Clorox. Green Works or Greenwashing?

Clorox has launched a new line of cleaning products known as Green Works. While I think using safe cleaners is extremely important, I am a little skeptical of what Clorox might produce as a “green” product. The company touts the products as being “at least 99% natural,” which raised more questions for me. First of all, the word “natural” is completely unregulated. And even if it was clearly defined, not everything that is natural is safe. Arsenic, lead, and mercury occur naturally, but you wouldn’t want to spray those around your house. Second, how much of the 99% natural consists of water? Third, what is in that 1% that is not natural? Some ingredients can be harmful even in small amounts. To give them credit, Clorox claims that they are listing all ingredients on the labels of the Green Works products, something they do not do with their conventional cleaning products. Still, some have criticized the Sierra Club for its unprecedented decision to allow Clorox to use their logo on the Greenworks products.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, that 1% of unnatural ingredients are derived from petrochemicals. Namely, the preservative Kathon, and the Milliken Liquitint Blue HP dye and Bright Yellow dye X. The dyes give several of the products a light green color. Not exactly necessary, in my opinion. Clorox claims that the preservative, Kathon, will biodegrade within 28 days. According to the MSDS for Kathon, the substance by itself carries the following risks: “irritating to skin, risk of serious damage to eyes, may cause sensitization by skin contact, harmful to aquatic organisms, may cause long term adverse effects in the aquatic environment.” This doesn’t sound like my idea of an ingredient in a green cleaning product.  Some individuals that have reviewed Clorox Green Works products have found the lemon scent too strong, and indeed, it may not be appropriate for people with respiratory problems or allergies.

 Clorox states that their Green Works products are not tested on animals.  However, their conventional cleaning products continue to be tested on animals.  Likewise, as mentioned above, while Greenworks products list all ingredients, other Clorox product labels do not list all ingredients on the label.  It also disturbs me to continue to see Clorox disinfecting products marketed to parents of small children, invoking their fears of “germs.”  But I believe that cleaner shouldn’t leave behind more toxins than the toxins you are trying to clean!  The advertising for both products is awash with images of mothers, babies, and children.  Both lines are promoted from a safety standpoint.  The Greenworks website points out that their products are free of strong fumes and leave no chemical residue.  Yet they also promote spraying chemicals all over your home and on your children’s toys to disinfect them.  I personally cringe whenever I see the commercials with an adult wiping the baby’s highchair tray with a Clorox disinfecting wipe while baby sits smiling and patting the tray, because I know those little baby hands go right to the mouth. 

When I am shopping for cleaning products, I use the following standards:

* Biodegradable
* Formulated without dye
* Nonflammable
* Contain no ammonia, acids, alkalis, solvents, phosphates, chlorine, nitrates, borates, or volatile organic compounds.

Compared to my favorite green cleaning products, Clorox Green Works line of primarily ready-to-use cleaners leave a heavier carbon footprint on the planet. They do have one product that can be diluted, although I am not sure what the final concentration is. For most of my cleaning I use fragrance-free Basic Household cleaner, which is a superconcentrate. You can make a whole bottle of cleaner for most applications with somewhere between 2 drops and ¼ teaspoon of the concentrate. One bottle of Basic H. can make literally hundreds of bottles of ready to use cleaner. Since this reduces the number of plastic bottles that need to be manufactured, shipped, and recycled, it greatly decreases the environmental impact of using the product. The cost per use is also a lot lower than almost any other product, just 25 cents makes four 32 ounce bottles (one gallon) of all purpose cleaner   Even vinegar in comparison, can cost 10 to 20 times as much per gallon, depending on what size is purchased and where.  Another green cleaning favorite of mine is Scour-it Off, which makes soap scum in the shower disappear like magic, and with which you need such a small amount that the container lasts practically forever. See all my favorite cleaning products here.

So what does “greenwashing” mean?  Some examples of tactics used by companies include:  seducing with images in ads, using environmental organizations to promote products,  distracting from destructive products, claiming to seek solutions while lobbying against regulation, using charitable endeavors to gain support, and the misuse of the word “sustainable.”  I really liked this quote from Jeffrey Hollender, and it sums up my feelings on the subject as well. ”“Green” is not something a company becomes because of a new product line, a marketing campaign, a decision to be carbon neutral or even the selection an enlightened new CEO. “Green” is about the inside, not the outside of a company. It’s about its DNA, its culture, and its very reason for being.”  Is Clorox Green Works really green?  What do you think?

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