Doing the right (cleaning) thing

Research tells us each year that a growing majority of consumers are favouring products and services from companies that act ethically and responsibly towards the environment.

This quarter’s theme for INCLEAN magazine deals with our bread and butter as an organisation – the whole area of sustainability and green cleaning.

Cleaning is certainly a sector where being “green” is increasingly a “need to” rather than a “nice to”. Research tells us each year that a growing majority of consumers are favouring products and services from companies that act ethically and responsibly towards the environment. And employees are also increasingly seeking workplaces that are ethical and responsible.

In tackling dirty or contaminated areas and surfaces, cleaning businesses need products that work to remove the grime effectively. But these products are now also expected to be environmentally preferable. Finding cleaning products that meet both those requirements can be a challenge.

In this column I’d like to pay tribute to those organisations who have taken that challenge on board and found solutions. Thirteen providers of environmentally preferable cleaning products and two companies who provide environmentally preferable cleaning services have achieved an Environmental Choice New Zealand (ECNZ) licence.

Our customers with licenced products face a stringent verification process for the cleaning products they develop and sell – and that’s not just about the chemicals inside the containers but across their whole life-cycle.

Of course, the chemicals and other raw ingredients are an important factor but being ECNZ licenced also requires environmentally preferable manufacturing processes, careful consideration of waste and energy use and the packaging must also meet demanding standards. Ensuring the product is fit for purpose and provides consumers with instructions on it’s safe use are also factors.

And licensees need to pass a regular annual review, as well as occasionally refine the products to meet additional industry requirements or changes.

Our licensees put in the “hard yards” because they believe it is the right thing to do.  And they must compete with many other products that haven’t met reputable environmental standards, or, worse, make unsubstantiated claims that lull consumers into believing their products aren’t harmful – otherwise known as greenwash.

There is a persistent trend for such manufacturers to badge their products “natural”, when in fact that adjective tells you nothing about the environmental benefits of the product or it’s fitness for purpose. Arsenic is natural, so is formaldehyde – but both are highly toxic.

I also want to commend our licensees for taking their environmental and sustainability commitment beyond the product level. Cleaning involves processes and other activities that also have an impact on the environment and can be more sustainable.

Our licensees sign up to a demanding range of responsible policies and procedures relating to the cleaning equipment they use, the vehicles they drive (and how they drive them), and their waste and energy management in support of their customers.

It’s refreshing to see the extent to which the science emerging in the industry supports the will of these companies to do the right thing. From the development of less harmful cleaning substances to the use of more effective cloths, there are increasingly workable alternatives to the potentially harmful cleaning approaches of the past.

Our licensees are still effectively pioneers, however; there isn’t as yet a mandate by our political masters to do the right thing in terms of leading change towards more environmentally preferable practices and products in the cleaning sector. But that may change, with the government in New Zealand now incorporating an active element of Green Party policy and a number of Green politicians in ministerial roles relating to the environment.

We would still argue for there to be more government action around sustainable procurement, and greater use of our ecolabel to achieve better environmental outcomes for the country. We have recently seen enlightened policy developments relating to cleaning services and products from the likes of Auckland Council, which is truly heartening. We look forward to more local authorities showing central government the way, and we are optimistic of further improvements in that area.

In the meantime, if you want to support organisations that really have gone the extra mile to be more sustainable, then look no further than these brave and responsible brands: Advance Nature, Bio-Zyme, Care4, Crest Clean, Earthwise, Eco Group NZ Ltd, EcoPro Cleaning Co., Ecostore, Green Earth, Green Kleen, Kemsol Green, Pacer, QualChem, Staples Sustainable Earth.

Francesca Lipscombe is the general manager of the New Zealand Ecolabelling Trust which administers the Environmental Choice New Zealand ecolabel on behalf of the New Zealand Government.

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