Home >Defining 'green cleaning'
Defining 'green cleaning'
07 March 2013
'Green cleaning' is often used to describe the process of cleaning using environmentally-sound products and with minimum use of chemicals. But whether the actual process is 'green' or not depends entirely on the sustainability of the whole product life cycle, says Susan Iliefski-Janols of SCA
There is hardly an organisation around these days that does not claim to be green.
The term, often used as shorthand for 'sustainable'or 'environmentally-sound', is increasingly used by cleaning and hygiene companies to encompass everything from the raw materials and product manufacture to usage and waste disposal.
Some companies may be justified in their 'green cleaning' claims, particularly if their products bear an eco logo or certification accredited by a third party. But others tend to seize upon one aspect of their product and base their claims on this alone.
For example, a company that makes microfibre cloths will point out that their products remove the need for chemical cleaning agents and are therefore environmentally-friendly. But where does the microfibre come from? In most cases it will not be a renewable raw material. So how does the customer assess its impact on the environment without access to information on its entire life cycle? Similarly, a cleaning agent made purely from natural products may term itself as being eco-friendly. But how is the cleaning agent manufactured, and are the natural ingredients safe to use? Once again, how do we help the customer to make a professional choice? In fact, it can be argued that no cleaning product can ever actually be termed "green" since every part of a product's life cycle has some environmental impact.
'Green' or 'sustainable'? In any case, the word "green" has increasingly been superseded by the term "sustainability" in recent years.And sustainability is a much more realistic goal: a sustainable organisation will have an ongoing consideration for the environment but will also consider people - both within the company and in the wider community - as well as its own profitability.
It is important to remember that a green cleaning product or process must not compromise on performance because the performance of a product is included in the environmental assessment.In order to be fully sustainable,a company must use modern and efficient methods to provide quality products that fulfil their customers'expectations and needs in a safe and environmentally-sound way.
When assessing the sustainability or otherwise of a cleaning product, every point in the product's life cycle - from raw material sourcing to eventual disposal - needs to be considered.
At SCA we have been working with life cycle assessments since the early 1990s.We look at sustainability at every stage in the development of our products and expect sustainable standards from our suppliers.
Most SCA products are made from renewable and recyclable materials: at the moment around 70 per cent of the content of SCA's away-from-home European tissue products are recycled fibres.
We have recently begun a scheme to support a large number of our Tork products with the EU Ecolabel, the only pan-European accreditation there is. Products that bear the EU Ecolabel need to meet tough criteria on fibres, energy and emissions to water and air such as CO2.
In January, SCA appeared in the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations list for the sixth year running.And in April, SCA was named one of the World's Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute in New York for the third year in a row.
It would be reassuringly simple for the buyer if cleaning products were divided into 'green' and 'non-green categories. But life is never so easy and customers need to look at every facet of a product - and indeed, its manufacturer - before making an informed assessment of its sustainability.
Sustainable development demands a long-term approach and involves selecting the best suppliers; securing a safe and efficient production that minimises energy consumption and emissions to air and water; and finally delivering environmentally-sound products and services to our customers.
Small and consistent changes made throughout an organisation can make an enormous difference to the complete sustainability picture. It is the sum of all the choices a company makes that contributes to its entire environmental performance .
There is no shortcut for sustainable solutions. Only by looking at the complete picture can we attempt to measure the 'greenness' - or otherwise - of a product or cleaning process.