The price of green: Stewardship and prosperity

November 11, 2008
By: Simon Wainwright

Time spent researching green cleaning products and determining what's right for your operation is time well spent. Approach your green initiative as a new business venture. Be wary of greenwashed products and make smart decisions. Both the planet and your bottom line will thank you.

Waterfall scene

In 2007 "green" was the single most trademarked term, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In record-setting numbers, companies scrambled over each other to secure green themes for their products.

TheTrends in Trademarks 2008 Reportfrom Dechert LLP identified that one third of all green-themed trademarks coupled "green" with "clean." Multiple businesses filed for the following: Green Clean, Green Is Clean, Green & Clean, Ecoclean, Bioclean, and many other minute variations. It is undeniable that green cleaning technology is gaining momentum.

And everyone watching is smiling.

Most are smiling, barely holding back their guffaws, as they watch celebrities in their eco-chic attire spun from recycled banana leaf fibers promote the newest 12 oz., organic, all-purpose kitchen cleaner.

Nonprofit organizations such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace are smiling because the world is finally heeding their warnings that humanity's environmental impact on the Earth is too great.

Al Gore is smiling because he won a Nobel Peace Prize for making a movie about the environment.

Yet the broadest grins belong to a small group of regular people, whom we shall call waveriders. As events unfold in front of them, this minority sees something that no one sees. They see business opportunities. Green is the new gold, and the wave riders will profit from the oncoming "green revolution."

Green Revolution

Despite the popularity of the phrase, the green revolution has not occurred. As Thomas L. Friedman, foreign affairs columnist forThe New York Times, wrote, "Have you ever seen a revolution where no one got hurt? That's the green revolution we're having. In the green revolution that we're having, everyone's a winner, nobody has to give up anything, and the adjective that most often modifies 'green revolution' is 'easy.' That's not a revolution. That's a party. We're actually having a green party."

The green revolution will begin when companies must fully compensate society for the impact their manufacturing processes have on the environment. It is unavoidable and fast approaching. Already, heavy fines await businesses that violate environmental mandates. According to its 2007 annual report, United Technologies reserves $568 million for possible environmental liabilities. In fact, the company spent $71 million on environmental cleanup in 2006. What other companies comparable to United Technologies are sitting on piles of money in case they are held responsible for environmental accidents?

Undoubtedly, waste is expensive. As larger checks are written to remedy environmental follies, corporate leaders wonder whether it is cost-effective to maintain current manufacturing processes. At their doorstep, wave riders already are lined up to provide legitimate solutions to their environmental problems.

Emerging Technology

Emerging green cleaning technology presents a new avenue companies can travel to reduce environmental, health, and safety expenditures. The discipline focuses on four areas: limiting wastewater, reducing energy usage, replacing hazardous chemicals, and curtailing greenhouse gases.

Two decades ago companies began replacing hazardous petroleum-based solvents with d-limonene solvents derived from the rinds of citrus fruits. They tinkered with blends of surfactant and water conditioners to create potent cleaning solutions with higher cloud points that saved time, money, and water. Many years later, industrial giants continue their efforts.

In January 2008 Clorox released a line of all-purpose cleaners comprising more than 99 percent natural, plant-based ingredients from renewable sources and minerals. Composed of naturally derived surfactants, the products are hypoallergenic, come packaged in recyclable containers, and "clean as well or better than leading conventional cleaners in laboratory and blind in-home consumer tests," according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Further, by switching from petrochemicals to natural-source ingredients, Clorox calculated that it saved approximately 250,000 gallons of petroleum. The fact that the company's manufacturing facilities are emissions-free is icing on the cake.

Taking an unorthodox approach, Ecolab, a worldwide provider of cleaning and sanitizing products, replaced toxic industrial floor cleaners with a system that utilizes microbes to break down the fatty-acid component of floor grease. The company's product not only cleans comparably to industrial-strength floor cleaners, but provides long-term cleaning by removing embedded organics. Ecolab reported that in 2006, its customers saved 273 million gallons of water a year by using the cleaner daily.

Reducing the Need to Clean

Many companies take even bolder steps and think outside of the box. Believing the best way to prevent waste is to avoid creating it, they provide products and services that dramatically reduce the need to clean.

The Nalco Company sells a system that monitors the condition of an industrial water-cooling system and automatically adds chemicals to control microbial growth, mineral deposits, and corrosion. According to the company, in 2006 the system saved approximately 21 billion gallons of water.

The Cortec Corporation sells 11 biobased products that prevent, control, and slow down corrosion of metals.

Eliminating the need to transport drums of chemicals, NCH Corp. designed and manufactures a system that provides on-site fermentation and delivery of microbes capable of cleaning drain and septic systems.

Duraban International Inc. engineers antimicrobial barriers directly into consumer, industrial, and medical products. The EPA reported that "[the barrier] can positively benefit the environment and prevent the spread of superbugs, including MRSA." Each year the list of innovative solutions grows.

Becoming Greener

If wondering whether there are opportunities to save money in your operations, approach green cleaning as a new business venture:

  • Prioritize health, safety, and environmental concerns.
  • Tally all expenditures related to your current cleaning process including safety equipment, insurance, recycling fees, and shipping costs.
  • Quantify time. How long does your current process take? How much time do you waste completing paperwork?

Upon this foundation, search for greener solutions, but exercise great caution.

Beware Greenwashing

Many unscrupulous companies capitalize on the popularity of the environmental cause by masking faults with a thin layer of "greenwash," a term that describes the growing trend to mislead consumers concerning the environmental benefits of products or services.

In December 2007 Terrachoice published "Six Sins of Greenwashing," which reported that 99 percent of 1,018 common consumer products randomly surveyed were guilty of greenwashing. Given the lack of standards governing the use of terms like "biodegradable," "organic," and "solvent-free," the cleaning industry can be heavily affected by greenwashing.

Successfully navigate the gridlock surrounding the wave of "green" cleaners that inundate the market by understanding the various methods companies use to greenwash products. A prevalent tactic is to hide behind a hidden trade-off, in which they boldly promote good qualities while failing to mention embarrassing facts. For example, do you know there is a powerful, 100 percent biodegradable cleaner/degreaser that easily can be purchased for under $3 a gallon from thousands of stores across America? It's true. It's gasoline. Of course, gasoline is highly volatile, carcinogenic, and rapidly becoming more expensive.

In an effort to deceive, companies vaguely describe their products and offer little proof of their claims. Tags like "nontoxic," "chemical- free," and "organic" are meaningless without in-depth explanations.

Everything, including water, is toxic in certain doses. Nothing is chemical-free, and many dangerous substances used in cleaning, such as lye, are all-natural and organic.

When products are packed in boxes labeled 100 percent recyclable, is it clear whether the claim is referring to the product or the packaging?

Search for companies that use outside agencies to verify environmental claims. Truly safe cleaners will have stamps of approval from nonprofit agencies such as EcoLogo (, the European Union Eco-label, Green Seal (, or Germany's Blue Angel. These outside agencies, whose authority is derived from their impartiality, certify only those products that pass their strict standards. Furthermore, government agencies like the National Sanitation Foundation International ( and Environmental Protection Agency ( also provide certifications safeguarding consumers from greenwashed products. Be wary of products that lack certifications.

Truly environment-friendly solutions for cleaning will protect the environment and make money. They will have measurable effects and return the investment over time.

Green cleaning is more than a moral responsibility to make decisions that protect the Earth for future generations. It is a financial opportunity for savvy companies to leap ahead of their competition. Invest the time to discover whether you can save money by switching to greener cleaning techniques. The truth is that economic prosperity and environmental stewardship go hand-in-hand. Don't be left behind.

Simon Wainwright

Contributing Writer
WALTER Surface Technologies
810 Day Hill Road
Windsor, CT 06095
Phone: 800-522-0321