The Green Movement and Science
Eight green cleaning myths to consider.
by: Dr. Michael A. Berry
is the set of all
living and non-living surrounding conditions that
affect the life of an organism. In our case, the organism of primary
concern is human.
are inextricably bound to their environment. It is impossible to be
human and at the same time isolated from environmental processes and
Here are some examples:
Every element in the human body comes from the environment
Humans are fed and receive life sustaining energy through the environment
Humans are healed and kept healthy by the environment
Humans create and expand the basic sciences by observing the environment
Humans use the environment to apply sciences and practice arts
Humans use the environment for recreation and to interact socially
use the environment as a unique form of capital to run economies and
businesses and to acquire sufficient wealth, which insures health,
security and an acceptable level of human existence.
Humans show concern for the environment because it is in their health, economic, creative and recreational interests to do so.
cannot disconnect from a life-essential environment any more than a
space-walking astronaut can disconnect from a life-sustaining
pressurized space suit and oxygen supply.
No matter how technically advanced humans are, humans need the environment to live and prosper.Environmental awareness
This is the age of environmental awareness; some call it the age of "green."
is a code word for environmental protection. "Green" is a symbol of
value, respect and concern for the life sustaining processes and cycles
of the natural environment system of which we are all a part and the
conditions of our built environment over which we have the most control.
concept of "green" has traditionally centered on the reasonable and
responsible conservation of natural resources, pollution prevention,
waste minimization and recycling so as to prevent unwanted matter in the
form of wastes and pollutants from causing harm to the natural system
and human health.
The concept of "green" in this context is a useful and commendable symbol.
in recent times, a darker side to "green" has emerged. Far too much of
what we hear about our environmental condition today is "green babble."
"Babble" is nothing more than undisciplined, fact-less conver- sation.
It has no basis in science. It is not only useless, it is often
deliberately misleading for the purpose of selling something or
promoting a political position.
political verbiage and commercial advertisements related to "green" are
completely irrelevant to the protection of human health and natural
environmental processes. "Green babble" is often superficial to the
point of being idiotic and often misleading to the point of being
knowledge of how the environment works (science), along with effective
management, is what protects and sustains the environment — not
political correctness, green slogans, labels and superficial
The following are some "green myths" related to cleaning that have evolved in recent times.
Myth #1: Environmentalism is a science-based movement to save the environment
the past 40 years, environmental management and protection has gone
from an engineering pursuit of putting waste in its proper place to a
zealous political and popular culture-based movement called
suffix "ism" indicates a distinctive system of "beliefs" that guides a
social movement, often undertaken by an elitist class of people.
Unfortunately, environmentalism takes on cult-like, group-think
exploits the love of environment tendencies that all humans possess.
There is a name for those tendencies, "topophilia."
Environmentalism is, for the most part, not science based.
is most often completely ignored or deliberately misrepresented by
environmentalists in order to achieve political, social or business
beliefs about the environment are often not based on rational facts;
they are often based on irrational feelings, emotions and political
of what environmentalists and politicians say they "believe" to be an
"inconvenient truth," without science and factual information we cannot
identify and manage the essential conditions for life and human health.
is not for the pleasure of the elite. In our free society, all citizens
have the right to take a hard look at and question the facts behind
environmental policies and programs, especially those affecting their
who seriously cares about effective and responsible environmental
management should challenge environmentalists: "Show me your data.
Demonstrate to me by way of scientific methods, measurement and data how
your beliefs and preaching protect the environment and contribute to
the betterment of human life on the planet."
those who do not adhere to the beliefs of environmentalism are put on
guilt trips, berated, disenfranchised and presented as being stupid,
irresponsible or uncaring.
no circumstance should a professional carpet cleaner allow him or
herself to be put on a "green guilt trip." Professional cleaning began
about 200 years ago with the "Sanitation Revolution," long before this
"age of green."
cleaning has done more to protect and extend life expectancy and
protection of human health than any single event in human history.
or sanitarians were taking care of the environment long before
environmental activists and green chemical salesmen arrived on the
Myth #2: Cleaning is an inherently polluting activity
Cleaning is in no way polluting. In fact, "clean" and "green" can be complementary concepts.
"Clean" is a condition free of unwanted matter. "Matter" is anything of sub-stance that has mass and is influenced by gravity.
Substances are of three forms: Solids, liquids and gases.
can be living or nonliving. Matter can be measured and described
quantitatively. Unwanted matter is any substance that gets in the way of
human endeavors, poses a risk or causes an undesirable or adverse
often refer to this type of matter as pollution. It goes by many other
names including waste, soil, dirt, dust, trash and pathogenic
is the process used to achieve the clean condition. Cleaning can be
best viewed as the fundamental environmental management process of
putting unwanted matter in its proper place, thus ensuring a sustainable
cleaning is the process of removing unwanted matter to the greatest or
optimum extent, thus ensuring acceptable risk — the reduced probability
of an adverse effect — for humans, valuable materials and the natural
environment from exposure to the unwanted matter.
definition and design, effective cleaning is fully protective of the
environment. Effective cleaning as characterized by the following
criteria is fully protective of the environment:
Maximized measurable removal of pollutants from the environment or sub-compartment
Minimum amounts of cleaning derived chemical, particle and moisture residue
Cleaning for health first and appearance second
Recognition of environmental compartment connectedness and measurable improved quality of the total environmental system
Pollution prevention and waste minimization
Proper disposal of cleaning wastes.
Effective cleaning is a science-based high performance management process.
effectiveness of any cleaning system resides in the comprehensive,
coordinated, scheduled, systematic cleaning coverage of the building and
its connected compartments; the measured quantity of unwanted matter
removed from the presence of humans and valuable materials; the use of
cleaning equipment and technology tested and evaluated for effectiveness
and safety; and the professional training of the cleaning staff at both
the management and operational.
high performance cleaning process or program is one that achieves an
effective cleaning result on a consistent or sustained basis through the
appli- cation of quality based management principles and proven
Myth #3: Carpet cleaning poses special risks to humans and the environment
than 25 years ago, I wrote an article for carpet cleaners and I told
them that when they practice their craft professionally they protect
human health and contribute much to reduce human exposure to unwanted
substances and improve the quality of the indoor environment.
told them then, as I am telling readers now, professional cleaners are
managers and guardians of the environments to which humans are exposed
the vast majority of their life.
be clear in regards to "environmentally protective carpet cleaning."
High-performance — environmentally protective — carpet cleaning is a
formally structured process of:
substance awareness: Knowing or locating unwanted substances in the
carpeted walk-off areas or high traffic areas, as an example
Identifying the nature of those substances in order that the proper technology can be applied to remove them
containing the unwanted substances so they can be removed from the
carpet and not transferred to some other indoor compartment
Removing the greatest amount of unwanted mass with least amount of unwanted residue
Properly disposing of the unwanted substances where they will not be a problem somewhere else.
Cleaning carpet is most beneficial to health when we extract all of the following:
Fine particles not controlled through normal housekeeping methods, such as frequent vacuuming
Particles to which other pollutants, such as solid and gas-phase organic compounds, are bound
Biological allergens of all types
Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic found in outside soil dusts
Pesticides and herbicides used in and around the microenvironment
Combustion byproducts from cooking, wood smoke, candles and tobacco.
The benefits of extracting pollutants from carpet include:
Reduced health problems from loose particles
Reduced cases of biologically induced illness
Reduced lifetime cancer risks
Reduced complaints for building owners and managers
Reduced liability for building owners and managers.
So, what's not "green" or environmentally protective about carpet cleaning?
Myth #4: Conservation is the key to environmental protection and sustainability
looking at unhealthy conditions anywhere around the world, we find that
the root causes of environmental degradation are poverty, ignorance,
mismanagement and chaos (war, crime, natural disasters).
the face of poverty, we have no education — we have no knowledge of how
the world around us works — and we have no factual basis or resources
for effectively managing environmental conditions.
proof for this statement is found in the fact that the most prosperous
nations of the world have the healthiest environments and most stable
societies. They keep their environment clean.
A business or society cannot conserve itself into prosperity.
performance, or total quality management, is more effective in
protecting the environment than conservation. In fact, total quality
management is expected throughout the global marketplace.
specifically, error and waste reduction is the objective of ISO 9000
quality management certification. This international certification is
accepted worldwide as an indication of competent, efficient and
effective management. This certification alone has had enormous
influence to conserve energy and keep waste and pollution out of the
is not hard to demonstrate that the implementation of ISO 9000 and the
energy and material savings it provides has been more environmentally
protective than all the national and international environmental
reduces the bottom line of business. High performance quality
management, to include high performance cleaning programs and processes,
protects the environment by ensuring operations are conducted in a way
to reduce wastes and externalities.
more recent ISO 14000 environmental certifications are in reality an
extension of ISO 9000; they simply give special focus and emphasis to
14000 series are not stand alone standards; they more fully internalize
environmental considerations in quality management systems.
Much of the more honest green labeling found with cleaning chemicals is based on guidelines and principles found in ISO 14000.
Myth #5: Water and energy limitations demand 'green'
environmental activists' worn-out claim that conserving "energy" and
"water" is the answer to preserving and sustaining the quality of life
on Earth is complete and utter nonsense and destructive to our health
and our economy.
"conservation" of energy demand is about one of the most brainless
pieces of "green hype" in the world today. Basic science explains why.
is the capacity to move matter and is essential for a free society and
viable economy. The entire universe is composed of matter and energy.
All energy on Earth is derived from the sun and is abundant beyond
Energy takes different forms and simply needs to be harnessed and distributed.
environmentalists are saying that we need to use less electricity
derived from outdated polluting fossil fuel fired power plants, they
might have a point. However, to deprive human beings of energy,
especially for a health-essential activity as important as cleaning, is
as socially irresponsible as depriving humans of food and water.
There are numerous ways of generating electrons besides combusting coal. All we need to do is turn a turbine.
to "environmentalism" backed up by political and governmental
ineptitude, the reasonable production of safe and clean energy has been
prohibited for the past 50 years.
a consequence we see, and will continue to see, a deteriorating economy
that is essential for a healthy environment and national security.
too, needs to be managed — impounded, delivered and cleaned. Water is
essential for all life forms and is the most abundant, cleanable
recycled substance on Earth.
is not running out of water. The same amount of water that was here 4.6
billion years ago and constitutes 70 percent of Earth's surface is still here today. This is why we call Earth the "Water Planet."
problem is not with the use of water, especially in something as health
essential as cleaning. The problem is the unwillingness to impound
water and treat it.
we can pipe oil and gas thousands of miles around regions of the globe,
we can surely pipe and deliver water to places where humans need it.
It's a matter of public policy and priority, not resource scarcity.
Myth #6: Green cleaning is vastly superior to traditional cleaning processes
cleaning" has the potential to be a very useful concept for protecting
the environment. Cleaning is essential for sustained human existence on
high performance cleaning programs should be at the center of the
movement and recognized as intrinsically environmentally protective
the cleaning component of "the green cleaning movement" is not
appreciated, valued or properly understood as an important environmental
large part, political correctness, public perceptions and incomplete or
questionable data about chemical toxicity and green marketing, rather
than science and effective cleaning, is determining the direction of
Green cleaning today is less about cleaning and environmental protection, and mostly about chemical sales.
green cleaning movement as currently structured focuses on chemical
product replacement and does not address cleaning effectiveness.
disturbing fact associated with this are infectious disease trends that
can be — at least in part — controlled by effective cleaning have
steadily increased in the age of the green cleaning movement.
This begs the question: Are we cleaning for health more or less effectively? The answer is, obvious, we are not.
Myth #7: Green chemicals are safe for the environment and human health
Cleaning chemicals pose special consideration in environmental assessment.
In the absence of science and data, certifications and labels on cleaning chemicals do not assure "green."
protection is assured only by proper use and effective management
performance that is error and waste free and only through efficacy
testing and demonstration.
the absence of evidence in the form of efficacy data or published
scientific criteria, the designation of a "green" product is simply an
opinion or subjective bureaucratic judgment which can create much
confusion and unfairness in the marketplace. And indeed the absence of
data or clear science-based justification to support "greenness" has
produced many questions and confusion.
"green cleaning" movement, well-intended that it is, has created a high
level of confusion with unsubstantiated claims throughout the cleaning
and related industries.
the possible exception of pesticides registration, there are no
government programs that test and certify the cleaning effectiveness or
cleaning efficacy of products sold in the marketplace. For example, the
EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) might suggest that
cleaning-related products will not harm the environment, but does not
guarantee or certify that products are effective in the process of cleaning.
registration licenses users of products that kill micro-organisms
("useful poisons") to use the product in a safe and effective manner as
specified in the registration. Even this highly structured, time
consuming and expensive government registration process is fraught with
testing and demonstration inaccuracies and scientific uncertainties.
labels indicating certifications are environmental marketing claims. It
should be noted that there are long established rules and guidelines
for such claims. More than 25 years ago, the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) published green marketing guidelines, which in recent years have
been overlooked or ignored.
basic claim and implication of "green cleaning chemicals" is that they
are environmentally safe. This is often misleading, especially in the
context of the FTC environmental marketing guidelines.
cleaning chemical, green or otherwise, improperly used and mismanaged
will be ineffective in cleaning and can harm the environment.
do not clean by themselves; they assist in the cleaning process, mainly
through solvency, reactivity or biocide properties.
chemicals do not work and do not serve a useful purpose in the cleaning
process, they are wastes that have been unnecessarily injected into the
environment. This waste is classical chemical pollution.
to be considered is the fact that it is the "dose that makes the
poison." It is not necessarily the type or class of chemical, but the
quantity of chemical and its exposure that poses greatest risk to
environment and health.
chemicals of any type are mismanaged or used in excess, they can create
chemical waste exposure, which is a very serious environmental and
Myth #8: Government support for 'green' assures credibility
fiat and policy for purchasing products in no way assures
"environmentally protective cleaning." However, government actions,
decisions and policies with regards to cleaning products do indeed set
the stage and influence consumer perception and marketplace trends.
the federal government and large states like California and New York
institute environmental programs, other state and local governments
follow. This has tremendous influences on what is bought and sold in the
marketplace, whether useful or not.
the eco-centric world in which we live, politicians and government
agencies want to look and be "green." And they should because government
at all levels collectively make up the most wasteful and biggest
polluting entity in the nation.
is the primary duty of government to protect citizens and a clean
healthy environment is an essential part of that protection.
and government administrators at every level tend not to value and
demonstrate knowledge about the benefits and value of effective
cleaning. This is very evident in the government facilities throughout
the nation, which are the largest group of health complaint buildings in
our national society.
the most part, government buildings and facilities are not effectively
cleaned. This is a particularly serious condition in public schools and
government hospitals and health care facilities.
cleaning certification is increasingly used as a form of backdoor
regulation. Government agencies abdicate through procurement their
responsibility to have knowledge of effective cleaning, and pass
certification off to non-governmental entities that are not held legally
or politically accountable for their decisions.
growing numbers, government agencies mandate the purchase and use of
certain cleaning products without administrative process, full
disclosure of who actually benefits, or "a hard look" at cleaning
effectiveness in the form of criteria and science.
are no science-based, peer-reviewed demonstrations that "green cleaning chemicals" clean, that is, reduce environmental risks. There are no
risk-benefit assessments for green cleaning and no recognition of
So what might the cleaning industry, professional cleaner and consumer do with regard to "green" in general?
starters, support the concept of "green cleaning" through high
performance cleaning systems that produce an effective cleaning result.
Be hostile to incomplete science and "green-wash." These pose a real danger to public health.
Know the environmental attributes of products and cleaning services through peer-reviewed science and testing.
should sell cleaning science and environmental protection knowledge,
along with product. They should support testing and training and
emphasize the effective and efficient use of cleaning products. They
should use science-based knowledge to make products and cleaning system
efficient and effective at cleaning and protective of the environment.
Consumers should demand this.
providers should use science to develop cleaning professionalism.
Without knowledge of how the cleaning process works, one cannot be
effective at cleaning. Service providers should use knowledge to
educate, inform and get closer to customers through
all in the cleaning and related industries, use cleaning science to
gain a competitive advantage in the green age by sound science and
labeling and certification of cleaning chemicals should not
automatically be discouraged, but it should be based on serious, solid,
Green certification of cleaning products should not be used as a form of backdoor product regulation without accountability.
cleaning products should be shown to be useful in the process of
effective cleaning as part of certification. This is currently not
potential consequences of green cleaning standards to public health
protection are enormous. Whatever standard and product recommendation
and selection that comes out of the certification process should be
based on a highly visible and comprehensive risk-benefit analysis.
public health is to be protected, there must be a full consideration of
tradeoffs and a clear, understandable, peer-reviewed, basis-in-science
for the standards.
Political correctness, superficial and incomplete science is dangerous to public health.
Michael A. Berry is an environment and public health educator, a writer
and science adviser interested in health policies and environmental
management strategies. Dr. Berry retired from the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) in 1998, where as a senior manager and scientist
he was the Deputy Director of National Center for Environmental
Assessment at Research Triangle Park, NC.
his 28 year career with the EPA, he had extensive interactions with
private industry, trade associations, environmental organizations,
governments, the federal courts, U.S. Congress, universities worldwide
and institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences, the World
Health Organization (WHO) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO). Between 1986 and 1991, he organized and managed the EPA's indoor
air research program. From 1984 until 2006 he served on the faculty of
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Berry can be
contacted at www.healthyhumanhabitat.org.
The above article is copyright of Cleanfax Magazine.