DIV13/18: Sustainability Must Be Certifiable, Demonstrable & Quantifiable (30 August 2013)

Issue Date: 30 August 2013
Ref: DIV13/18

Sustainability affects all aspects of the cleaning industry. Greater levels of certification across the cleaning industry have created an ideal framework for compliance, benchmarking and improvement.


Sustainability is reaching all corners of the cleaning industry as chemical and equipment suppliers respond to the demands of contractors, building owners and end-users for products and processes that are demonstrably better for the environment. The result is a growing set of general and industry-specific standards which suppliers should ideally achieve to show they and their products meet market expectations.

The evolution of sustainability has led to better understanding across stakeholders but there is still plenty of “greenwash”. These are the spurious claims that imply sustainability when in reality little exists. The simplest example is our old friend “natural ingredient”. Anyone familiar with this argument knows that naturally occurring chemicals can be toxic (think arsenic) while seemingly innocent ingredients such as lemon juice (acetic acid) are not always sustainable if synthesised in a factory or sourcing results in changes to agriculture which adversely affect local communities.

True sustainability takes into account not only the impact at point-of-use but the whole product lifecycle from raw materials to final disposal of packaging. By its very nature, sustainability is neither one-time-fix or line in the sand. It is an ongoing process of continuous improvement.

The cleaning industry and the market have responded with greater consistency for accreditation and certification. These include high-level initiatives such as WWF Climate Savers which aims to reduce carbon footprints and promote sustainability, and ISO 14001 which provides a global standard for sustainable manufacturing and business activity. Industry-specific international certifications include the AISE, EU Ecolabel and Nordic Swan. All are widely recognised but more importantly they are independently assessed against a rigorous set of benchmarks. Diversey, now part of Sealed Air, has achieved them all.

Inevitably when things are moving fast some suppliers are tempted to jump on the bandwagon and offer products with apparently excellent sustainability benefits. Closer scrutiny often reveals weakness in their claims. It should be self-evident that suppliers who achieve third party certifications have undergone more rigorous checks than those who proclaim compliance with their own “self-accreditation” schemes.

The emergence of sustainability as a business driver follows initiatives by individual companies in various industries. For its part, Diversey understood the need for sustainability decades before the term was universally recognised. In 1935 it sought out sustainable sources of carnauba wax for its floorcare products. In 1975 it removed CFCs from aerosols, years before the international ban. More recently it joined WWF Climate Savers and the Alliance for Water Stewardship. This commitment is gaining wider recognition - last year, Sealed Air was the number-one cleaning manufacturer in Newsweek’s prestigious Green Rankings.

As a business Diversey recycles plastics and cardboard while all products meet or exceed European biodegradability requirements and none are classified as toxic. Diversey also promotes ultra concentrated cleaning products because this leads to more efficient use of chemicals and packaging materials with reduced wastage and less impact from transportation and storage.

Ultra concentrates enable users to introduce demonstrably sustainable cleaning into their operations. For example, in a typical building care operation around 85% of daily cleaning tasks can be completed with Diversey concentrates with EU Ecolabel, Nordic Swan, ISO14001 and AISE certification. This typically results in around 55% fewer products being needed and 60% less chemical consumption by volume. Plastics are reduced by 65%, cardboard by 50% and carbon emissions by 62%. Using concentrates with Diversey’s dosing and dilution control platforms eliminates under or overdosing and offers additional benefits in terms of safety, productivity and cost-in-use. The closed system approach to container and equipment design reduces the risk of users coming into contact with product while ease-of-use promotes productivity, reduces wasteful errors and minimises training.

Sometimes customers and end users demand the additional assurance that comes with third party accreditation. Diversey’s new Pur-Eco range, for example, comprises 31 different products in the UK - more than comparable ranges from other manufacturers - covering all daily tasks and the majority of periodic cleaning requirements in building care, room care and food service. Pur-Eco has EU Ecolabel and Nordic Swan certification and is manufactured in compliance with ISO 14001 and the AISE Charter for Sustainable Cleaning. It is fully biodegradable and formulated with raw materials derived from natural vegetable sources. One bottle of Sprint 200 Pur-Eco multipurpose cleaner in SmartDose ultra concentrate format produces 280 500ml trigger bottles. Each trigger bottle prepared this way is around one tenth the cost of a comparable ready-to-use professional product.

Diversey has a Sustainability Calculator that allows it to verify claims for Pur-Eco and other products. While many tangible benefits are derived from improved formulations and certified products, sustainability cuts across the whole Diversey business. Its microfibre ranges can be used with water alone to remove chemicals from many tasks while its TASKI floorcare machines are designed for reduced energy, water and product consumption.

Sustainability has come a long way. The greater levels of certification across the cleaning industry have created an ideal framework for compliance, benchmarking and improvement. In the long term the whole industry will be much the better for it.