To some, the concept of green disinfectants is an oxymoron. How can you be green and kill? Without a doubt there is a group of like minded people who I refer to as The Granola Bunch who advocate and believe that all chemicals are bad and should be banned regardless of their need from an infection control perspective. Now don’t get me wrong – I believe that we need to use chemicals judiciously. Antibacterial hand soaps are not needed for the general public or at home – just use plain soap and water. Nor do disinfectants need to be used everywhere or on everything. There are, however, areas that require the use of disinfectants and cucumber juice, essential oils or other seemingly benign chemicals that claim to have killing properties do not provide the level of efficacy (protection) that are needed. You can however, choose products that use safer, more environmentally friendly chemistries. In Canada you can find certified green disinfectants through the EcoLogo program and in the US, through the Design for Environment program. The key is to choose a product that provides a balance between its safety (personal and environmental) and efficacy (it can kill what it needs to).
But in choosing Green Killing agents we need to be able to weed out false and misleading environmental claims. According to the 2010 The Sins of Greenwashing Home and Family edition report from Terrachoice the number of "greener" products available on the market has increased by 73%! Consumers and companies alike are attracted to the concept of "Green", but without clear definitions of what the environmental benefit is we can fall into the quagmire of "Greenwashing". The 7 Sins of Greenwashing as defined by TerraChoice is a wonderful way to work through the true sustainability or "green" attributes of a product.
1. THE SIN OF HIDDEN TRADE-OFF: suggests that a product is green based on an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental attributes. For example, the use of corn-based ethanol has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than petrochemicals and the use of coconut oil contributes to rainforest habitat destruction.
2. THE SIN OF NO PROOF: is a claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification body. For example, stating that products are biodegradable.
3. THE SIN OF VAGUENESS: is committed by every claim that is poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer. "All-Natural" for example. Arsenic, Uranium, Mercury and Formaldehyde are all naturally occurring and most definitely poisonous. "All-Natural" isn't necessarily "Green"!
4. THE SIN OF IRRELEVANCE: is committed by making a claim that while it may be truthful is unimportant or unhelpful to consumers. For example, "CFC-Free". Did you know that CFCs have been legally banned for almost 30 years? In fact there are no products manufactured using CFCs!
5. THE SIN OF THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS: is committed by claims that may be true within the product category, but distract the consumer from the greater environmental impact of the category as a whole. While not specific to chemicals, my two favorites are "organic cigarettes" and "fuel-efficient" SUVs.
6. THE SIN OF FIBBING: while infrequent, is committed by making environmental claims that are simply false. For example, Shampoos claimed to be certified organic but research could not find certification support. My all time favorite example is of a dishwasher detergent claiming it used 100% recycled paper but packaged in a plastic container!?!
7. THE SIN OF WORSHIPPING FALSE LABELS: is committed by a product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third party endorsement where no such endorsement actual exists - in other words, fake labels. Any company who promotes their own corporate "Green" Program or using the word "Green" within a product name are two examples of how consumers fall into the trap of worshipping false labels.
Whether it be our homes, offices, schools or healthcare facilities there is strategic importance of environmental sustainability. We can improve community health. We can improve public images, streamline facility operations and perhaps most importantly improve financial performance which is obviously good for any business! If you are looking to "Green" you killing agents, be sure to weed through the quagmire of greenwashing using the 7 Sins as your benchmark or better yet, decide to use only those products that carry third party certification. Whether you choose EcoLogo, GreenSeal or DfE these programs have been designed to ensure that strict standards are followed in the formulation of cleaning and disinfectant products and require companies to submit proof of the claims they wish to make as part of the certification process. It's the simple choice!