The domestic and professional cleaning chemicals market has been obsessed with two colours for decades – white and green. Being ‘whiter than white’ evokes sound intentions, good ethical standards, legal compliance and corporate social responsibility; or reflecting a desire to achieve whiter than white laundry fabrics. The other colour, of course, is green.
Think of the purchasing manager working for a business with environmental considerations at the heart of their remit. The tender for cleaning chemicals is due to be sent out, and they are searching for reputable companies to participate. After trawling the web and local market to draw up a list of possible participants, they take stock and ask themselves, “Do we need a ‘green’ or ‘eco’ brand to clean our business outlets environmentally safely?” Straight up, the simple answer is no!
Any business can clean perfectly safely without making special ‘feature’ choices or being tempted towards so called ecological products. B2B customers need to understand that the global cleaning chemicals market is one of the most regulated industries on earth, and most countries already require by law that ALL professional cleaning products are safe to use and do not harm people or the eco-system.
The idea that reputable chemical companies are manufacturing and supplying nasty potent mixtures, which are wilfully destroying the planet, is simply nonsense and the idea that niche eco-companies can offer a “nice, green alternative” is equally misleading and disingenuous.
Definitions are very important within the Great Green Debate, because whilst choosing less hazardous or ‘greener’ ingredients might be perceived to widen the scope of user safety and environmental impact, what if those ingredients are less effective, or indeed more expensive and less effective? Sustainability suffers.
However, it is clear that there are those in the professional chemicals industry who have been quick to exploit the B2B customer’s desire to ‘go green’, in some cases almost at any cost. What seems to be an altruistic approach simply boils down to an opportunity to exploit a feature without examining the real benefit.
The chemical industry has over the years spun many mythical technical yarns, and some providers of “green” brands have been quite unscrupulous in their mission to set themselves apart from well established, reputable chemical companies, portraying themselves to have a greater ecological conscience – when in fact it is the pursuit of the Dirham that has been the primary force.
One of the tactics used by these companies is to declare their products as being ‘environmentally better’ because they avoid the use of various ingredients that they claim shouldn’t be used. We are all entitled to our opinions in business, but just because they make these claims it does not make them true. In many cases, these claims are not supported by peer reviewed scientific evidence, because if they were, the offending ingredients would be highly regulated (which they are) or taken off the market due to legislative requirements, and all similar brands would be equally affected.
All professional cleaning chemical manufacturers must ensure that any beneficial claims made address the impacts that are relevant to the impact of the product concerned. Cleaning chemicals sold into the professional arena, such as catering outlets, hotels, laundries, hospitals, schools and offices, although used every-day and are critical in terms of performance and results, account for only a very small part of the total environmental impact of the cleaning process. This is sometimes lost on the professional buyer as mentioned earlier.
The best illustration of this relates to processes involving high temperatures and mechanical equipment that use lots of energy to do the cleaning. It is the energy in the sustainability equation that is the main issue here because in automatic dish washing, detergents and rinse additives are usually dosed at 0.25% and 0.025% with water (very high dilution rates) with the dishwasher and the hot water doing most of the work. It is interesting that the EU Ecolabel only added dishwashing detergents to their scheme very recently, promoting a raw material that is widely used anyway in the “non-green” market – we leave you to make your own conclusions there.
What is weightier in the argument is the environmental impact of a product over its entire life cycle. In dishwashing and laundry for example, some companies have looked to replace a long established core ingredient EDTA with MGDA as a better (yet far more expensive) environmental alternative, yet arguably the biggest environmental impacts of the dish wash process is the energy used when heating water (to 90°C in the dish wash rinse cycle).
So, would it not be better to look at lowering energy, water, and waste/over consumption? Switching to perceived ‘safer’ ingredients may just be shifting environmental impacts to other parts of the overall process.
Reputable chemical manufacturers today are designing cleaning products that are increasingly highly concentrated and diluted via controlled dispensing systems. In this way, packaging and transport impacts are minimised, so the professional buyer should be asking for MORE in the bottle, not less.
The paradox for the user is that these products in concentrate form may potentially be more user- and environmentally-hazardous, but due to the use of controlled dosing systems, the diluted, ready-to-use products will have very low environmental and H&S impacts and will limit waste considerably – this is the trade-off.
The key point is that dosage (or the amount of concentrate used) drives every other aspect of the sustainability equation. Dosing more (of a weaker product) simply uses more resources and creates more waste. It would also be naïve to think that “being greener” with a single specific ingredient is the answer. At the end of the day, if sustainability is one central pillar of the environmental debate, then two others, of equal importance, are the considerations of performance and cost.
Six Top Tips for Businesses to Minimise Environmental Impact:
1. Reduce the consumption of product, packaging and energy by buying effective products and using them efficiently to minimise wastage and disposal to landfill.
2. Define what task the cleaning products will be used for and buy products that deliver the required performance.
3. Analyse and reduce re-work rates, cleaning correctly the first time will minimise waste, particularly in energy intensive operations such as machine dishwashing.
4. Go for more concentrated products where applicable and dilute and use products according to the manufacturer’s instructions using accurate dosing systems where appropriate.
5. Service cleaning equipment regularly, particularly critical items such as dosing pumps for automated machines.
6. Train cleaning staff on the safe and effective use of cleaning chemicals.
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