Design for the Environment Standard Updates Provide Confidence for School Green Cleaning Programs

September 20, 2011 | Written By:

Design for the Environment (DfE) is one of the most commonly referenced certifications in green purchasing standards. Third-party certification is a key factor in expanding green cleaning because it helps schools easily find reliable and widely available green products.

DfE recently unveiled a series of enhancements, including many changes influenced by stakeholders and purchasers who provided feedback on ways to improve the program. The enhancements have been well received. The Sierra Club recently lauded DfE’s new ingredient disclosure requirements. 

Healthy Schools Campaign spoke with Clive Davies, DfE program chief, to learn how these changes affect school communities. Davies has worked with the EPA for more than 20 years, and for the last seven with the DfE program, which he proudly claims is the “most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life!”

Design for the Environment recently updated standards for green cleaning products; could you describe some of the changes?

Some of the most recent Design for the Environment updates include :

  • Product performance testing
  • Requirements for packaging
  • Restrictions on volatile organic chemicals, so that off-gassing from products is low
  • Independent auditing, and
  • To carry the logo, products must disclose the ingredients on the products or on a website. 

For institutional purchasers, having ingredient information on their website is the way to go. These products provide an in-depth look into what the ingredients are so people can understand the ingredients better.

What do the DfE standard enhancements mean for school communities?

The enhancements provide a good tool that schools can use to make the environment better for the folks that do the cleaning and the students at the school. It also increases the level of confidence that schools and school organizations can have in the quality of products that they’re using.

This auditing provisions add a degree of confidence for folks that the products are really formulated as advertised and that there aren’t mistakes being made when the products are being blended. Also the audits help ensure that the best operating systems are being used.

What are the benefits of having DfE certification?

These really are green products. [Companies] get the benefit of a consultation with EPA over the chemicals in their products, so that if they are having a difficult time coming up with safer alternatives, we’ll help them find ingredients that meet our standards. We’ll talk with them about what the best chemicals are out there that they might want to use to make an effective formulation.

The school systems can be confident that the chemicals in these products really are safer. The distinction with DfE is that we not onlylook at the whole product’s toxicity and prohibit chemicals that are on authoritative lists (chemicals of concern) — anything that’s on a list of carcinogens that the government has come up with is not going to be there, same for things like reproductive and developmental toxins.

But what’s really special is that we look at every single chemical that goes in one of these products,at a molecular level. We look at every little bit and piece of that chemical (moieties) and make sure it’s not a problematic one. We have knowledge about how those moieties will behave. If there is any indication that a chemical will have a harmful effect, we don’t allow it. It’s not always known how these tens of thousands of chemicals will behave. We don’t allow them if there’s a potential for concern.
What advice do you have for schools that want to begin or enhance their green cleaning program?

Don’t forget the training for maintenance personnel. That can be very helpful. It’s a key part of the whole greening process.

Another thing to think about is the inventory of cleaning products. Do you need all the products? Is there a way to simplify and think about all the functions that cleaning products perform in that school? Is there a way to use the product for two or three functions? Are you covering all the functions you can with safer options?


We are happy to see Design for the Environment raise the bar for green cleaning standards and transparency.

For more information about the EPA’s Design for the Environment, visit their website.

Bonus: Want to learn more about Design for the Environment’s new enhancements? Attend the EPA’s live webcast today 1-2 EDT. To register, please send an email to

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