- THE MAGAZINE
There is no shortage of information about the topic of green and environmental stewardship. Even with all the news coverage, government reports and scientific studies, much confusion and skepticism persists. When a company says, for example, that they have “gone green,” what do they mean? Did they merely put a recycling bin in the lunchroom? Or did they perform a complete green audit on each of their suppliers?
Another important question is the benefit of green. People express concerns that landfills will eventually fill to capacity, that oil fields will deplete and that the human body has a limited capacity for toxic exposure. Green practices might improve these capacities but what specifically do we get for the investment in green?
While we can’t settle these questions easily, there are two green issues that may be important to you and to your customers: the pursuit of green practices and your customers’ perception of those practices.
Pursuit of Green
No human activity, whether farming, communication, photography and certainly not cleaning, will ever have zero impact on the physical environment or on people’s health. From the very first moment an ancient person dug a hole in the ground with a stick and dropped in a seed, the environment started to change. Of course we humans continually look for better sticks and better seeds but there is no “zero impact” stick-seed combination.
Cleaning is much the same. Turpentine, for example, seemed a good way to remove greasy soils until we got uncomfortable with the residue and the odor. Other solvents have followed, each with a list of benefits and drawbacks. The development of surfactants, alkaline builders, etc., is much the same. Nothing is ideal but we keep trying to improve, keep on learning how to get greener. The important thing is to pursue improvements that actually have some factual basis rather than emotional appeal. Are botanically derived surfactants better than petroleum-based products? Even botanical products have an environmental footprint from the required farming, pest control, harvesting, transporting and production involved. As we learn more, we can make better decisions.
Perception of Green
No matter what we might think about green, we need to be aware of our customer’s opinions and understanding of the concept. If they feel strongly about “going green,” it will affect their buying decisions on an emotional level. What are some of these emotional drivers? In my daily work I have the opportunity to speak with lots of people and they tell me about their concerns. Here’s what I’ve heard:
- Odor: Many homeowners do not want unfamiliar odors. In fact, they prefer not to smell any residual odor after you have finished cleaning. The homeowner might not know what a low VOC solvent is, but your use of a zero VOC product might reassure a customer who has a fear of anything evaporating inside their home. I once spoke with a woman who had the carpet tech in her living room ready to clean the carpet. She would not allow anything but a water rinse because the tech didn’t have a solvent-free product on his truck.
- Toxicity: Will the residue hurt me, my dog, my cat, my infant? Unfortunately, this is difficult to answer with certainty. Toxicity is relative - every substance, whether naturally derived or synthetic, could be toxic compared to another substance. Here’s a suggested compromise: try to use products and processes that leave very little residue. If there is a residue, try to use a green-certified product that utilizes a familiar substance like clay, washing soda, and table salt and be sure to point this out to your customer. Any residues from these common materials are much less likely to raise concerns.
- Certification: The industry recognizes various green certification standards. We might debate whether a given standard is meaningful or beneficial, but if you are interested in the commercial market and in serving LEED-certified building owners, certification logos on the label provides official endorsement of your claims to be offering green cleaning chemistries.
So look for extra opportunities that are present – and perceived – for introducing green products and procedures into your business. There’s sure to be a return on that investment of time and effort, especially with specific customers who are concerned about “going green.”