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The Green Hangover

September 19, 2010
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The annual ISSA/INTERCLEAN® North America trade show is not really known for lots of surprises.

Instead, the show, like ISSA itself and our industry, can be compared to a big ocean liner in the middle of the Atlantic — it keeps steadily moving forward, changing directions slowly, carefully and only after much thought and consideration.

However, one thing we can expect is that the trade show will continue to be greener.

In fact, with all the new products and equipment being introduced by several manufacturers, this year''s show may prove to be the greenest trade show ever.

So much so, some exhibitors and attendees may even be preparing themselves for a "green hangover" after spending four days seeing, talking, living and breathing green cleaning.

With this a possibility, it''s only fair to ask, are we hearing too much about environmental issues and, more specifically to our industry, green cleaning?

Are the environment, sustainability and green in general becoming passé or have we reached a turning point with the green evolution entering an entirely new phase, one that is much bigger and broader than ever imagined just a year or two ago?

My vote is for the latter and I will explain why in a moment.

However, let''s review the current state of green affairs and see if we are already suffering from a green hangover and if so, whether the upcoming ISSA/INTERCLEAN trade show will make things worse or provide a remedy.

The Green Gauge

One way to determine if we are hearing too much about green issues is to take a look at how the consumer national media, involving scores of publications in print and online, are treating the subject.

It was not that long ago when major publications just had an annual issue dedicated to environmental topics.

Sometimes green cleaning would be discussed in these issues, sometimes not.

Studies indicate that around 2006, we saw a peaking of green-related content in U.S. publications.

By then, it was everywhere and pervasive in mainstream media.

Scores of publications were introduced and developed just to focus on environmental and green issues.

By 2008, things changed. According to TNS Media Intelligence, a research firm that helps advertisers develop advertising strategies, national media coverage of climate issues, green consumerism and sustainability actually fell by 27 percent in 2008.

One key reason for this was the recession, which took the headlines and focus away from green issues.

But, it also appears the initial interest and excitement about "going green" and all that it entails was also beginning to fade.

Some other points to ponder:

  • This was also evident with publications that dedicate annual issues or focus primarily on green topics; the last "green issue" of Discover magazine sold 20,000 fewer copies compared to previous years

  • Backpackers'' global warming issue sold 5,000 fewer copies

  • Conde Nast''s Vanity Fair said it no longer would print a dedicated green issue, but spread environmental coverage when and where appropriate throughout the year.

We should also note that many print publications are publishing fewer magazines and pages today compared to a few years ago.

This has impacted the number of green stories and issues as well.

Enough Already?

Although the professional cleaning industry''s trade publications still provide regular — and I must say very often excellent — coverage of green cleaning and related environmental and sustainable issues, this does not appear to be true on the national consumer level.

Does this mean that the public is tired of hearing about environmental issues?

Has the worldwide economic decline put the environment in a green coffin?

I say no — and quite adamantly.

Zac Goldsmith, former editor of The Ecologist, an internationally respected magazine published in England and devoted to environmental issues for more than 39 years, believes, "The recession makes environmental issues more, not less, relevant. We can emerge from this recession with a greener [and stronger] economy where green choices currently available only to the wealthy [nations] become available to everyone."

Essentially, what Goldsmith is saying is that green products and procedures will help pull our economy up and that one reason for this is that the focus on environmentalism has gone far beyond just wealthy Western nations, but has spread to remote and often poor areas of the world as well.

For our industry, this might be viewed as the globalization of green cleaning.

For the professional cleaning industry, the further growth, development, manufacture and use of environmentally preferable cleaning products is opening doors of opportunity.

It is happening here in North America as more and more facilities transfer to green cleaning and it is spreading worldwide.

For those preparing themselves for a green hangover after this year''s trade show, I suggest taking a different, much broader perspective.

Greater concerns about the environment, sustainability and, in our industry, green cleaning are going to be our keys out of this recession.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in greening the cleaning process and founder of the Green Cleaning Network, now operated with ISSA. In the book Environmentalism Unbound, Dr. Robert Gottlieb describes Ashkin as the "leading advocate for a stronger environmental profile among cleaning product manufacturers and suppliers" and the "most visible industry figure advancing the cause of environmentally preferable products." The Ashkin Group provides green consulting services for school districts as well as building owners, product manufacturers and cleaning contractors. For more information on The Ashkin Group visit, call (812) 332-7950 or e-mail:

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