History of the Green Cleaning Movement was published for client, The Ashkin Group
Because Earth Day 2020 was essentially overlooked this year, this might be a good time to learn about The History of Green Cleaning, which was one of the fruits of the Earth Day Movement.
The history of green cleaning and the green cleaning movement in America goes back more than fifty years and is actually quite fascinating. It all started with Rachel Carson.
In 1957, Olga Huckins heard a plane buzzing over her country home spraying the air with a chemical mist used to kill mosquitoes. The chemical, DDT, settled over nearby marshes, crops, and waterways. The next morning, Huckins found seven dead birds on her property. What was even more traumatic for her was the fact that the birds all appeared to have died in great agony—their bills gaped open and their claws drawn up in an awkward, unnatural position.
Huckins wrote a letter to a local newspaper complaining about the mist and sent a copy to her friend Rachel Carson, who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an aquatic biologist. Moved by the letter, Carson said, “There would be no peace for me if I kept silent about this.”
As a result, in 1962 Carson published her groundbreaking book Silent Spring, which caused quite a commotion. Although she did not advocate banning chemicals, Carson encouraged that they be used wisely with greater awareness of their potentially harmful side effects.
By 1963, her voice reached the highest levels in our government. In making one of the first-ever presidential speeches discussing environmental issues, President John F. Kennedy warned, “The supreme reality of our time is the frailty and vulnerability of the planet we live on.”
“Ecology, Earth Day, and Green Cleaning
By the end of the 1960s, college students and “hippies” took up the cause for “ecology,” as it was then referred to. The topic garnered more attention, and the first “Earth Day” was held in 1970. Just a few years later, the first “Green” or “natural” cleaning products began trickling into health food stores in the United States and Canada.
Unfortunately, most of these initial green cleaning product offerings had two things in common:
- They were expensive
- They were not that effective.
Consumers wanted to do their part and use safer, healthier cleaning products, but they were simply disappointed with the products then available.
While the topic gathered momentum in discussion circles, there was very little improvement in most Green Cleaning products even as late as the 1990s. By then, more retailers were carrying environmentally preferable cleaning products, but many were the same as—or very similar to—the old items that had gathered dust on health food store shelves back in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, recycled paper was being introduced, but it looked and felt substandard. Similarly, Green laundry and fabric softeners were brought to market, but they often clogged washing machines, and the environmentally friendly dishwashing detergent of the day simply did not do a very good job of washing dishes.
Consumers had a terrible introduction, and first impression of Green Cleaning products took many years to correct. It was the worst of all scenarios: a double whammy of inferior quality and ridiculously high prices.
Years of Declining Interest
These difficult beginnings caused serious problems for those advocating Green Cleaning. Studies by the Green Gauge Report, which started tracking Green trends back in 1990, found that the public’s interest in Green Cleaning and its knowledge of environmental concerns—once so strong and growing in the 1970s and 1980s—had declined dramatically by the 1990s. In fact, by 1996, fewer than one person in ten in the United States said they were willing to pay extra for an environmentally preferable cleaning product.
One of the few environmentally supportive trends that managed to survive during this period was recycling. People did become much more conscious that certain items, such as paper, were recyclable.. “Reduce, reuse, and recycle” became the mantra of facilities across the nation in the 1990s, and this trend was spurred on when companies found they could even make money on reusable products.
The Green Cleaning Resurgence in the 21st Century
Several trends occurred in the past twenty years that have helped ensure Green Cleaning would move forward.
First of all, environmentally preferable cleaning products have improved. Most, are now certified, and as part of the certification process, these products must prove their value as to performance.
A second reason for the renewed interest in Green Cleaning is Executive Orders signed by President Bill Clinton. These orders encourage the use of environmentally preferable cleaning products in all federal government agencies. President George Bush extended these executive orders.
They only encourage—do not require—the use of Green products in the federal government’s more than 3.1 billion square feet of office space. Yet, under its influence city, state, and provincial governments throughout North America began instituting Green-only purchasing. This spurred the movement forward.
Additionally, other market forces were driving not only Green Cleaning, but sustainability. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and LEED-EB (LEED-Existing Buildings) have helped educate us on the health benefits, cost savings, and value of going Green, all of which is helping to transform the entire building industry—along with the professional cleaning industry.
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