Greenwash still a sector issue

The challenge remains for 2019 and beyond to achieve broader adoption of environmentally preferable cleaning formulations…and to address a continuing prevalence of greenwashing.

When this column appears, 2019 will be well underway and I trust readers had a safe and rewarding holiday break.

From an environmental issues perspective, 2018 in New Zealand was dominated by one topic – plastic waste. Story after story emerged in the media of the colossal level of discarded plastic material present in the oceans and waterways of the world, and its blighting effect on the landscape and sea life.

On land in New Zealand, plastic bags in supermarkets was a hot subject. A number of supermarkets banned the common single-use bags, offering re-usable options, but even those re-usable plastic bags came under fire.

China’s halt to receiving plastic waste from other countries threw a huge metaphorical spanner into the recycling systems of many nations including ours and heightened the long overdue need here to focus on solutions in this country.

Plastic grocery bags aren’t the only consumer plastic item that presents issues, however; the shelves of any supermarket have many hundreds of products that come in a plastic container or wrapping. Many are recyclable – if consumers understand how to recycle them – but many simply end up in landfill, or as rubbish littering our landscapes and waterways.

Looking at the cleaning sector in this regard, it’s always heartening to see our licensees providing the leading example of positive environmental action around products, processes, ingredients, packaging and waste.

They demonstrate that cleaning products can be made from non-toxic ingredients, that waste can be kept to a minimum through the use of reusable containers and robust recycling practices, and that companies can go about their business with respect to the environment.

But the challenge remains for 2019 and beyond to achieve broader adoption of environmentally preferable cleaning formulations and procedures and to address a continuing prevalence of greenwashing occurring where cleaning materials are concerned – particularly the use of meaningless and unsubstantiated references to products or ingredients being “natural”.

Environmental Choice New Zealand asked its cleaning sector licensees what they saw as the challenges in 2019 and greenwashing certainly topped the list for many.

Ecostore research and development manager Huia Iti says retailers and consumers can be unwittingly duped by misleading claims over-inflating credibility.

“We’re also seeing certifications that are irrelevant – or pretend to indicate the products meet some environmental standard.”

Eco Group NZ Ltd director Graeme Cox agrees. “There is a lot of misleading information and misinterpretation in the marketplace around both commercial and consumer cleaning products,” he says.

“But that won’t change till the government does something to stop it.  Current regulations allow toxic or unsafe products to remain available.”

Huia says an emerging trend in the sector is towards more transparency in the disclosure of ingredients – “which is great to help consumers make informed choices and decisions.”

CrestClean spokesperson James Smith says a continuing shortage of skilled labour in the industry in New Zealand is one of the bigger challenges facing the sector now and in the future. He says many in the industry don’t get formal training.

“We require all our personnel to attend a training programme, consisting of theory sessions and practical units, leading to the Certificate in Commercial Cleaning.  We feel this should be a requirement across the sector.”

Another trend in the sector is towards more robotics and mechanisation of cleaning processes to reduce the hands-on labour burden, says James.

“From robotic vacuums to machines that mop floors, innovation is playing an increasing role in the cleaning sector,” he says. “Cordless vacuums will become commonplace too, as battery technology improves, and we’re seeing more use of electric vehicles which are cheaper to operate and maintain, suit the shorter distances cleaners have to travel, and have a positive environmental impact.”

James says the cleaning industry is set to expand matching the economic growth occurring here, and believes customers are more focused on their environmental footprint, with increased expectations for new services and products such as compostable rubbish bags.

For our part, in 2019 Environmental Choice New Zealand and the NZ Ecolabelling Trust will be increasingly vigilant around greenwashing in respect of consumer cleaning products.  We’re determined to challenge any unfair comparative claims that belittle the tremendous work our licensees have done, and continue to do, to make their products safer.

Francesca Lipscombe is general manager of the New Zealand Ecolabelling Trust which administers the Environmental Choice New Zealand ecolabel on behalf of the New Zealand Government.

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