A well developed trend in the cleaning industry as well as others industries is to “Go Green” But what does that even really mean anymore? It’s a phrase like many others in the cleaning world that has sometimes lost real meaning. Organic, Safe, Green, Environmentally Friendly, All Natural, and others all have a meaning, and are all a bit different and can make a huge difference in what a company says it is doing and what it is actually doing / selling you.
Green: The most generic term of the bunch, and probably why it is the most often used. Going green can mean anything from a company that plants native trees by hand while restoring natural salmon habitat, to a bio-hazard chemical processing facility company (sorry no offense to the industry, just the least green sounding thing I could think of) that finally put a recycle bin in the office. In the cleaning industry it most commonly refers to the chemicals being used, or denotes an overall effort throughout the business.
All Natural: This term is not just vague, it has no legal definition for labeling in the US, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_foods#No_definition Companies that use this term usually mean they use common ingredients in their cleaning solutions, such as baking soda, vinegar and essential oils.
Organic: Although quite vague this term does have a legal meaning in the food industry where the items that are claiming to be organic must be free of artificial food additives, and are often processed with fewer artificial methods, materials and conditions. Often cleaners use this term the same way as the term natural.
Safe: Here is the big one. Safe refers usually to the health rating of the chemicals being used. Often termed “kid and pet safe” or “kid and pet friendly” Not only is it a benefit to the home owner, and other humans and pets but when safe chemicals are being used, the cleaning technician who is in repeat contact with the chemicals is much better off as well. To determine how “safe” chemicals are you can always ask to see the material safety data sheets (msds) of anything the cleaning company is using. it’s required by law that they carry this information on them in case of spills or emergencies.
Environmentally Friendly: All of the above terms may or may not have anything to do with protecting the environment. So when being applied to a carpet cleaning company, environmentally friendly can mean several things all related to actually protecting nature, including making sure waste water is dumped in a drain that leads to a treatment facility and not just to the nearest open body of water, or that the equipment is run off of electricity so a van in the parking lot doesn’t have to run a gas engine during the whole cleaning.
Not everything is as it seems: Phosphates are a good example of why it’s hard tell what “green” term might mean. Phosphates are amphipathic. That means that they have both a polar end and a nonpolar end. That allows the nonpolar end to stick to the oily greasy stuff, and the polar end to stick to the water which washes it away. Water won’t clean oil, but use phosphates and the oil seems vanish when you rinse it with water, in short it cleans really really good. depending on how terms are defined it fits in to each category of green. So what’s the big problem? It’s too green, by that I mean it really is not environmentally friendly, sure it helps plants grow, but when used it ends up in large water sources causing rapid plant growth in the form of algae, too much algae sucks the oxygen out of the water killing off the fish.
What’s important to you: Knowing more about what green means, will help you find a cleaning company that meets your expectations. Don’t stop at asking if they are green! ask a few follow up questions dealing with what’s important to you and your family to make sure that the products and services that you buy, are what you think they are.