What is sustainable cleaning?
Sustainable cleaning products are hygiene products that, throughout their life cycle – from their raw materials, use to the disposal of their packaging – leave little or no lasting impact on the environment.
Many assume that preserving natural environments is all it means, but the human side of producing and consuming cleaning products means that there has to be some form of equity with these products. They need to be able to afford these sustainable cleaning products, know that they are not giving up the sanctity of the natural world, and also trust that the production of these products is protected from social issues such as employment or personal rights.
In short, there’s a lot more to sustainable cleaning products and what the term really means.
Recognizing sustainable products
Sustainability is a buzzword today, and it is applied in many different ways. We often associate sustainability with the key challenge of fighting climate change. Industries, inside and outside of consumer goods, try to balance the need to increase sales and improve brand image with positive material changes in the way their products are manufactured, consumed and disposed of. .
Due to the nebulous nature of sustainability as a term used by brands, you really just need to know what to look for.
Some brands use terms like “natural” or “organic” in their marketing campaigns, which are often unregulated. These terms can make it difficult to determine exactly what standards the product meets. Being green, for example, does not mean that a product does not have serious effects on the environment, while sustainability refers more directly to how a product is produced and how its life cycle leaves little or no impact on the environment.
When looking for sustainable cleaning products, you can check if the ingredients contain certain types of substances.
The absence of SVHCs (Substances of Very High Concern), such as sodium chromate or cobalt sulphate, will indicate that a product is at least safer for the user. Here is the full list of SVHCs.
Verified standards, such as the EU Ecolabel, ensure that a product meets certain “superior environmental quality” standards, providing an easy way to recognize them, although there is no obligation for a product to adhere to such a certification.
Practice makes the product
Sustainable cleaning products must be accompanied by sustainable cleaning practices to minimize environmental impact. Most of the cleaning products you use contain water or require its addition, but minimizing water consumption should be the benchmark of sustainability.
Good examples of how to do this are following the guidelines for the products themselves and using thorough cleaning techniques the first time around to reduce reprocessing.
Using quality materials, such as microfiber cloths, instead of paper or disposable paper towels is a very simple and comfortable change of practice that preserves the sustainability of the cleaning process.
More importantly, good quality cleaning utensils and cloths make the cleaning process more effective and efficient. If you can get your hands on recycled and reusable microfiber cloths, so much the better.
It’s important to be aware of “greenwashing” (brands that aren’t actually acting sustainably, but claim to be) and make decisions in your company’s cleaning regimens that allow you to align with sustainability best practices.
Difference between sustainable, ecological and green cleaning
We have already mentioned that sustainable cleaning is a buzzword in the sector. It is accompanied by similar phrases, such as green cleaning and green cleaning, which are not specifically included in standards or recognized by regulatory bodies. Actually, they are marketing terms.
What are the certifications of sustainable cleaning products?
There are countless sustainable cleaning product certifications to choose from, but the best sustainable cleaning brands will boast these types of seals on their products as signs of meeting the highest standards and consistent demonstrations of sustainable cleaning products.
The Ecoloabel certification is also known as the EU flower certification and provides a European standard for sustainable products. To receive Ecolabel certification, products must meet strict criteria and pass compliance tests, in a process verified by an independent, publicly accountable body.
Nordic Swan is very similar to Ecolabel certification but it is an official eco-labelling scheme common to the entire Nordic region.
Ecocert certification is a globally recognized label for organic products, from textiles to organic and natural agriculture, food and cosmetics.
Cradle to Cradle certification is a globally recognized benchmark for safer, more sustainable products made for a circular economy. To obtain certification, products are evaluated based on their environmental, social and safety performance.
Look beyond the label
Thus, organic certifications can be a useful way of communicating a product’s environmental credentials in a simple and credible way.
Unfortunately, there is no globally accepted set of criteria. There are also no eco-labelling systems for certain types of cleaning products, such as disinfectants. Therefore, the adoption of an exclusive “eco-labelling” policy may exclude products vital to hygiene.
And what is equally important, perfectly acceptable and compliant products could be excluded simply because they do not have a specific eco-label; for example, new technologies that achieve cleanliness by novel means might not be certifiable by existing systems.
While acknowledging the role ecolabels play in simplifying a sometimes complicated message, ecolabels will never be the only goal when developing or selecting sustainable products.
A commitment to sustainability goes beyond just certification to help clients with their broader sustainability goals. Greener and safer chemistry is crucial, but so are product efficiency, packaging, logistics and waste disposal.
Greenwashing is making an unsubstantiated (a lie) or irrelevant (a distraction) environmental claim. It is an exaggeration of environmental credentials or the use of terminology such as “environmentally friendly” or “sustainable”, which are vague and unverifiable. True organic products are often certified, have clear labeling, and provide evidence to support the claims being made.
The best sustainable and respectful cleaning products
Some brands are very dedicated to their sustainability standards and choose to make positive choices in all aspects of how they make and sell products. It is not surprising that many of them are very successful against their competitors, since consumers are increasingly concerned about the environment and look to these providers.
As we’ve explored, the goal isn’t simply to take the word for marketing, or to assume that the biggest companies will make the right decisions. To find sustainable cleaning products that will preserve the planet for future generations, look for labels you can trust and are respected throughout the industry, such as EU Ecolabel, Nordic Swan, or Cradle-to-Cradle.
The same goes for the phrases you see on the packaging. Make sure the claims and words used are supported by factual data, additional evidence, or independent certification.
By knowing what to look for and what to question, you’ll begin to recognize these companies and be able to contribute positively to the environment in meaningful ways through your cleaning practices.