Defining Common Green And Sustainability Terms
Trends have a way of resurfacing — just look at mom jeans and fanny packs. Roughly every 20 years, what's old is new once again. But although many might wish these fashions of old stayed dead and buried, there are some trends that receive a welcomed resurrection.
In the cleaning industry, one trend that continues to come back over and over is the push for greener products and more sustainable processes. In fact, minimizing cleaning's impact on the environment and the people inside facilities is a growing focus for many in the professional cleaning industry.
Historically, this focus centered on the use of green products. But today, the push is larger, demanding more sustainable manufacturing processes that start with product development and run through disposal or reuse.
As green cleaning and sustainable initiatives continue to evolve and gain momentum, it can be difficult to navigate the lexicon of changing terms. Here are some definitions that can help:
ALTERNATIVE FIBER — Non-wood fiber from crops — such as cotton or hemp — and agricultural residues — like wheat straw — used to make paper products. (See also: Rapidly renewable fiber)
BIO-BASED PRODUCTS — Defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as "a product that is composed, in whole or in significant part, of biological products or renewable domestic agricultural materials (including plant, animal and marine materials) or forestry materials.” Some common ingredients in bio-based cleaning products include citrus, coconut, corn, lavender and parsley.
It is important to note that not all bio-based products are green and not all green products are bio-based. For instance, while the ingredient in a product may be naturally derived, one also has to consider the toxicity, packaging and the manufacturing process.
CLEANING FOR HEALTH — The cleaning for health concept claims that cleaning has value beyond the aesthetic, and can positively impact human health and the environment by reducing exposure to chemicals, improving indoor air quality, and reducing germs that prevent disease, allergic reaction and infection for building occupants and cleaning crews. What speaks to management: the cleaning for health concept has shown to increase worker productivity and reduce absenteeism.
CRADLE TO CRADLE or CLOSED LOOP — These terms are often used interchangeably. They describe the process of collecting post-consumer waste and recycling/re-circulating it to make new products.
CRADLE TO GRAVE — Used in reference to a product’s environmental impact from the beginning of its life cycle to its end or disposal. (See also: Product life cycle)
ECO-LABELING — An eco-label is a logo of which is affixed to a product that suggests green or sustainability. Common labels include those from EcoLogo, Green Seal, Carpet and Rug Institute or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to name a few. Manufacturers might also put their own eco-labels on products, which is called self-certification.
Purchasers are advised to research eco-labels to confirm the accuracy of green claims. This is often easily done as many certifying bodies provide online lists of products carrying their labels, as well as those fraudulently making claims.
ENVIRONMENTALLY PREFERABLE PURCHASING — Purchasing products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose.
GREEN PRODUCTS — These are products that reduce the health and environmental impacts as compared to other products used for the same purpose.
GREENWASHING — TerraChoice and EcoLogo originally coined the formal definition for greenwashing as "the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”
As the green initiative took off, independent third-party certifications became necessary to differentiate a green product from one with no environmental benefit. In addition to certifications, Green Guides were introduced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to control and clarify the terms manufacturers used to market their products as green.
POST-CONSUMER MATERIAL — Material that has reached the end of its effective life cycle as a consumer product and is recovered from the waste stream to be recycled into new products.
POST-INDUSTRIAL MATERIAL — Material reclaimed from the manufacturing process.
PRODUCT LIFE CYCLE — The product life cycle traces the environmental impacts of a product from its conception and design through to its ultimate disposal. This includes raw materials, manufacturing processes, transportation and recycling or disposal of the product.
RADICAL TRANSPARENCY — This term was gaining momentum about 10 years ago, but isn't heard too often anymore. It is defined as "a management method where nearly all decision making is carried out publicly." Manufacturers who practice radical transparency disclose complete and honest product development processes and product ingredients.
RAPIDLY RENEWABLE FIBER — This term is often used when discussing paper products. It refers to plant-based materials that regenerate in less than 10 years. This includes alternative fibers, as well as trees that have been genetically modified to grow more quickly. (See also: Alternative fiber)
RAW MATERIALS — These are materials in their natural state used as input to manufacture finished products.
RECYCLED — This is used when referring to products that are made from recycled material. There are two types of recycled material: post-consumer and post-industrial.
RESTORATIVE PRODUCT — This is a product that will not only reduce impact, but it will actually help to restore the environment.
SUSTAINABILITY — The concept of sustainability is often confused with or used in conjunction with "green." The main difference, though, is that green is defined by products and/or services. Sustainability is defined as a process that "meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainability minimizes cleanings impact on people and the environment, but more importantly, it is a process, not a product.
For instance, a green certified paper towel (a product) often consists of recycled fibers from previously cut-down trees. A manufacturer practices sustainability (a process) by planting a new tree for each that is used in the development of that paper towel, replenishing forests for future generations. They night also practice sustainability in the manufacturing of that towel, using less energy and less water, for example.