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Examining The Green Eco Chemical Debate
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Examining The Green Eco Chemical Debate
Date: 12-01-2017

cleaning chemicals middle east

Happy New Year everybody! In this series of Talking Point articles Arpal Gulf examines some of the arguments and identifies some of the misconception surrounding “green” cleaning chemicals, and hopefully sets the record straight on some important matters. 

When choosing a reputable cleaning chemical supplier, businesses need to have the comfort of knowing that there is a wide breadth of choice within the portfolio available, the cleaning products are fit for purpose, are manufactured responsibly and comply with the law. But to suggest there is a green, greener, greenest scale available is misleading and in many cases factually incorrect.

The domestic and professional cleaning chemicals market has been obsessed with two colours for decades – white and green. Being “whiter than white” evokes sound intentions, good ethical standards, legal compliance and corporate social responsibility; or reflecting a desire to achieve whiter than white laundry fabrics. The other colour of course is green.

No days goes by without a business customer asking us to what extent our chemicals are “green”? Although we wish there was a standard answer to this vague question – there is not. We recognise that our customer base requires concise answers but it is a complex issue and reducing all environmental considerations down to one basic question “are your products green?” is simplistic. Manufacturers can and will provide answers to better informed (more specific) questions.

So where does this originate from? Today, it is not difficult for us to associate the intrinsic properties of a so called “green” cleaning chemical with its relationship to Mother Nature herself – what a sacred cow! Let’s face it, who on earth would even dare intentionally harm her? The ‘Bad Guys’ surely, those dastardly chemical companies, who unscrupulously devise formulations, with scant regard for the environment; this is of course nonsense.

Yes, cleaning chemical manufacturers, like any other commercial entity are in existence to make profit, but we are one of the most regulated industries on the planet and we produce products that make lives healthier and the world a better place to live in. It would be naive to suggest that the reputable chemical manufacturer would not have a very close eye on minimising environmental impacts and controlling emissions to try to protect the world in which we all live. But this poses an interesting paradox.

Our desire to make modern life easier, healthier and more comfortable has been accelerating at an exponential rate for decades, trying to feed our insatiable desire for pristine and hygienically safe surfaces as well as clean and fragrant clothes. But the pursuit of this standard has meant that modern lifestyles need the resources of several planets to maintain them using today’s methods and technologies.

It is the consumer (yes, us) who has been the driving force of urbanisation, industrialisation and associated pollution over centuries which has hurt Mother Nature so much; in effect, biting the hand that feeds us. But paradoxically, the consumer behaviour that has caused the problem has altered the way chemical companies are legally allowed to formulate, manufacture, package and distribute chemicals in as safe and environmentally responsible manner as possible.

Moreover, as we have become more aware of negative environmental impacts, we have also increased the number of misconceptions regarding environmental responsibility. For example, how important is the solution in the bottle, compared to the packaging, distribution and cleaning process involved in its life-cycle? The chemical content represents a tiny part of the total sustainability equation and consumers should be aware of this red herring. It is important, but context is important too. Is it not easier to ask whether a chemical is “green” or Ecolabel rather than address the far more pressing issues of application, energy and packaging? The supposed environmental benefits of “The Green Chemical” are debatable at best.

Bound up in the argument is also the rise of the “Man versus Nature” debate, where man-made things tend to be associated with factories and industry and thus, for some, symbolising the “evils” of pollution and capitalism. Using terminology such as “uses natural ingredients” tries to abate such concerns, with some see man-made things as ‘interfered with’, and as such believes they bring a level of risk which is somehow greater or less acceptable than the risk posed by natural things. But categorising (good) ‘natural’ substances as an alternative to using (bad) ‘chemicals’ is a falsehood and consumers need to understand that all substances on earth are just arrangements of atoms of the same 90-odd chemical elements of which the planet is made up. 

In our forthcoming blog series on the CME website, we will examine The Great Green Debate in more detail, looking at how robust the Ecolabel Evangelist argument actually is; the false hoods being marketed about green chemicals and advising B2B consumers not to be hoodwinked into making the wrong commercial decisions based on unscientific facts.  

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