Anecdotes: The Uptake of GS-37

By Arthur Weissman, Ph.D, Green Seal President/CEO

Arthur-ColorHow did one of Green Seal’s standards become the de facto national standard for green cleaning products and even required by law in several states? The history is instructive, for Green Seal works in the world of voluntary, incentive programs that are generally beyond legal compliance.

The standard for industrial and institutional cleaners, GS-37, was completed in 2000, and the first products were certified to it in 2002. In that year, several state and local governments were developing green specifications to bid for cleaning products for use in their office buildings. Each member of this consortium had slightly different environmental concerns, but they realized they would have more impact on the market if they consolidated behind one set of criteria. They decided to use GS-37. Massachusetts, a member of this group, put out the first bid in fall 2002, and by the following spring it announced the contract awardees.

While the initial Massachusetts bid did not require products to be certified to GS-37, it did require the products to meet the criteria in GS-37 and a few additional criteria agreed upon by the consortium. For most companies selling to government, however, it was easier and more useful to have Green Seal certify their products than submit all the required documentation to Massachusetts (and other future bidders) to demonstrate compliance with the standard. Thus began the steady avalanche of applications for products to be certified under GS-37.

A few years later, the New York State legislature passed a bill requiring all public and private schools K through 12 to use green cleaning products in the schools. The bill delegated to the executive Office of General Services (OSG) the job of identifying allowable green cleaning products. OGS went through a rulemaking process and determined that GS-37, along with comparable criteria in the Canadian ecolabeling program, set the standard for use in schools.

Now, any company wanting to sell cleaning products to primary or secondary schools in New York State would have to meet GS-37. Again, OGS allowed a company to present evidence of compliance, but few did this in lieu of certification. What was interesting and novel about the New York State school program is that it mandated use of products meeting a voluntary standard. No longer was GS-37 merely specified in a procurement bid; it was cited and required by law. Talk about a market driver!

Some in industry did not look kindly on government making third-party certification virtually mandatory. Their anxiety was heightened when Green Seal revised and tightened the requirements in GS-37 subsequent to designation by OGS*, and when other states also mandated GS-37 for school cleaning.

What followed is story for another time. Of primary interest here is the tremendous boost given to our voluntary certification program by citations to one of our standards in procurement bids by large purchasing entities (such as Massachusetts) and in regulations for large purchasing groups (such as New York State schools).

* Based on comments received in rulemaking, OGS urged both Green Seal and EcoLogo to revise their cleaning standards, which used conventional human health endpoints typically based on adult males, to consider impacts on children and other vulnerable populations.

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