Do you know if you are using natural green home cleaning products and green janitorial supplies? Today’s consumer is able to find and understand the ingredients in what we eat because of the Nutrition Facts labels that were mandated in 1990 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (US FDA). The same unfortunately is not true for household cleaning chemicals and janitorial supplies.
It is for this reason it is so important that we understand what is in our green cleaning products used for the home, as well as commercial and janitorial applications. Unfortunately greenwashing, the practice of companies spinning their products to imply they are as green as advertised, is so prevalent that it is very difficult to know and understand what cleaning products and janitorial supplies are truly green.
Rarely will you find any reference to the actual ingredients in the cleaning products and janitorial supplies since this is not required by the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. The degree of immediate hazard, first aid instructions and handling/disposal guidelines are the only human safety concerns required to be on the label. In the very unusual situation that ingredients are included on the household chemicals it is very difficult to know the impact these chemicals have on the environment and on health … both short term and long term. We do not know if the cleaning products are made of green and natural ingredients or if they are comprised of synthetic and toxic chemicals.
Previously the concern was only, Do the synthetic chemicals clean? Never before was there any focus on the toxicity or the impact these man-made chemicals may have on health and/or the environment.
Fortunately the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) created a voluntary program known as Design for the Environment (DfE) to promote safer chemistry for the consumer, as well as for industrial and commercial applications. DfE goes beyond traditional product development by providing an in-depth comparison of potential human health and environmental impacts of the chemicals used. The intended outcome of the DfE program is to enable you, the consumer or procurement officer, to select safer green cleaning products that do not sacrifice quality or performance.
The US EPA’s DfE program is a partnership with the scientific community comprised of industry, (manufacturers, formulators, and suppliers), environmental groups, and academia. This program finds substitutions for the toxic chemicals that have been used for decades with less toxic alternatives by using green chemistry. For more than 15 years, DfE has developed highly protective, yet fully transparent, standards to evaluate human health and environmental concerns associated with traditional and alternative chemicals used in cleaning products that wish to be considered green.
The DfE Standard for Safer Cleaning Products was revised as recently as March 2010 for the purpose of further improving the program’s transparency, strengthening its product oversight, and promoting continuing innovation. DfE evaluates products, manufacturing processes, or businesses for:
- Human health concerns (acute and chronic)
- Environmental considerations
- Performance and cost of traditional and alternative technologies
If product manufacturers want to display the DfE label on their product, they must submit their product to the US EPA for certification. This is a transparent process based on a long list of already approved green chemistry ingredients, known as CleanGredients®, and thresholds for exposures that have been tested and found to be acceptable by NSF International and the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council.
DfE certification is a graduated process. That means that when a traditional manufacturer of toxic products makes a single ingredient change, (removes just one toxic chemical and replaces it with one from the list) that manufacturer will be granted the DfE certification for that specific product. The DfE certification must be reviewed and approved every three years. This brings the manufacturer back to the US EPA to re-submit their product again and to make sure that they have made at least one more ingredient change for the better before they will be granted the DfE certification again.
Mainstream companies like Proctor and Gamble, The Clorox Company, S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. and others will be working at this for years by changing only one toxic, synthetic chemical at a time. New green cleaning products, however, are based on bio science mimicking nature with green chemistry from the ground up instead of using synthetic compounds derived from toxic substances. As a result these newest cleaning products that are certified immediately will serve as the model for others to follow.
Although the household cleaning product market in the US is more than $15 billion/year, US EPA has allowed products from only 58 partners to be recognized and authorized to display the DfE logo under their Safer Product Labeling Program. Through the DfE programs more than 475 million pounds of chemicals of concern have been eliminated!
If a product displays the Design for the Environment (DfE) label on household and commercial products, such as all-purpose cleaners, laundry detergents, and carpet and floor care products, you, the consumer or industrial procurement officer, can be confident that the product has meet stringent criteria for human and environmental health and is truly green. Look for the DfE or Design for the Environment logo, as is displayed on the green cleaning products, whenever you shop or procure your green cleaning products and janitorial supplies. Join this national effort to protect human and environmental health.