Green vs. Clean: The ICS Q&A
October 1, 2012
"Going green” has become one of the biggest buzz phrases in just about every industry today. But in the cleaning and restoration industry, do you sacrifice cleanliness by deploying green cleaning methods? We posed this question - and more - to a panel of experts to find out. Read on to see what Doyle Bloss (HydraMaster, U.S. Products), Mike Kerner (Legend Brands), Frank Kinmonth (Chemspec), Jessika James (Prochem) and Mike Sawchuck (Enviro-Solutions) had to say.
On a further note, the experts we asked had a lot to say about green cleaning, so much so that we couldn’t possibly fit their full responses within the pages of this magazine. Click here to see their answers in full.
ICS Cleaning Specialist: If you “go green,” do you risk sacrificing cleanliness? In other words, is there a difference between green and clean?
Doyle Bloss: Dr. Michael Berry said it best. “Green” and “clean” should be synonymous terms. A clean environment is a green environment so long as the wastes produced from the cleaning process are properly disposed of. If, in order to get an extremely dirty surface clean, you have to use massive amounts of a green chemical to get it clean, and in doing so, you leave a large amount of organic material behind on the surface, you may be contributing to the growth of mold or bacteria in the indoor environment. That is not a green concept. The good news is that the performance of green chemicals has improved dramatically in the last 10 years. (But) you can’t let soil and filth and grime and allergens and pollutants and VOCs and bacteria build up in a high-traffic carpeted environment and then expect the professional cleaner to restore the carpet to a “like new” appearance without stronger or harsher chemistry. A day may be coming where you can clean a neglected Chinese Restaurant carpet with only green chemicals, but I don’t think we are quite there yet.
Mike Kerner: I hear both answers in the field. Water damage restoration technicians and “project” cleaners, primarily carpet, upholstery and hard surface cleaners, often hesitate when considering green products. They have real faith in traditional chemistries. But the individuals who do routine janitorial cleaning are much more open to green products. This is partly because cleaners feel green products are quite capable of lighter-duty cleaning and mostly because their customers increasingly request or require green-certified products. And when it comes to maintaining LEED certification, for example, there’s no choice: green products must be used. A common perception is that green products are great for routine cleaning. But for the tougher challenges presented by restoration, however, some cleaners feel green products are not up to the task.
Frank Kinmonth: “Going green” is a win-win for everyone… Old technologies, basically watered down traditional ones, were ineffective and in many cases premium priced to take advantage of beginning consumer trends to appeal to the idea of using greener, safer products. This trend led initially to the myth today that green products didn’t work and were too expensive. Today there are some very valid cleaning products and others that in fact have been proven to clean as effectively as traditional petroleum based cleaners. This is not to say that traditional is bad, but why not use products that are in fact safer for the cleaner, the residence, the inhabitants and the environment?
Jessika James: With the lack of proper “green” guidelines, it is up to the cleaning or restoration technician to choose products that best fit the client’s green needs concerning product manufacturing protocols, chemistry, health and environmental concerns and product packaging. We have some amazing new chemical technology available that is considered to be “green” and can get excellent cleaning results when properly using these green chemicals and environmentally aware cleaning methods.
Mike Sawchuck: In 1975 I would have probably answered “yes,” but not today. However, there still are green cleaning products that do not match their traditional counterparts’ performance. But today some green-certified products are as effective as, or better than, traditional cleaning products. This is where an astute jansan distributor can be most helpful. If the distributor knows green cleaning products and understands the cleaning challenges of the client, he or she can often suggest the most effective environmentally preferable products.
ICS: What should professionals know about chemistry to decide whether or not to buy a “green” product?
DB: You have to start by doing something that the so called “experts” have not been able to agree upon themselves - decide what the definition of “green” is. What is a green chemical and how is the green being measured? Is it what kind of environmental footprint its use leaves on the outdoor environment? Is it how it makes the indoor environment safer? Many look at green as a measure of sustainability, and the use of renewable resources. Others focus on the packaging the chemical is in, and how it comes from recycled materials or will be recycled. Does the use of the ingredient reduce the use of resources? Is anyone measuring the health impact of these new ingredients on the occupants of the home or the business, or the cleaning technician who uses them every day? Most of all, do they work? Do they clean the surface quickly and effectively without causing any harm to the construction and texture of the surface? Who is measuring that? While the easy answer here is to tell them to only buy third party “certified green” cleaning products that have been evaluated, tested, and approved by organizations like Green Seal or the EPA’s Design for Environment program, the truth is that it is a bit more complicated than that. There is no certifying body I am aware of that considers all of the above stated potential measurements of green in their product certification process.
MK: Chemistry is chemistry. It doesn’t matter if the chemistry in question is green or not, professional cleaners will benefit from understanding what’s going on with a cleaning product. Professionals should know as much as possible! Indeed, when using green products, you really need to understand what makes them green, so you need even more understanding of chemistry. Ironically, green certification can lead to a false sense of safety. Green products are not free of risk. Some green products can damage surfaces, react unfavorably with other chemicals and even cause injury if they are not properly handled.
FK: Look for the “certification” on the label - Green Seal, Environmental Choice, Design for the Environment (DFE) or Green Guard. These certifications mean that the products perform to standards including the safety of raw materials and finished product and the performance on the desired surface whether it be hard or soft. Not all products that claim to be green cleaners are created equal. Many make claims that stipulate “cleans to the DFE standard or meets all Green Seal standards.” Many make claims as to “No VOCs.” Get the Green Guard certification which tests to parts per billion of off gassing and prove it. Beware of false claims that are not backed up with certifications and facts. Ask questions of the distributor or the manufacture.
MS: First, ensure the product is green-certified by EcoLogo, Green Seal or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for Living Program. Then, test different products side-by-side to see which one works best for your soil types, soil load, surfaces, water conditions, equipment/custodial hardware and cleaning frequencies. And, of course, consider the after dilution/at-use cost.
ICS: Are “green” chemicals more expensive? If so, why should cleaners invest in these?
DB: When green ingredients were first being introduced, there is no doubt that they made some products more expensive. As their use has expanded greatly, most green ingredients are very competitive today with their “non-green” counterparts. In our relatively small industry, much of the cost of some green products is to pay for the expensive third party certification. Believe me, getting those certifications is a lengthy and expensive process. The manufacturer who gets a product certified is going to most likely pass along that cost to the customers who use it.
MK: In the past, the inherent chemistry of green cleaning was simply more expensive. They required specialty materials that were in short supply. And in some cases, components based on renewables, subject to cost and availability fluctuations based on crop yields. As green raw materials gain economies of scale, we see more competitive pricing for green-certified products. Remember, too, that certification itself adds cost to the product.
FK: They should not be and in fact should be even less in some cases. DFC-based technology is based on salts and other naturally derived raw materials with a very limited petroleum footprint. The refinement of these materials is limited to the extraction of the material from its source and should not be significantly man altered. This process limits cost considerably and keeps the finished product cost low. “Going green” pays in that it opens up a tremendous market opportunity. With such a small percentage of the consuming public using the services of a professional cleaner on a regular basis (roughly 30%), the opportunity to tell a different story to the balance of the population is great! Assume that the 70% that does not use a professional cleaner has several reasons for not doing so.
JJ: Great question! Yes, many of the “green” cleaning and restoration chemicals are more expensive – but not because of the green chemical raw materials and environmentally aware manufacturing processes… but rather because it can cost a manufacturing company thousands of dollars annually to maintain certain reputable third-party green endorsements and certification marks. For many residential and commercial cleaning companies, using or offering green cleaning solutions can be a very positive step. The consumer who requests green cleaning practices usually understands that the services may cost a bit due to the fact that they are requesting special services that conform to their personal philosophies or specific health concerns.
MS: Generally, green-certified products are not more expensive. On the contrary, many have found that switching to green-certified products has saved in overall chemical costs as well as total cleaning costs, including labor. This is often because some green chemicals are highly concentrated and use dilution control devises. They simply go further, which is a cost savings. In addition, typically with a green cleaning chemical program, there is an opportunity to rationalize the number of chemicals used, reducing inventory handling and carrying costs.
ICS: What other incentives are there for cleaners to “go green?”
DB: The use of green cleaning solutions will matter to most professional carpet cleaners when they make it matter in their marketing and advertising. I know of carpet cleaning companies that have grown to several million dollars in annual revenue within a few years of their inception emphasizing green concepts in cleaning. I would argue that it was not the fact they were using green concepts that fueled their growth. It was that they found effective ways to make the fact matter that they were using green concepts to their potential customers and clients. It comes back to the ages old sales and marketing concept – answering the question of what is in it for them? Then, your company has to proceed to assuring them that your company is reputable and will stand behind its claims.
MK: It can be easier to store green products and less expensive to transport them. Green products typically don’t have hazmat restrictions, which can add considerably to the cost and inconvenience of handling some types of traditional chemicals. Customers are increasingly sensitive to air quality problems and strong odors. Because green products have very low volatile organic components, they are very appealing for this reason. So there are good reasons to go green, but I believe there’s a missing component: return on investment. What concrete and measurable benefits to do we get from going green? Do we see fewer asthma incidents? Are Workmen’s Comp costs lower? I haven’t seen the widespread use of such metrics but they will come. Once objective measures are in widespread use, it will make the business case for green products even stronger.
FK: Clear marketing opportunities. Profitability, lower cost products means higher profit margins. Potentially lower workers compensation ratings as incentives could be installed to promote greener businesses promoting employee safety. Just as recycling has become second nature, cleaning green will be too and consumers will demand it. It has been well documented that “green” is here to stay: Regulatory issues will increase and it is better to be proactive to the trend than reactive.
JJ: What we do and how we conduct our businesses reflects on our personal business image and our industry as a whole. Taking even the smallest steps to preserve our environment, create healthier indoor environments and reduce waste can make huge future changes. “Going green” may not be the correct choice for every cleaning or restoration project, but at least we now have the ability to choose to go green with very little sacrifice to cleaning results.
MS: The main reason is these products are safer for all people, including users, building occupants and visitors, as well as the environment. Secondly, if the safer products work as well or better and are priced competitively, then why not? It is the right thing to do.