Government Watch: An In-Depth Look at What Government is Doing, by Maria Verna

Welcome to Government Watch. In this column, we will look the growing role government is playing is the cleaning green arena.

If you’ve already set foot into the green scene, you know that establishing a “clean” work environment involves change for individuals, as well as for institutions.

But in order to promote those changes systemically–that is, to the point that your organization must comply with green cleaning–many government agencies, on all levels, have begun to develop initiatives, research, policy, and regulation that will influence how quickly that change happens—and the consequences of ignoring the issue.


What will this mean to you?

In all issues that involve public health and safety, efforts begin on the grassroots level. In the case of cleaning products in work and healthcare environments, lawsuits about exposure to toxic substances began decades ago. As the number of suits has increased, and plaintiffs have prevailed, more funding for quantitative research has provided irrefutable evidence that some cleaning products are the direct cause of serious health conditions and cancers.

Now that the evidence is in, and continues to grow consistently, that cleaning products pose a public health problem, government has stepped in.  On the federal level, several branches of government have begun to establish public education programs and policy about safer cleaning products. Some of the leading branches are the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The development of institutes and projects within each of these agencies, such as DHHS’s National Toxicology Program, the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research demonstrate a deliberate effort to increasingly regulate the use of green cleaning products.

Late last spring, The EPA announced its recommendation of policy allowing suppliers to make “valid claims” when marketing sanitizers. This new direction for the EPA represents an about face from the Agency’s previous policy that didn’t allow “green” claims in terms of any disinfectant or sanitizer. At press time, the EPA had just presented its recommendations at the meeting of the EPA’s Pesticide Policy Dialogue Committee. We’ll provide additional information on this breaking story and other government activities in upcoming issues.

by Maria Verna


In a broader scope, the EPA has been charged with providing guidance and policy for all purchasing departments within the federal government that procure cleaning products. In 1995, in response to an Executive Order issued by President Clinton, the agency developed Environmentally Preferable Purchasing, or EPP, guidelines designed to ensure that purchasers move toward green cleaning products that have been determined, through evidence-based research, to reduce public health risks.

Purchasing departments must begin using these guidelines “to determine the overall best value of a particular product, taking into account price competitiveness, availability, regulatory requirements, performance, and environmental impact.” The order has been updated regularly since 1995 with more specific legislation and executive mandates.

EPP provides purchasing departments with information on environmental health concerns; the magnitude of potential exposure; the benefits of buying green; federal authority and mandate; product content and use; product packaging and shipping; manufacturers’ “environmental performance;” a set of web-based tools to help purchasers consider the environment, along with price and performance, when buying a product or service; and examples of how specific federal, state, and county entities have evaluated, identified, and established environmentally preferable purchasing specifications.

This effort–of government mandating to government–always indicates that government is gathering evidence, and setting an example, of the financial impact of systemic change, while gaining momentum that will force all other major institutions to follow suit.


The federal government spends over $200 billion annually on a large quantity and wide variety of products and services to clean its own buildings. As its purchasing departments begin to change their own products, other private corporations and institutions will be unable to claim that systemic changes are too cost prohibitive or unrealistic.

At the same time, manufacturers of cleaning products will offer more greener cleaning products, which will force competitive pricing. The market itself will grow as the national demand for these products grows, ultimately resulting in safer work and healthcare environments.

Watch this column for more information about what governments are doing–not only on the federal level, but on state and local levels–to establish greener cleaning. Systemic change traditionally takes many years; in the case of what government is doing, the answer is “more and more.”

The author, Marie Verna, is a technical writer and consultant based in Titusville, NJ. In next month’s column, look for more information on the EPA and green claims for sanitizers and disinfectants. In the meantime, for more info, go