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Top tips to steer clear of greenwashing

September 19, 2010
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According to Wikipedia, “Greenwash is a term used to describe the perception of consumers that they are being misled by a company regarding the environmental practices of the company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”

Although the recent green movement is positive on many fronts, there are misleading green claims in the market that are confusing building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house service providers (ISPs) who simply want to do the right thing.

In retail, especially, false green claims are extremely prevalent.

Last year, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, which manages the EcoLogo program, conducted a study on greenwashing in American big-box stores.

Of the 1,000-plus green products surveyed, 99.9 percent made false, misleading, or unsubstantiated claims.
“This confuses (consumers) and makes them concerned about switching to Green,” says Mike Sawchuk from Enviro-Solutions. “Greenwashing makes end users unsure what green is and affects the overall growth of the green market.”

Come out clean
Through this newsletter and other efforts, certification organizations and Cleaning & Maintenance Management are spreading the word and educating BSCs and ISPs on how to avoid greenwashing.

Below are some tips to consider when purchasing green cleaning products.

* Consider the source - JanSan distributors and big-box stores compete in aggressive selling environments. Often, short-sighted supply houses might just be looking for the sale du jour, not the long-term relationship. Today, there are certification opportunities for distributors, such as ISSA’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard.

* Select certification - Don’t wait for green expertise to come to you. Green Seal and others offer cleaning service certification. Get certified, be informed, and be your own green expert.

* Peer network – While the art of peer networking seems almost old-fashioned today, trade shows, online bulletin boards, and hitting the road can pave your way to green success. As green matures, you can learn a lot from other people’s successes and mistakes.

* Know the laws and limits - In certain states and facilities, such as New York and Illinois schools, some of the guesswork and concern surrounding green purchasing and spending is minimized by new laws.

* Field test - Green or not, whenever purchasing new products, it is important to perform field tests. Use these products in your most problematic areas to measure efficiency. Today’s green products should work as well — if not better than — traditional products.

Employee feedback - Staff communication — from beginning to implementation — is critical to the success of green cleaning. The front-line cleaner is your most important source of green information. Ask how the product has affected their health, as well as about the product’s performance.

Employ an expert - Although green cleaning might appear to be new to the market, this industry has been flirting with green technologies for over 50 years. Forward-thinking consultants, such as Steve Ashkin of The Ashkin Group, are available for help.

For more information on greenwashing or TerraChoice’s study, mentioned earlier, visit

You can also find the “Six Sins of Greenwashing” there, which include:
  1. Hidden trade-offs
  2. Lack of proof
  3. Vague language
  4. Irrelevant claims
  5. Inaccurate claims
  6. Lesser of two evils.

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