
The National Park Service
The National Park Service (NPS) conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the janitorial products and work practices (PDF) (71 pp, 3934 KB, About PDF) used at Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, including the management and training issues associated with this "greening" initiative.
Department of Interior Headquarters
The Department of the Interior (DOI) included environmental preferability as a major factor in the selection of the new janitorial services contractor for its headquarters buildings.
U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)
GSA makes a wide range of products and services available to the federal community, including many cleaning products. The GSA Global Supply Web site and the GSA Advantage! Web site provide information to assist customers in finding environmentally oriented items. In addition, GSA's annual Environmental Products and Services Guide includes cleaning products.
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Describes in detail the process Massachusetts used to identify environmentally preferable cleaning products and establish state purchasing specifications.
State of Minnesota
Provides comprehensive information on the process Minnesota used to evaluate the environmental preferability of cleaning products.
King County, Washington
Includes excerpts from the county's 1996 environmentally preferable cleaning specifications.
The City of Santa Monica, California
Santa Monica has been a leader in green purchasing and their contract specifications have served as a model for specifications developed by a number of other local, state, and federal institutions. Here is the EPP Program's case study on the city's success (PDF) (31 pp, 725Kb, About PDF).
Canada's Environmental Choice Program
Includes a copy of the specifications for earning Environment Canada's EcoLogo for industrial and commercial cleaners . Included are criteria for window cleaners, hard surface cleaners, floor care, and carpet and upholstery cleaners.
ASTM International is one of the largest voluntary consensus standards development organizations in the world and a trusted source for technical standards for materials, products, systems, and services.
Center for a New American Dream
The Center's Cleaning Products Work Group convened a group of state and local officials who agreed upon a set of mandatory and desirable environmental criteria for cleaning products.
Consumer Specialty Products Association
Trade association representing the interests of the consumer specialty products industry that provides households, institutions, and industrial customers with products that help provide a cleaner and healthier environment.
Contains Green Seal's voluntary environmental standards for industrial and institutional cleaners. The Web site also includes the Choose Green Report for household cleaners.
Issued a comprehensive guide to environmentally preferable cleaning products and methods that have been effectively used in office buildings, schools, and hospitals in the United States and Canada.
Janitorial Products Pollution Prevention Project
Sponsored by the US EPA, California EPA, and several cities and counties in California, this project has developed guidance and information resources that address a range of topics related to janitorial products and work practices.
The Soap and Detergent Association
Contains information on a wide range of topics related to cleaning products, including health, safety, and environmental issues.
Washington Toxics Coalition
Provides information regarding public health and environmental issues associated with a variety of products, including cleaners.
Unified Green Cleaning Alliance (UGCA)
Supports the development and dissemination of sustainable cleaning formulations into industry and the marketplace.
Perrigo, a leading manufacturer of generic and "store brand" consumer products, wanted to minimize the environmental impact of the cleaning services in its facility. After reviewing material safety data sheets and interviewing a number of suppliers, Perrigo developed a list of desirable product attributes, including environmental factors, cleaning effectiveness, and price. For more information, visit the EPP Program's case study, Private Sector Pioneers (PDF) (44 pp, 1.75 Mb, About PDF).
ISSA, the Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association, provides information on green cleaning products and the implementation of green cleaning programs.
EPA's Purchasing Tool Suite
EPA's EPP Program has developed the following Web-based tools to help purchasers consider the environment, along with price and performance, when buying a product or service.
Database of Environmental Information for Products and Services
A searchable database of product-specific information (e.g., voluntary environmental standards and guidelines, regulations, and contract language) developed by government programs, both domestic and foreign, as well as third parties.
Tips for Buying Green with the Government Credit Card
Tips to help government credit card holders make greener choices when buying products, such as cleaning products.
For additional information on environmentally preferable cleaning products, contact Jim Darr (email@example.com) or by phone at 202-564-8841.