Why we should think green when we clean Emma Lloyd I Communications Officer at Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA)
hat do you use to keep your rooms sparkling clean? Priorities will undoubtedly vary from one hotel to another. Perhaps affordability is the biggest concern to keep running costs down, or maybe it all comes down to how easy a product is to use. It’s a delicate balancing act between cost, versatility, thoroughness, and a host of other factors, but chances are once the perfect product is found, there’s no need to give too much more thought to it. However, it’s worth reconsidering what’s in your hotel or motels’ cleaning products, especially if you’re not sure what they contain. Most of us don’t know a great deal about the chemicals present in cleaning products – we simply trust that they will do the job and leave surfaces fresher, cleaner and healthier, with a hotel environment free from germs and dirt. In fact, many standard cleaning products contain ingredients that harmful not only to the environment, but to human health as well. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are one example of a health hazard, and they’re common across a wide range of cleaning products and paints. VOCs contribute to poor indoor air quality, lingering in the air all day after the solvents used in cleaning solutions evaporate. They can trigger allergic reactions, headaches, eye irritation, and asthma problems, affecting cleaning staff and guests alike. There’s also a vast amount of chemicals which bear Risk Phrases to declare that a substance may be a carcinogen or harmful to a developing foetus, for example. It’s rare for these hazards to be obvious to those who actually use the product, even if they read the ingredients list. Another important factor to consider is whether a cleaning product contains palm oil or palm kernel oil. If it foams and suds, there’s a good chance it does. Palm oil and palm kernel oil are found throughout a range
of supermarket products, and some may be aware of how commonly palm oil is used in chocolate and biscuits. It’s also a popular ingredient in cleaning products thanks to many desirable properties, including having a stable shelf life and adding a rich creaminess to cleaning solutions. Unfortunately, despite palm oil being a cheap and economical choice for manufacturers, the production of palm oil can cause significant deforestation when it’s harvested unsustainably. It can wreak havoc on the environment by devastating orang-utan populations and displacing local communities due to poor harvesting practices. Even after making the decision to switch to better cleaning products, purchasers should be careful when it comes to evaluating the “green” credentials of what they’re about to buy. Third-party ecolabel programs, such as the one run by Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA), can help when it comes to evaluating these claims. Products have been assessed and their claims verified against strict standards to ensure that the product is better for the environment, better for human health, and is ethically produced. “Understanding what issues are really important and deciphering what is on the packet can be difficult,” said Rupert Posner, CEO of GECA. “Seeing that a product is GECA certified gives assurance to purchasers that the product’s claims are real and that the product really is a better choice, not just for the environment but also for your health. Buyers can have confidence that the product has addressed the important environmental and health issues relevant for the product – not just one or two.” Cleaning products that have been certified against GECA’s cleaning products standard contain minimised VOC content, fewer harmful chemicals, no carcinogens or reproductive toxins, and restrictions on fragrances and
enzymes. “Human health and air quality are increasingly important issues for hotel owners,” said Posner. “Choosing certified products helps eliminate those nasties and improve the air quality. It’s better for guests as well as housekeeping staff.” GECA certified cleaning products are also better for the environment, with reduced packaging, a limit on environmentally hazardous substances, and they contain only sustainably sourced palm oil products. The whole life cycle of a product is considered, from where the raw materials are sourced right down to how the packaging is disposed of, and ensures an ethical supply chain throughout the process. There’s growing recognition of the need to have healthier, more environmentallypreferable spaces to live, work and rest in. The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) now recognises cleaning products and paints under its Green Star Performance tool. The use of products that have been certified and meet particular criteria counts directly towards achieving possible “Green Star” credits, which is a measure of the operational performance of a building. If your cleaning product of choice claims to be eco-friendly or safer to use, consider contacting the manufacturers and asking them to get certified. “You may be surprised how responsive your supplier is, and you will be doing both companies a favour,” said Posner. Making the switch to environmentallypreferable cleaning products has an enormous range of benefits for the health of your guests, your cleaning staff, and the environment. Perhaps it’s time to re-think what your hotel uses to scrub out the showers and freshen up the bed linen.