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A Clean Conscience: Avoiding Greenwashing when Building a Sustainable Cleaning Program

By Daniel Daggett


In 2018, 87 percent of all travelers reported that they want to travel sustainably. Similarly, 45 percent of diners indicated that how restaurants conserve energy and water and whether they use environmentally friendly packaging are important considerations. In office buildings, sustainability is also an important consideration. A 2018 U.S. Green Building Council survey found that those working in “LEED-certified green buildings are happier, healthier and more productive than employees in conventional and non-LEED buildings.”


Whether you manage a hotel, restaurant, retail store or another type of facility, running a sustainable operation is crucial for attracting guests, customers and even employees. Green cleaning can support an organization’s commitment to sustainability; however, it can be challenging to tell whether green cleaning products live up to their environmental claims. Unfortunately, businesses sometimes make inflated claims about the sustainability of their products and practices to enhance brand image and increase profits. With Earth Day approaching on April 22, there’s no better time than now to reevaluate the claims behind your facility’s cleaning products, tools and machines and learn more about the pitfalls of greenwashing.


What is Greenwashing?


Although there is a wealth of “green” products, tools, chemicals and more on the market today, many do not have official certifications or proper oversight by a regulating body. Greenwashing occurs when a company or organization uses deceptive marketing tactics to falsely promote its business practices as environmentally friendly. In one study from TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, more than 95 percent of tested products made problematic green claims.


The global trend toward environmental responsibility has caused many companies to engage customers with their sustainability efforts, even if their business models aren’t actually as green as they seem. Whether intentional or unintentional, greenwashing makes it difficult to tell the difference between a genuine claim and an exaggerated one. To really understand the environmental benefits of your facility’s green cleaning program, a little bit of homework is required.


How to Avoid Greenwashing

As you build a sustainable cleaning program, keep the following tips in mind to protect your organization’s reputation and bottom line:


  • Look for key ecolabels and certifications. Seek out tools and products that carry logos, certifications or official markings from independent third-party organizations that specialize in validating green claims. These include UL’s ECOLOGO® Certification for products, services and packaging and GREENGUARD Environmental Institute’s GREENGUARD Certification for products and materials. Confirm with the certifying body that the item has been verified if you have doubts regarding the trustworthiness of a displayed certification; that information is often on their website.
  • Don’t be fooled by ambiguous claims. Vague terms like “eco-friendly” or “all-natural” are often used on packaging with no evidence to back them up. Environmental claims can also use potentially misleading jargon like “carbon neutral,” and “non-toxic.” To help clarify what a company needs to provide to back up those claims, refer to the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guide. The Green Guide helps provide a thorough understanding of what claims companies are allowed to make about their products. Ensure you have a complete understanding of every claim and key word definition when purchasing new green cleaning solutions.
  • Read the fine print. At first glance, an image of the Earth and the color green on packaging can make a product appear environmentally friendly. However, it’s important to thoroughly investigate all claims and read the product or service’s full description. Unfortunately, hidden trade-offs can be buried in the fine print: for instance, a product may conserve water, but use more energy or chemical to achieve this.
  • Check for relevance. Companies sometimes advertise an irrelevant green feature, such as announcing that products like hand soap or floor finish are free of a substance that has been banned for years. Don’t confuse environmental value with basic marketplace expectations.
  • Donations aren’t everything. Although donating to worthy environmental causes is admirable, it doesn’t mean that the business is committed to daily sustainable practices that will shape the way a product is developed. In fact, some philanthropic endeavors are the result of previous negligence and the need to improve public image. As a buyer, never assume that top-dollar donations guarantee that a company has a culture of environmental protection.


The Importance of Green Cleaning


Customers and employees want organizations to do their part with regards to the environment, and this includes cleaning practices. Using the right cleaning products, tools and machines while implementing the appropriate strategies can help reduce water, energy and chemical consumption, as well as packaging waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Before purchasing these items, make sure to do your due diligence around green claims and invest in cleaning solutions from companies with reputable business practices. Doing so will help your organization fulfill its commitment to environmental protection.


Daniel Daggett is the Executive Director, Sustainability and CSR with Diversey, a leader in smart, sustainable solutions for cleaning and hygiene. To learn more about sustainable solutions from Diversey, contact him at or visit