‘Green’ cleaning has been trending in the commercial cleaning sector for many years, with more and more facilities opting for greener and more sustainable products and processors. But what exactly is green cleaning, and why has ‘chemical’ suddenly become a dirty word? INCLEAN assistant editor Lizzie Hunter speaks to Paul Agar, Agar Cleaning System’s chief chemist and joint managing director, True Blue Chemicals’ innovation and NPD chemist Rianna Goodwin and Dr Greg Whiteley, Whiteley Corporation’s executive chairman to find out more.
What is ‘green cleaning’?
GW: There is no recognised, scientifically defensible, validated or ethically credible definition that would distinguish green cleaning from actual cleaning. Cleaning is the removal of unwanted material or soil from a surface, implement, item or person. My personal view is green cleaning can be defined as using cleaning methods and products with environmentally friendly ingredients and procedures where feasible and practicable. To me the use of a ‘green’ product is only of value if that product actually works as well as, or better than a non-green product.
PA: I would define ‘green cleaning’ in two parts. First, cleaning is the removal of unwanted matter from a variety of surfaces and, second, ‘green’ is the use of processes and substances that have the least adverse impacts on the environment. From a scientific perspective, the term ‘green’ overlaps with many different disciplines, including environmental science, chemistry, toxicology, biology, the physics of energy and even meteorology. This means that to get a definition of ‘green’ requires consideration of a product or process from a variety of scientific perspectives. The trouble with the term ‘green’ is that it is not clearly defined and too many people use the term in different ways. One company’s idea of green can be completely unacceptable to another company.
RG: Green cleaning is very much in the eye of the beholder. There is no official definition, with a similar approach relevant to the terms ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘chemical-free’. Over the last 10 years the interest in ‘green cleaning’ has slowly increased, especially pushed by government agencies, childcare and small businesses where the commercial pressure to become more recognised in this area is very relevant.
What are the main differences (benefits and limitations) between ‘green’ formulations and conventional cleaning products?
GW: Quite often the main difference is the ‘green’ product will be less effective than the conventional product, principally because the bodies involved with ‘green’ certification tend to require the product be manufactured from an often-limited suite of ingredients. While it fosters the view that the product will be green, because it uses only green ingredients, this is ignoring other factors such as the environmental impact of transporting the ingredients around the planet, the energy input in isolating and purifying the ingredients, and even the environmental impact of growing the feedstock.
PA: The main differences between ‘green’ products and conventional ones are that the ‘green’ chemicals are readily biodegradable, less alkaline or acidic, contain more harmless and mild ingredients, have lower levels of solvents and perfumes, and include some sustainably-grown ingredients. On the downside, the ‘green’ products may not clean as aggressively as conventional chemicals, so they may struggle with extremely dirty surfaces with heavy build-ups of oily or fatty soilage.
RG: There is a mixture of sentiment in the industry as sometimes ‘green’ products can be perceived as less effective. However, over the years there is a growing interest in ‘green’ products that give effective results, and technology advancements have helped facilitate this advancement.