Green flooring initiatives on the rise

A variety of health and safety standards, environmental regulations and federal programs are influencing development of new floor care products. Among the goals of the “green” flooring initiatives are minimizing toxic ingredients, chemical releases and frequency of stripping and recoating.

By Sheila Kennedy

A variety of health and safety standards, environmental regulations and federal programs are influencing development of new floor care products. Among the goals of the “green” flooring initiatives are minimizing toxic ingredients, chemical releases and frequency of stripping and recoating. Further benefits derive from conserving water and energy, preventing pollution and reducing waste.

Voluntary guidelines: Green Seal is a non-profit organization that awards its seal of approval to manufacturers whose products meet specific rigorous standards, and encourages organizations to become environmentally sensitive purchasers. The Green Seal Environmental Standard for Floor Care Products addresses floor finish and stripper products. For example, Green Seal considers a floor finish stripper to be “green” only if the concentration of volatile organic compounds is 6% or less–significantly less than 15% to 30% found in traditional floor finish strippers.

The FaST Neutral and Heavy-Duty chemicals in Tennant’s FaST foam floor scrubbing system are Green Seal (GS-37) certified. The foam cleans and removes soil as well as slippery detergent residue. Also, the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) certified it as increasing floor traction by 21%. The cleaning system reduces water use by 70% and reduces chemical use by 90%.

In addition to products, indoor cleaning services will soon be certified. The final release of the Green Seal Cleaning Services Standard is due this year. "This standard seeks to encourage both in-house and external cleaning services to establish a green cleaning program that protects human health and the environment," says Arthur Weissman, Green Seal president and CEO.

Local regulations: Under Proposition 65, the State of California is required to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Some of these compounds are ingredients or additives in certain general-purpose cleaners and solvents. California businesses also are required to post warnings when a workplace maintains significant amounts of chemicals or has released some into the environment.

A new breed of biotechnology-based concrete cleaners contains no chemicals that trigger Proposition 65 warnings. The cleaners use microbes that degrade most compounds found in petroleum stains. Rutgers University patented the concept using Paenibacillus, and various manufacturers have licensed a strain developed by Novozymes Biologicals.

With this technology, oily stains on shop floors can be removed without toxic chemicals or caustic cleaners, even if the contaminant has penetrated deep into the floor or washed into the resulting wash water. The SurfClean C³ formulation meets Novozyme’s own “greensmart” criteria, which refers to products that contain biological additives and are formulated with biodegradable surfactants; have neutral pH; contain no phosphates, chlorine bleach, nonylphenols or heavy metals; aren’t on California’s Proposition 65 list and contain low VOC levels.

Federal initiatives: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is partnering with industry to improve human and environmental health through its Design for the Environment (DfE) program. Under the DfE Formulator Program, the EPA teaches formulators how their chemicals and byproducts affect the environment, and how to design safer, more environmentally friendly products that have comparable performance.

Products bearing the DfE logo contain only ingredients that pose the least concern among alternative chemicals in their class. For example, DfE-recognized products that contain a surfactant will readily biodegrade to non-polluting byproducts. DfE partnerships are formalized in a voluntary memorandum of understanding.

Eco Concepts’ low-foaming Neutral Floor Cleaner (NFC) was formulated in partnership with the EPA’s Design for the Environment Program. The cleaner removes oils, hydrocarbons, greases and heavy soiling, and is suitable for daily floor cleaning. NFC also meets Green Seal’s environmental standard for industrial and institutional cleaners based on its reduced human and aquatic toxicity and reduced smog production potential.

Environmental stewards: If your organization wants to be recognized for its “green” flooring initiatives, you might want to start by evaluating the use of nonylphenol ethoxylate surfactants (NPEs). Commonly used in detergents and other cleaning products, NPEs harm aquatic life. The EPA will finalize the Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative (SDSI) in 2006, which will recognize companies, facilities and others who voluntarily phase out or commit to phasing out the manufacture or use of NPEs.

E-mail Contributing Editor Sheila Kennedy, managing director of Additive Communications, at Sheila@addcomm.com.

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