The green cleaning product challenge
In an InClean Magazine article I wrote way back in 2010, I threw out a challenge to suppliers of green cleaning products: “Green or sustainable cleaning is still in its infancy in Australia and the cleaning industry still lacks regulations, guidelines and compliance from bodies such as the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA). Therefore it is up to suppliers to show leadership and users to demand accountability”.
I finished with the line: “It is always easier to stay ahead of the ball than play catch-up”. Fast forward to 2015, and are you ahead of the game and winning, or have you dropped the ball?
Let’s take a quick look at the evolution of green cleaning products, and how a new compliance framework is fueling the uptake of certified green cleaning product supply and sales.
Pre-2010 – growth in green cleaning products
Back around 2008, when consultants like me were asked to write ‘green’ purchasing criteria for Request-for-Tenders (RFTs), or procurement checklists, we would compile important-looking criteria that included standards for biodegradability, toxicity and a long list of restricted ingredients. Then we looked for the data on the MSDS, and were none the wiser!
Around 2009, government agencies started to refer to green purchasing as buying ‘environmentally preferred’ products – short-hand for ‘certified by eco-labels’. A rush to meet this demand followed, with a growth in eco-label certified cleaning products and consumables, and even a growth in eco-labels themselves.
However there was also a growth in self-labelled ‘green’ products from suppliers who rejected voluntary certification, due in part to cost and scepticism surrounding eco-labels, but mainly as there was no compliance framework forcing them to.
Post-2010 – 3rd party criteria for green cleaning products
By 2010, the official definition for green cleaning products we used at Fresh Green Clean became: ‘products that are supported with evidence of causing less impact on the environment or being less detrimental to human health than that of traditional equivalents’. The focus was on ensuring that the evidence of ‘less environmental impact’ was measurable and achievable. Eco-label standards, such as the GECA Cleaning Products standard (CPv2.2ii-2012), became the base-line, because the evaluation had been done by a third party.
So that we didn’t exclude products that were supported with other credible types of evidence, such as whole product biodegradability testing, super-concentrated /controlled dosing or a non-chemical methodologies, we added criteria for the different aspects of a product that made it ‘green’ into RFT specifications.
Whew! Now I understand that most people are not willing to go to that degree of effort when buying cleaning products. But unfortunately, most RFTs that I see today still ignore Eco-labels and specify meaningless terms such as: use ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘green’ cleaning products, or more hopeful: ‘use green certified products where possible’. And I was hoping users would demand accountability?
2015 – A compliance framework for green products
In 2015, the new Green Star — Performance rating tool, developed by the industry-led Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), will provide suppliers and buyers of cleaning products with a more consistent approach to specifying ‘green’. The Performance rating tool ‘credit’, Green Cleaning in the Management category, contains criteria for the procurement and management of cleaning services and products. However during the development stage of this credit, it became clear that the GBCA needed to decide which eco-label standards could be used to define a cleaning product as ‘green’.
This process was not new for the GBCA. Back in 2009, it developed an ‘Assessment Framework for Product Certification Schemes’ to assess the standards and certifications available on forestry materials. So with stakeholder consultation, the GBCA undertook the following process:
- In 2013, the GBCA expanded the Framework to include an assessment of cleaning product standards.
- In 2014, the GBCA announced the eco-label standards that can meet Green Star criteria.
The two standards related to cleaning products for the Green Cleaning credit are:
- GECA CPv2.2-2012 – (the current GECA standard for chemical cleaning products)
- Global Green Tag Cleaning Products Standard Version R1.0 – (a new life-cycle analysis Standard for cleaning products and equipment)
In 2015, it is anticipated that the uptake of the Green Star — Performance rating tool will accelerate. As it grows and spreads to sectors beyond commercial buildings, the Performance rating criteria could establish, by default, the industry benchmark for which eco-label certified cleaning products can be called ‘green’.
So, can non-certified products still be called ‘green’?
This leads us to three final questions:
1. Can products certified to other eco-labels, or provide some other evidence of having a ‘low environmental impact’, still be used in Green Star – Performance rated buildings?
The short answer is ‘yes’ – but it requires a lot more work to assess by Green Star – Performance auditors so participants will naturaly choose certified products to be sure they ‘pass’.
2. How will Green Star – Performance drive industry uptake of certificed cleaning products?
When a recognised authority like Green Star sets criteria for cleaning products, it makes it easier for procurement officers to copy their specifications and justify their purchasing decisions. Read more about how to do this in my article ‘Four elements of successful green cleaning management‘.
3. Is it against the law to call a cleaning product product ‘green’ if it isn’t certified?
The Consumer Law allows any product to be marketed as ‘green’ if these claims are supported with evidence. But if the claims are vague, unsubstantiated, misleading or false, this is breaking the law and and is called ‘green washing’. And in this age of social media, green washing can create a big reputational risk for a careless marketer.
Find out how to get build your own green brand, and make sure you can meet Green Star – Performance requirements while being fully compliant with the ACCC by booking our Green Cleaning Management Workshop .
About the author
Bridget Gardner is Director of Fresh Green Clean, and was the technical expert in cleaning for the development of Green Star – Performance. This article was first published in inclean Magazine, March 2015