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Green Seal

July 1, 2010
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Products that are environmentally, resident-friendly reap many rewards

Long-Term Living Editor Maureen Hrehocik asked Mark Petruzzi, Green Seal's vice president of certification and strategic relations, to discuss the Green Seal certification program and what it can mean to long-term care facility operators. Besides environmental friendliness, Green Seal products protect residents and workers from annoying odors and possibly harmful fumes, add longevity to surfaces such as flooring and upholstery and, according to Petruzzi, can save money in the long run. What is Green Seal? Now in its 21st year, it is a science-based, national nonprofit organization. It uses its science programs to create a more sustainable marketplace. The organization has a number of different programs and outreach, but its most visible are environmental standards and the certification of products and services.

Hrehocik: What does Green Seal certification mean?

Petruzzi: Certification reassures purchasers that a not-for-profit, trusted, science-based third party has evaluated a product or service against a whole list of life-cycle-based criteria and determined that yes, it is everything that the manufacturer says it is. With Green Seal certification, it's not just the company saying “Buy our product, it's green.” They have a third-party assurance that it is, in fact, an environmentally responsible cleaning product and not just on a single requirement-type basis; it's not just a biodegradable cleaner, it also has reduced human toxicity, emissions, isn't toxic to aquatic life, it's packaged in responsible packaging, has correct instructions for use and dilution, and at the end of its life has reduced disposal recycling impact. A product or service has to meet 15 or 20 criteria in most of our standards for that product to receive certification. We're still seeing products that are touting their recycled content or just having biodegradable properties and not taking that broader, more holistic, life-cycle-based approach.

Hrehocik: How do you develop your criteria and standards?

Petruzzi: We are an accredited standards developer by the American National Standards Institute. All that really means is we follow a very open, nonsecretive process. We welcome and acquire participation from a wide range of stakeholders: the companies that make the products, the government agencies that rate them, environmental groups, academic experts, and the purchasers who buy and use the products. We actively encourage and solicit their participation. And there are numerous opportunities and rounds for public comment. We say here's what the research says we've done, here's what we are proposing-these 20 criteria identify a green paint or a green cleaner, and we seek their comments. We then actually respond in writing to all the comments we receive. Everything has to be transparent, stakeholder-based, and science-based so it's just not just Green Seal opinion. In fact, it is supported by lifecycle research in the technical work that we do. The process, on average, takes about a year from start to finish. It's not a quick process. At the end, you have a standard that stands up to heavy scrutiny from industry and that really can stand on its own and can justify the 15 or 20 attributes that can designate an environmentally responsible product at this moment in today's marketplace. If the process gets critiqued (after certification), that takes away from the message and our goal as a mission-based organization.

Hrehocik: Do you have certifications specifically for the long-term care field?

Petruzzi: We don't. If you're familiar with the Green Guide for Health Care, there are a number of Green Seal standards for janitorial products that are referenced. Many healthcare facilities had the notion that one had to use a disinfectant each and every time anything is cleaned. There's been a much-needed evolution in that there are areas of healthcare facilities that can be cleaned using a non-FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) registered general purpose cleaner or a non-FIFRA registered floor cleaner.

You triage your areas based on patient contact, risk of infection, things like that and use those registered products where appropriate, where required by law or code. You don't necessarily have to use products that have active ingredients designed to kill living things in the form of registered pesticides and you don't need to clean every surface with those products. Use them more judiciously and when you do use them, use them appropriately. In some cases people see “disinfectant” on the label, and they spray it and wipe. It's what you do with a regular cleaner. But if you read the label on that product, it says first clean the surface and remove the dirt, then come back and spray it and leave it wet for a designated period of time. If you're not using that disinfectant properly, you're not getting its benefits and you might as well just use a general purpose cleaner.

We do have a number of Green Seal-certified products that are not FIFRA registered because, to date, EPA has not wanted environmental certifications to be part of its FIFRA registration process. That may change over time, but the current paradigm is if it is an EPA-registered product-fungicide, mildewcide, disinfectant, anything under FIFRA-you cannot have a Green Seal certification on those products. EPA won't allow it. What you see in most janitorial carts more is that more and more purchasers are moving toward having a Green Seal-certified glass cleaner, a Green Seal-certified general cleaner, a restroom cleaner, a disinfectant. They've gone for green products in every category where we have standards and are able to certify those types of products-even things like hand soaps.