Editor’s note: In the January 2013 issue of eClean, I interviewed John Lee of John Lee Window Cleaning on why he uses the Unger SpeedClean Indoor Window Cleaning Kit (see page 18 of the January 2013 issue). In the article, he mentioned he had come up with the “perfect mixture” of water and a green product called Ecover. So when I saw this article on Ecover, I felt it was newsworthy — not to mention it talks quite a bit about the “Green” cleaning product market in general.
“Green” cleaning products are an increasingly growing market, with global spending on these products expected to increase from $2.7 billion in 2012 to $9.3 billion by 2017. (Keep in mind the household cleaning market is $150 billion.) As the market grows, so does the competition. Belgium’s Ecover is working to be able to compete on price and “prove its greener than the rest.”
Last year, Ecover acquired San Fancisco-based company Method, making it he world’s largest ecological cleaning firm. This year, Ecover plans to tackle the U.S., while pushing the Method line in Europe. After that, Asia appears to be next in line, although thus far neither product line has taken off, largely due to price. In China, for insance, a half-liter bottle of green detergent can cost $15, whereas the same product may run $1.50 in Europe.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, the green cleaning market has struggled, although several new players came on to the scene that same year. Several lines have also gone under. Research indicates that while consumers want to buy “green” products, budgets often beat out the environment, and people purchased based more on price. Ecover’s sales also suffered, but it still remained at the top of the green product line.
But what is a “green” product? That’s been another problem because most customers don’t know, and competing claims only confuse the issue. There’s really no global standard to define what makes green “green.”
The first green cleaners did not contain phosphates, which are now banned in many countries because they help promote algae growth, which kills fish. Many also avoid the use of bleach or ammonia because of their negative impact on wildlife. Another “green” claim is that they reduce consumer health risks.
Ecover, on the other hand, also promotes that the company itself runs a “green” business. The roofs on its Belgium and Northern France allow them to avoid using air conditioning or heating. Next year’s product bottles will contain plastic recovered from the ocean. They also promote that they are cutting their carbon footprint, using recycled packaging and producing cold-wash formulas. Ecover also is developing surfactants from plants rather than petroleums. However, some groups — such as the Vegan Society — have problems with Ecover as well for using water fleas for testing.
The European Union offers certification that ensures a product has been tested independently to prove it works and contains few hazardous chemicals and is “largely biodegradable,” but that standard/certification has not been well promoted, so consumers really don’t know what it means. Ecover is among critics that say the EU’s eco label, which says cleaners must be “largely bio-degradable”, is not strict enough.
Some critics say the best environmental solution is simply to clean less, and use natural cleaners such as lemon, water, vinegar and salt.
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