Eco-friendly cleaning? How to do it without the “greenwashing”

This is the third post in a 3-part series on green cleaning

Photo credit: Jeff Samsonow via VisualHunt.com /  CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Jeff Samsonow via VisualHunt.com /  CC BY-SA

A quick survey of store shelves these days will tell you that there are more options for purchasing “green” cleaning products than ever before. In North America, Europe, and Australia, the options for buying eco-friendly products reflect regional and class disparities: the coastal areas of the US tend to reflect current trends in eco-conscious lifestyles with greater ubiquity than the southeastern belt and Midwestern heartland, while generally, wealthier neighborhood stores offer more options for “eco-conscious” shopping than stores in poorer neighborhoods. With few exceptions, the cheaper the product, the more likely it is that the company that manufactured it will have engaged in “greenwashing.”

Greenwashing occurs, for example, when a company promotes its eco-friendly products or spends liberally on advertising meant to advertise its environmental bonafides, but fails to acknowledge that its manufacturing practices cause extensive pollution or that their supply chain is inefficient in its use of energy. One of the most egregious forms of “greenwashing” occurs when companies promote as “natural” a product that contains ingredients known to cause grievous harm to human and/or environmental health.

The term “greenwashing” was coined in 1986 by environmental activist Jay Westerveld, who wrote it after reading a card in his hotel room about reusing towels and surmised that the apparently “environmental” message actually had more to do with saving the hotel money than with its commitment to environmental stewardship. Similarly, the ability to sell a line of “organic” or “eco-friendly” products for a higher price than their conventional counterparts is sometimes a motivating factor for a corporation to jump on the “eco-chic” bandwagon, especially when that company engages in environmentally destructive business practices with other brands under its umbrella.

So what options do you, as a consumer, have if you want to make the switch to eco-friendly cleaning products but aren’t sure you can trust the company’s claims to being green?

You can go the DIY route. As last week’s first post in this series on green cleaning noted, there are many non-toxic products you probably already have in your home that can be used for routine and seasonal, light-duty and heavy-duty cleaning. These include products like baking soda, Borax, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide.

Don’t have the time or inclination to engage in DIY cleaning? If that describes your situation, then there are a number of companies that make cleaning products with a proven track record in efficiency and eco-friendliness. Here are 8 of them:

1.      Seventh Generation: this 29 year old company, based in Vermont, proudly boasts its B-corp status (a certification of corporate responsibility for workers, the community, and the environment). Its plant-based household cleaning solutions are among a line of products that also include products for baby and feminine care and are sold in the UK and Canada. It was recently purchased by the Dutch-British company Unilever, which has a declared goal of cutting its environmental impact by half over the course of the next decade.

2.      Earth Friendly, which distributes a line of products called Ecos in the United States and to over 60 additional countries, is a 1967 family-owned and operated company headquartered in Cypress, CA. This year (2017), Earth Friendly earned California’s highest environmental honor, the Governor’s Environmental & Economic Leadership Award (GEELA). My favorite cleaning product from this company is Parsley Plus All-Purpose Cleaner, which I have been using for over a decade.

3.      Dr. Bronner’s. Best known for its line of plant-based liquid and bar soaps, this company has a 69-year old history. Founded in 1948 by 3rd-generation German-Jewish soapmaker Emmanuel Bronner, the company is well known for its visually distinguished labels, which are covered in fine-print messages of religious and ethnic unity. More recently, Dr. Bronner’s was instrumental in fights for the legalization of hemp (marijuana), and GMO labeling, and has committed to becoming a zero waste company.

Photo credit: yourbestdigs via Visualhunt /  CC BY

Photo credit: yourbestdigs via Visualhunt /  CC BY

4.      In 1992 the Belgian-based company Ecover, became part of the Skagen Conscience Capital, a global company, after running into financial difficulties. Founded in 1980, Ecover now has 35 products manufactured in over 40 countries. Aside from its green factories in Belgium and France, it recently added a factory in the United States (Chicago) that is expected to be the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum-certified plant in the industry. Its product line consists of laundry, home care and dishwashing cleaners.

5.      Method products, which were the brainchild of childhood friends Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan, were acquired in 2012 by Ecover. In 2001, one year after Method was founded, and with newly re-designed packaging, the company’s “brainparents,” Adam and Ryan convinced Target stores to test its products in 90 stores. Nowadays, it can boast the most prominently featured eco-friendly cleaning products in Target stores in the US, and has launched in Australia, France, and Japan.

6.      One of the newest brands on this list, The Honest Company was co-founded in 2011 by American actress Jessica Alba, Brian Lee, Sea Kane, Christopher Gavigan, and Maria Ivette. The company is well-known for its baby products, but also offers a line of non-toxic household cleaners. Although the company was embroiled in some controversy over some of its products that were found to contain toxic chemicals (which the company claims was unintentional), it has since sought to rectify the situation and regain consumers’ confidence by removing the chemicals. The Honest Company offers a cost-saving subscription service with home delivery in the United States.

7.      Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Household Cleaners were inspired by Mrs. Thelma A. Meyer, an Iowa homemaker and mother of nine, who got to work developing non-toxic products after one of her daughters remarked on the stinky chemicals leaching from the cleaning products in a supermarket aisle. Plant-based ingredients, essential oils, and garden-fresh scents without the harmful chemicals are the hallmarks of Mrs. Meyer’s products, and they are known for being powerful cleaners.

8.      J.R. Watkins has been around since 1868, when it began as a company offering pain-relieving liniment made with camphor from evergreen trees and capsicum derived from red peppers. In the early 1900s it expanded to include vegetable-oil based soap with no animal products and much later, in 2007, introduced a line of natural home care products with biodegradable, phosphate-free plant-based ingredients. The company offers a home-based business Consultant opportunity to its entrepreneurial customers for $29.95, enabling them to earn free and discounted Watkins products, and commissions on sales.

All of these companies offer a variety of options for toxin-free home cleaning. However, in some cases, you’ll find more than one version of a company’s product, so you’ll have to pay attention to the ingredients. Many authentically “green” companies have products that were later found to contain some harmful chemical. The best companies, when confronted with these facts (sometimes acquired through independent testing of their products or consumer complaints), take the necessary steps to correct the problem and don’t try to explain it away.

Do you have green products that you enjoy using and find to be effective for cleaning in your home? Let me know what you use by dropping me a note at kellyp@greenandprosperous.com.