Chemical cleaning

Nabil Bou Ali, marketing coordinator, 3M, explains what to look out for when purchasing environmentally friendly cleaning products.

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management

Nabil Bou Ali, marketing coordinator, 3M, explains what to look out for when purchasing environmentally friendly cleaning products.

The global industrial and institutional cleaning products market is forecast to reach US $23bn (AED 84.4bn) by the end of 2010, according to Christ Fountain, event director of Working Buildings Middle East exhibition.

Even though the figures come from a report evidencing a slow growth rate in this particular sector, the Asia Pacific and Middle East cleaning industry represents the fastest growing region, with an annual increase of 4%.

Environmentally friendly products are favorable, opening up the industry to a more sustainable way of cleaning. But how can companies ensure they are environmentally safe?

The Asia and Middle East cleaning industry will witness a 4% annual increase.

More and more companies are recognising that environmentally responsible design and production are an integral part of their mission and the value they want to deliver to their customers.

For example, Green Seal is an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to the environment and promoting environmentally friendly products. As more and more businesses have begun to recognise that environmental priorities can be translated into market advantage, they've turned to Green Seal certification to give them a business edge.

By identifying, certifying and promoting environmentally responsible products and services, companies are improving the environment through various means: reducing toxic pollution and waste; conserving resources and habitats; minimising global warming and ozone depletion; increasing health and wellbeing, particularly in populations most affected by product choice, such as schoolchildren, service staff, and the elderly and demonstrating to various business segments that environmentally responsible products can improve quality and boost profitability.

What is achieved?

By doing this, companies will deliver sound, actionable advice to manufacturers, purchasers and individuals who want to make a positive impact on the environment, quality of life and help government agencies and other institutions meet their goals and fulfill green procurement policies.

Companies will also give more focus to marketing their environmentally green products.

Are your chemicals safe?

Companies should determine if the chemicals they intend to use are on a regulated list for the countries, where it will be marketed by searching the Chemical Data Management System (CDMS) database.

The EHS contact in the countries where the product will be marketed may also need to be involved in a review of their respective national regulations that apply to the chemical components.

The search results can indicate substances that are on restricted lists (such as a Toxic Substances Control - TSCA or SNUR) and are hazardous in a way that may limit their commercial acceptance or the need to disclose their presence in product formulations.

For each regulated list that includes the chemical of interest, determine what action (if any) must be taken.

Also determine if there are any marketing or use restrictions specific to the countries where you intend to sell a product. Establish what actions need to be taken in order to comply with any country-specific regulations.

Commercial cleaning products often contain irritants that can trigger an asthma episode. The green cleaning products recommended here are effective, inexpensive and safe for you and the environment.

These products claim to offer safer alternatives for humans and the planet, but at a higher price. So what's an environmentally conscious germophobe to do?

When it comes to humans, the use of any one cleaning product - green or conventional - in small amounts and with proper ventilation won't make you suffer.

Many companies use more than one cleaning product for bathroom use only, this increases the effect of damaging the environment.

Dirty cleaning ingredients

Certain chemicals commonly found in conventional cleaning products present known or suspected problems for the people that use them and the environment, once washed down the drain.

According to the National Environmental Trust and other environmental groups, volatile organic compounds used to enhance the performance of a product can impair neurological functions, while other chemicals can act as respiratory irritants, carcinogens or reproductive toxins, depending upon the extent of exposure.

Companies select ingredients for cleaning products to enhance their performance, but buyers often know nothing about the chemicals.

For example, phthalates, which are suspected to have adverse hormonal effects, help distribute dyes and fragrances and act as plasticisers. Other chemicals are used to keep a product stable on the shelf, while others, such as glycols, act like anti-freeze.

Still other chemicals could simply be impurities left over from the manufacturing process.

As a general rule, people who are avoiding these very toxic chemicals are going to be healthier.

Given the lack of firm data and reliable studies on many chemicals, however, the choice between conventional and green cleaning products may for many people be based on politics and sentiments more than health.

Bad chemicals make cleaning easier, but they don't make cleaning any better.

Nabil�s top tips…

Review the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Guidelines, where applicable, as a basis for approval of environmental standards;

In addition, guidelines for environmental claims under the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) are likely to reflect the FTC guidelines and will become the foundation for approval on a world-wide basis;

Vague statements such as "product XYZ protects you and your environment" does not necessary mean that the product is environmentally friendly. It should carry a specific sign and is within the standards that the product is safe for use and would not damage the environment. For example, statements and symbols that are specific to the environmental improvement or attribute of the product and meet the requirements of accuracy, substantiation and clarity are acceptable.

Typical examples of acceptable environmental symbols include the "chasing arrows" symbol which is to be used for recycled paper and paper products and must be accompanied by an approved statement or claim (please note that these claims and all others still have to be submitted to the EMC Review Committee for approval).

In each company, a business unit product manager is responsible to ensure the products are safe. In addition, the marketing communications manager is responsible for obtaining the appropriate approvals to help market the product.

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