In business, they call it "market transformation": A group of products with a limited selection, small distribution, and high prices jumps into the mainstream of availability and affordability. Today, green cleaning products are more plentiful than ever before. You won't find them in every supermarket or supply catalog just yet, but schools now have a wide variety of resources for cleaning without all those nasty chemicals. An ideal starting point is the Green Cleaning Guide, downloadable and free from the Healthy Schools Network.
Not all products are as eco- or human-friendly as they claim, so look for third-party green certification. In the United States, the most widely accepted nonprofit certification system is Green Seal, which since 1992 has provided certification in more than forty categories to companies such as 3M, Anderson Windows, and Benjamin Moore. There is also Canada's Environmental Choice Eco-Logo program, certifying scores of companies from Arrow Chemical (cleaning products) to Hewlett-Packard (computer/copying equipment) to the Sani-Marc Group (towels and tissues). You can find product listings from both of these certification companies from the Center for the New American Dream.
If you're ready to begin looking for individual products, consult the nonprofit organization Green Clean Schools, which has a huge list. One page offers more than two-dozen general-purpose cleansers. You'll find listings of individual brands of disinfectants, floor cleaners, dispensers, and carpet cleaners, as well as separate sections for equipment, paper products, and other green supplies. The site also includes an accompanying blog from the Healthy Schools Campaign.
And though Uncle Sam may not have signed off on the Kyoto Accord, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Web site offers a host of information on green cleaning products and health factors, including a helpful list of environmental attributes to look for in products and warning factors for skin and lung irritation. The EPA has also worked for several years with the federal General Services Administration to help purchasers select environmentally friendly cleaning products for all federal government offices -- an early and substantial step in transforming the increasingly plentiful, mainstream presence of green cleaning products now finding their way into thousands of homes and schools.
Brian Libby is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for the New York Times, the Oregonian, and Salon.com.
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How can educators, students, schools, and communities go green? Find additional resources about sustainability, conservation, and other earth-friendly practices and curricula on Edutopia's Environment Education page.