The concept of greenwashing is not a new one. It’s based in a practice that has been used as long as a free market has been in existence, and it is still in use today. When the free market functions correctly, companies and marketers identify a perceived need, create a product to satisfy that need, and then market it accordingly. When practiced with integrity, companies deliver an excellent product to satisfy the consumer’s need and market the product accordingly. However, some marketers and corporations resort to misleading claims to help sell their product. And this is where greenwashing was born.
Green cleaning is the number one trend in the sanitation industry.
Many of today’s companies have latched on to an incredibly important movement. Society’s desire to be responsible to our planet is a noble endeavor that grows stronger every day. One way that people seek to be environmentally responsible is through green cleaning. According to the International Sanitation and Supply Association (ISSA), green cleaning is the number one trend in the sanitation industry. Because that desire is so prevalent, many companies have begun to respond. Just walk through the cleaning aisle of a supermarket today. Many of the products on the shelf imply or lay claim to environmental responsibility. However, a very important study conducted by Terrachoice, part of the UL Global Network, illustrates a very troubling finding. In its first study titled “Sins of Greenwashing” published in 2007, they were able to show that most companies claiming to be green were in fact not green at all. The news, though disturbing, is not all doom and gloom. In a later study, Terrachoice did find that consumers were “changing the world for the better” (“Sins of Greenwashing,” 2010). However, a vast majority of companies are still committing the “seven sins of greenwashing.”
The Seven Sins of Greenwashing
- Sin of the hidden tradeoff – suggesting a product is “green” based on an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues. For example, just because paper is made from a sustainably harvested forest does not make it green. There are other environmental factors such as energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and water and air pollution. These may be more of an issue than a sustainable forest.
- Sin of no proof – this is a claim that cannot be substantiated by a third-party certification.
- Sin of vagueness – the claim of “all natural” may be misleading to the consumer. Some natural products contain arsenic, uranium, mercury and formaldehyde.
- Sin of irrelevance – CFC free is misleading because CFCs are banned by law.
- Sin of the lesser of two evils – organic cigarettes fall into this category.
- Sin of fibbing – these are products simply making false claims to environmental friendliness.
- Sin of worshiping false labels – these products give the impression of a third-party endorsement, but simply don’t have the endorsements (“Sins of Greenwashing,” 2010).
In its study, Terrachoice found that only 4.5% of all products scrutinized (over 5,000) were “sin-free.”
How Can We Identify Greenwashing?
Identifying products and corporations that participate in greenwashing can seem like an impossible task considering how many products and services we use in our daily lives and in the cleaning industry, but it’s definitely not impossible. Greenwashing is defined as: a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.
Are your cleaning products actually sustainable?
When you buy your next bottle of cleaning solution that proudly states, “Environmentally Friendly,” think about what it took, from start to finish, for that bottle to end up in your janitor’s closet.
Avoid single-use plastics when choosing cleaning products.
Is It Packaged in Single-Use Plastic?
Are you reusing your plastic tubs and bottles, or are you buying single-use packaging? Currently, the world produces over 300 million tons of plastic per year and much of it ends up in the world’s oceans. The worst culprits are single-use water bottles and straws, by far. It’s predicted that by 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish. Your cleaning solution is most likely in a single-use, plastic bottle that never really fully degrades. It just breaks apart into smaller and smaller fragments of plastic that are eventually consumed by wildlife and then eventually us humans. It’s estimated that shellfish consumers in Great Britain, are at risk of ingesting up to 11,000 microplastics per year. So, even though the cleaning solutions may tout other environmental benefits, if it’s in a single-use bottle are we really helping?
What is the Carbon Footprint?
According to the EPA, the production of one pound of plastic results in one pound of carbon dioxide emitted, and that is considered to be a conservative estimate. Other sources cite an even steeper ratio of up to five pounds of carbon emissions for every one pound of plastic produced. Where the bottle of cleaning solution was manufactured and from where it was shipped to us is another important consideration. It’s likely that the bottle was made and shipped from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. It is also likely that the plastic bottle was shipped from another location before being filled by the cleaning solution manufacturer. Because of an international treaty designed to help the airline industry in the forties, fuel used in the transportation of goods including food cannot be taxed. This is a significant loophole that allows corporations to have plastics produced at lower costs overseas and then shipped to the US. In the New York Times article “Environmental Costs of Shipping Groceries Around the World,” Paul Watkiss, an Oxford University economist stated, “We’re shifting goods around the world in a way that looks really bizarre…and we are not paying the environmental cost of all that travel.”
Is the Business or Product Certified Green?
Look for Green Seal Certification
Since greenwashing has been such a pervasive and misleading marketing tactic for several years now, green certification programs and watchdog groups have grown to become an important requirement when making green business claims. Some of the best business and green cleaning certifications are: LEED, Green Seal, and the Green Clean Institute. If you want to lay claim to being a green cleaner, make sure you do your due diligence and get properly certified. It will help you to navigate green cleaning solutions and marketing without committing one of the Seven Sins of Greenwashing.
What Does Truly Sustainable Green Cleaning Look Like?
Before you buy that bottle of cleaning solution, consider this. What if the cleaning solution you were using was made onsite, on-demand, with simple ingredients like softened tap water, table salt, and electricity? PathoSans electrochemically-activated water (ECA) technology can do exactly that. PathoSans cleaning solutions PathoClean and PathoCide are:
- Environmentally responsible: By making PathoSans cleaning solutions and disinfectants onsite and on demand, you can reduce your carbon footprint, water usage, and waste. While we do use plastic tubs and bottles for storing and dispensing our cleaning solutions, they are made to be reused, again and again. You can dispense exactly what you need, and the solutions are effective for 30 days.
- Non-Toxic: PathoSans cleaning solutions are safe to use and can eliminate up to 99.999% of microbes.
- Economical: By investing in ECA technology with a company like PathoSans, creating cleaning solutions onsite usually costs around seven cents per gallon.
- Effective: PathoSans green commercial cleaning products kill 99.999%of bacteria and they have a dwell time of only seconds.
PathoSans offers truly sustainable solutions.
At PathoSans, we believe that green cleaning should always be very effective and safe for cleaning workers, building occupants, and facility surfaces. For more information on PathoSans, ECAs, and our commitment to the environment and your safety, please visit us here.
Rosenthal, E. (2008, April 26). Environmental Costs of Shipping Groceries Around the World. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/26/business/worldbusiness/26food.html
Sins of greenwashing, The. (2010). Retrieved from: http://www.sinsofgreenwasing.org/finding/greenwashing-report-2010