Green Cleaning Study Reveals Gaps Between Intentions and Actions

Green Cleaning Study Reveals Gaps Between Intentions and Actions

When it comes to environmental responsibility and purchasing of green cleaning products, businesses aren't so very different from consumers: There's often a disconnect between intentions and actions -- and there's confusion about what it means to be green.

Those are some of the findings of the "Business Cleaning Sustainability Study," a survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs on behalf of Procter & Gamble Professional, the unit of P&G (NYSE: PG) that serves companies, institutions and other non-residential customers.

Almost 430 professionals with decision-making authority over cleaning-related purchases in the lodging, foodservice, health care and commercial cleaning industries participated in online interviews conducted in May. Research results were released this week.

The study focused on the decision-makers' perceptions, knowledge, attitudes and behaviors about environmental responsibility. While there are several reports along that line about consumers and research about corporate attitudes on energy efficiency, not as much data exists about sustainability issues and cleaning in business sectors.

According to the research for P&G, nine out of 10 respondents said they believe that sustainability and environmental responsibility are important for their businesses overall.

However, fewer than a quarter of their firms (24 percent) have set sustainability guidelines, and when asked about the factors behind their cleaning-related purchases, the decision-makers' top considerations were performance (62 percent), price (51 percent) and ease of use (21 percent). Environmental impact was No. 4 on the list at 20 percent.

Also interesting were participants' agreement to the following statements posed by the survey:

  • I want to choose environmentally-friendly cleaning products and services for my business, but often end up choosing ones that aren't -- 58 percent expressed varying levels of agreement with 43 percent "somewhat" agreeing and 15 percent saying the "completely agree."
  • For my business, it is more important that cleaning and disinfecting products be effective than perceived as green -- 66 percent agreed with 41 percent somewhat agreeing and 25 percent completely agreeing.
  • When it comes to being respectful to the environment, how cleaning products are used is more important than the products themselves -- 54 percent agreed with 42 percent somewhat agreeing and 12 percent completely agreeing.

Asked about their drivers for purchasing green clean products:

  • 69 percent said a "sense of personal responsibility"
  • 49 percent said concerns about employee health and safety
  • 13 percent said client preferences
  • 13 percent said corporate or CSR guidelines
  • 12 percent said regulations
  • 8 percent said to qualify for LEED green building certification
  • 6 said none of the above
  • 3 said they weren't sure

And when asked what proportion of cleaning products purchased and used by their business are green:

  • 5 percent of the respondents said all are
  • 26 percent said most are
  • 36 percent said some are
  • 19 percent said a few
  • 7 percent said none
  • 7 percent didn't know

In terms of overall perceptions, 1 in 3 respondents said they are "confused about what it means to be green." Almost a quarter (24 percent) said they do not believe there is a credible authority on sustainability and environmental responsibility, while 41 percent they didn't know and 35 percent there is.

When it comes to green cleaning products and eco labels, 51 percent said its fairly or very difficult to "differentiate which ones are really respectful of the environment and which ones are just pretending to be." A third of the respondents pointed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Design for the Environment Program as the certifying entity they trust the most.

Here's how various labels and certification services fared in the multiple choice question on trust (with responses rounded to the nearest percent):

  • EPA Design for the Environment Program -- 33 percent
  • Green Seal -- 13 percent
  • Eco Logo -- 6 percent
  • Green Clean Institute -- 4 percent
  • United Nations Environment Programme -- 3 percent
  • None of the above -- 11 percent
  • Don't know, not sure -- 31 percent

In a plus for major firms like P&G, 49 percent said "I tend to trust products from well known companies more than I do those with eco-seals."

The study also compared perceptions, attitudes and behavior among the four industries. Researchers found that the responses by decision-makers from the lodging industry tended to outshine those from the healthcare, foodservice and commercial cleaning industries.

Based on their responses, decision-makers queried from the lodging industry are:

  • 80 percent more likely to use energy efficient light bulbs
  • 71 percent more likely to reduce energy use
  • 63 percent more likely to conserve water
  • 54 percent more likely to purchase green cleaning products
  • 64 percent more likely to purchase energy efficient electronics

Chris Vuturo, P&G Professional's external relations manager, said the study shows that "while businesses want to be more sustainable and environmentally responsible, a lack of in-depth knowledge and structure is holding them back from achieving their goals."

"In fact, when sustainability guidelines are not in place at a business, decision makers behave in similar ways to the typical consumer, where a personal sense of responsibility is the main driver," Vuturo said in a statement.

The full report is available for free download at P&G Professional, www.pgpro.com.

Image courtesy of P&G Professional.