Many cleaning product manufacturers and service providers claim to adhere to ‘green cleaning’ principles, writes HARTLEY HENDERSON, but there is no dedicated independent rating system to establish or uphold benchmark standards across the sector.
In the absence of a specialised accreditation framework for green cleaning products and services, consumers inevitably have difficulty telling which claims are true and which are false; meantime, reputable manufacturers become frustrated because they try to act honourably – only to lose trade to pretenders.
Facility Management sought the views of several enterprises in the industry to gauge opinion on whether a new ‘green cleaning’ accreditation system is needed. What would be the pros and cons of establishing such a system? What form might an independent system take? And who should oversee it?
Errol Goldberg, managing director of Pall Mall Manufacturing, believes there is no doubt that a properly constructed rating and accreditation system is needed for cleaning products that are marketed as ‘green’.
“Initially, though, it is important to agree on a definition of ‘green’,” Goldberg says. “The cleaning industry has been responsible for affecting our resources in two ways. Firstly, limited natural resources are used in the production of many products and, secondly, too many toxic products are produced, which can have a negative impact on the environment when disposed of.
“Many plastic products are oil-based, which is a limited and finite resource, so where possible reconstructed or recycled materials should be used. Our Glomesh floor and hand pads, for example, are all made with 100 percent recycled plastic fibres.
“It is commonly asserted that the cleaning industry is guilty of harming the environment due to the inclusion of toxic substances in chemical products, so clearly defined requirements should be specified, and products rated and accredited.
“The recently formed Cleaning and Hygiene Council of Australia could be the perfect organisation to provide accreditation, thus ensuring good self-regulation rather than the function being provided by another bureaucratic government body. Government grants would, no doubt, be necessary to help in the establishment of a testing and evaluation facility, and affidavits to support product claims would be produced by the manufacturer.”
Diversey’s T Balakrishnan points out that all product claims, including those focused on environmental impacts, health and safety, must be accurate, factual, verifiable and transparent.
“In other words, if a manufacturer claims that a product is biodegradable, they must qualify that statement with the definition of biodegradability they use and have proof of this assessment. When Diversey makes a claim that a product is biodegradable, we use the OECD 301 definition of readily biodegradable and we have details on the assessment that can be provided to customers, government inspectors and other stakeholders,” he says.
“The primary advantage of an independent rating system would be that the environment, health and safety profile of a product could be verified in a simple fashion. Product purchasers and other stakeholders could very easily confirm that the product meets the system criteria. The system would also standardise the criteria used by all manufacturers.
“On the other hand, potential disadvantages that must be considered when creating such a system include the additional costs of certification, which ultimately must be passed on to the user. While the costs of accreditation programs vary widely across the world, a rigorous system run by a third party could mean significant certification costs.
“Also, systems are usually expressed as ‘pass/fail’ results and do not provide detailed information on the exact performance. They also do not reward continuous improvement, and innovative solutions are typically not recognised by such systems.
“Green cleaning encompasses more than green products. To determine if a product or service rendered has a true sustainability value, the environmental footprint of the product life cycle – from manufacture and transportation to use and disposal – has to be taken into consideration.”
Chief executive officer of The Planet Earth Cleaning Company, John Engelander, says that although some generalist ‘green’ accreditation systems exist already, too many harmful products are slipping through the net.
“In my view, the kind of green accreditation badging we have here in Australia falls a long way short of giving us a reliable guide to products with low environmental impact. Buying green labelled products here does not mean that you’re buying a product that is environmentally harm free,” he explains.
“This is counterproductive. Buyers would be better off doing their homework than trusting a label that gives false confidence.
“I believe an effective rating system should include factors such as energy consumed in manufacture, greenhouse gas implications, energy consumed and pollution caused by packaging and distribution, the impact of product ingredients on the environment, toxicity of ingredients, and recyclability and reusability.
“There needs to be a centralised independent repository of test data to provide evidence that products are not harmful, and a star rating scheme should be considered, so that labelling is easily understood, thereby minimising eco-babble and greenwash.
“Rather than a government agency, a government-appointed, self-regulatory organisation, made up of knowledgeable representatives from industry, plus relevant scientists, is needed.”
According to the general manager of Whiteley Corporation, Darran Leyden, there are always difficulties in establishing any independent rating and accreditation system.
“A key issue is that ‘independent’ should mean that they are not-for-profit (as commercial considerations inevitably result in some sort of bias) and represent all stakeholders, which in itself can be difficult to achieve,” he points out.
“In regard to accreditation, the science behind green cleaning products is complex and some organisations choose lower thresholds for compliance to ensure they include as many companies as possible, so their system has commercial (or numerical) viability.at process and add no value,” Cupido says.
“If a system were to be created, it would have to take the form of a not-for-profit, independent agency linked to Australian Standards.
“Profiteering and the creation of an industry within itself must be avoided. This has occurred in the past with agencies charging ridiculous dollars for accreditation to their ‘standard’ and for subsequent use of their logo promoting compliance.
“Perhaps a system similar to Australian Standards’ EMC (Electromagnetic Compliance), which is mandatory compliance through self-regulation and declaration, could be a way forward.”
Andrew Taylor, sustainability manager at SCA Hygiene Australasia, which markets the Tork brand of cleaning products, says the company supports credible and verifiable eco-labels and third party accreditations, specifically eco-labels that take a whole of life approach to the environmental impact of the product.
“Independent rating and accreditation systems for products are required to validate claims, but many already exist; for example, Good Environmental Choice Australia, and there are others around the world such as Nordic Swan, Blue Angel and Green Seal. These eco-labels take a whole of life approach to the environmental impact of the product, although there can be some regional differences between the standards,” Taylor says.
“All these organisations are members of the Global Eco-labelling Network (GEN). A consumer can go to the website of the eco-labelling organisation and view the standard that is claimed to be achieved by the product. They can then go to the GEN website to see if the organisation is a member of GEN. If both of these actions are affirmative, there would be a reasonable probability that the product has some environmental credibility.
“Too many labels can become confusing for consumers and provide a loss of credibility. What is required is education of the consumer, so that they understand what claims are reliable. There is already legislation regarding ‘green’ claims that, if enforced vigorously, would reduce misleading or false claims by manufacturers quickly and effectively. “
National sales manager at Caprice Paper Products, Rachid Imam, observes that there are already independent accreditation systems in place for the paper/tissue industry, but there may be a need to create a system for cleaning chemicals.
“The greatest difficulty would be getting all parties to agree to the structure of any such system. The positives are that it would put the suppliers of green products on the same playing field in relation to the quality of product supplied and the genuineness of the ‘greenness’ of their products,” he says.
“A requirement could be for suppliers to prove through independent documentation that they have achieved the desired levels of accreditation throughout the manufacturing process of the green products.
“It may be a difficult process to establish a full system for the supply of green products, as there are so many small suppliers of paper throughout the world in a vast range of countries. Some of these countries have come on board with a legitimate supply of green products and are adhering to a stringent process, whereas others are very much ‘loose cannons’.”
Hartley Henderson is a Victorian freelance journalist specialising in Australia’s commercial property sector.