ICS Magazine

Show Me The Green

October 11, 2006


Consumers and government agencies are not the only ones who are driving the interest (or requirement) of using products and systems that are environmentally preferable or "green." Look at the success of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) Program. If you are cleaning Class A commercial buildings, your customer may want to quality for this program, and you will need to use green products and procedures to help them achieve that certification.

On Aug. 4, the state of New York officially adopted their "Guidelines" for use of environmental sensitive cleaning products and procedures. This will set the stage for other government agencies. The concern, however, is this guideline was done with little relevance to actual product testing, cleaning performance and efficacy.

One of the key points of contention from professional cleaners is the use of cold water to clean carpets. Several key organizations and individuals voiced their opinion on the subject, but the cold-water-saves-energy thinking won over.

So clearly, green cleaning has hit some bumps on the road, but many things are going in the right direction. We should be concerned to what products we are exposing our customers, employees, and ourselves. So how do we, as consumers and responsible cleaning professionals, blend good science and our desires for doing the right thing?

One of the key reasons we should be concerned with using green products is a large portion of the population are allergy sufferers. When we use products that contain perfumes, emit VOCs, are hydrocarbon based, or have any materials considered hazardous, they can act as a trigger for an allergy attack.

We are not talking about a fringe segment of the population; more than 75 million people have asthma or allergies to indoor bio-pollutants. If we fail to ask a simple question, "Does anyone in the home have allergies?" we can contribute to a customer having an allergic reaction. A reaction can be triggered by using traditional cleaning products containing known hazardous ingredients.

We can look to manufacturers that are making a commitment to providing green products, but how do we know the product is living up to the claims? Several companies have now come on the scene to test products and set standards. Most of these firms charge substantial fees to do this testing and some are getting the reputation of looking to the fees rather than what is truly a "green" product.

Look at the manufacturer's MSDS to see if, under Section I, the product contains any hazardous materials. If they claim "trade secret," look for the TLV or PEL as one sign of hazard level.

If the company is telling you the product is safe or making claims as to efficacy, ask to see the test data. Remember, what is called "green" is in a state of change. Find products that are free of perfumes, phosphates, builders, hydrocarbons and solvents. New products manufactured from plant-based alcohol ethoxylates meet these criteria.

When in comes to performance, do your own testing. Buy a gallon and clean a carpet. Much has been made about green products not cleaning well. A lot of improvement has happened in the last five years. Try the product and see if it meets your requirements for clean.

One third-party testing organization that is doing an excellent job with our tax dollars is the Environmental Protection Agency's Design for the Environment (DfE). The EPA is able to set standards without undue influence from non-governmental entities - the stakeholders who may benefit financially from achieving "green certification" for products that they market and sell.

The chemical criteria used by the DfE are similar to other organizations, but the DfE is more stringent. For example, they do not allow the use of d-limonene in cleaners, whereas other programs do. Although d-limonene is a naturally occurring degreaser, it has been found not to be as "green" as some other chemical compounds.

Also in their certification, the EPA states that environmentally preferred cleaning products should be from bio-based renewable resources, and should not contain dyes, fragrances or petroleum-based ingredients.

Some other third-party certification programs have a HMIS health rating as high as 3, which is clearly not a true "green" product. The EPA's main concern is our health and the environment, which is born out by the integrity of this program.

Most certifying organizations charges significant fees to approve products, plus ongoing annual fees to maintain certifications. These expenses are passed along, increasing the cost of your cleaning products. The DfE Program does not charge for the work done in evaluating chemical formulations per their established criteria. Also, DfE does not require product performance testing, leaving that to the end-users as discussed above.

So, where do we begin if we want to be seen as a green company not introducing pollutants into our customers' homes or businesses? We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, so your company will need to develop a unique marketing plan for allergy-relief services that reflects your operation, your market and the prospective groups on which you intend to focus. The specifics of the plan are determined by the individual; however, there are some guidelines that can help you in its development.

One of the major reasons people develop allergic illnesses is overexposure to various allergens, especially those found in indoor air from pets and dust mites. It is now clear that allergies can in fact be controlled, and even prevented, by avoiding the triggers that cause them. This strategy is called environmental control.

Your marketing plan may be quite conservative or highly ambitious. In either case, an excellent place to begin is with your own customer base and those that contact your business for the services that you currently offer. Given that nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population suffers from allergic illnesses, you will have a large number of customers and new callers who will immediately identify themselves as potential purchasers of allergy-relief services if you ask the simple question, "Does anyone in your household suffer from allergies or asthma?"

When you get a "yes" response to that question, you have the opportunity to ask further questions, such as:
  • "Do you know specifically what you or your family member is allergic to?"
  • "Have you heard of environmental control?"
  • "Are you taking any steps to reduce your exposure to indoor allergens?"
  • "What results have you obtained?"


These questions elicit information and create the opening for a conversation about anti-allergen cleaning and treatment. You will need to put together a brief presentation you can use on the phone to explain these services, once you receive permission. Use brochures developed by your supplier during face-to-face presentations, which can also be used as mailings and leave-behind pieces.

When speaking with people who do not have allergy suffers in the household, there is still an opportunity to discuss allergy prevention, particularly when there are young children in the home or a baby on the way. It is very important that you can speak knowledgably about allergic illnesses in a general way, and more specifically about environmental control. People with allergic illnesses often know a lot about them, and they are grateful for someone to talk to who can empathize with their problems and possibly offer solutions.

Given that allergy relief services need to be provided every six months, these customers are ideal for maintenance contracts. If the customer chooses not to commit to a six-month cleaning cycle, contact them after the fifth month to schedule the next cleaning.

When offering services as a preventive measure, the same procedures can be followed. Given that there may be less of a sense of urgency when there is no active allergic illness in the household, it may make sense to offer a cleaning package based on hypo-allergenic cleaning materials and allergy-preventive cleaning procedures like mattress cleaning. This will allow you to offer a much-differentiated package from your competition, and address the concerns of people with questions about chemicals and toxins in their home. They may be chemically sensitive, but not allergic, to home bio-pollutants.

The key to successful marketing is to give people a reason to buy your services that differentiates you from your competition. Most importantly, this reason must be relevant to them and their needs.

Referrals will be a vital part of your allergy treatment business. You will find that there are people who will call you expressing their undying gratitude for your help with their suffering. It is critically important that you ask these people for referrals.

Reducing toxicity from cleaning products, using materials derived from rapidly renewable resources, and good cleaning practices to reduce soil and bio-pollutants will benefit all of us.