Cleaning for Climate Change, 9 years left to make a difference

Business Insights

2022 marks The Floorbrite Group’s 50th anniversary and we have seen many changes during this time. What will the world look like in another 50 years? Apparently, we only have nine years left to make a difference!

Climate breakdown will occur within the next nine years unless we see that difference.

It’s not a lot is it? But thousands of years have led to this point, and we only have a few left to reverse the effects of climate change.

What is global warming and climate change?

The global warming definition is one that many organisations such as National Geographic, the Met Office and other environmental groups agree on. It is the greatest environmental challenge facing the planet today. Global warming is caused by the increase in concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere related to human activities. Global warming is the cause of climate change.

The increase in greenhouse gases in the world’s atmosphere has seen the planet’s average temperature also rise over time and such variations in temperature cause climate change. It is a natural phenomenon that contributes to maintaining the average temperature of the earth's surface. However, the more greenhouses gases there are in the atmosphere, the more heat is retained, just like a blanket. This eventually leads to global warming. And the largest contributor to an increase in greenhouse gases is human activity. It is up to us collectively to reduce that.

The rapid increase in greenhouse gases and the consequences of global warming is concerning because the climate is changing so rapidly that some living things cannot adapt.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the January 2020 global surface temperature was 0.80°C above pre-industrial levels, that is pre-1850. Warming of more than 2°C could have irrevocable consequences on the environment.

Global warming of 2 degrees

According to one of the latest reports from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), global warming of more than 1.5°C would cause unprecedented climatic consequences, such as: bigger and more intense storms, rain followed by more prolonged and intense droughts. These extreme weather events could be more frequent and intense and have irreversible repercussions on the environment. I am sure you agree that they are already happening on a more frequent basis.

Nevertheless, climate change varies from place to place. For example, the polar zones are warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. Continuing the current trajectory of global warming, the Arctic ice sheet could completely disappear in a few decades.

Global warming is happening at a faster pace than expected by scientists. In fact, some of its impacts are already threatening the environment and risking the survival of flora, fauna and even humans.

Global warming in the UK

Research carried out by the Met Office shows climate change is happening in the UK too. The ten warmest years on record have all happened since 2002. Seven of the 10 wettest years on record have also happened since 1998. It predicts that by 2070, UK winters will be between 1 and 4.5°C warmer and up to 30% wetter, and summers will be between 1 and 6°C warmer and up to 60% drier.

The main environmental impacts are the following:

  • Melting of polar ice caps and rising sea levels.

  • Changes to ecosystems.

  • Mass migrations.

  • Acidity of our oceans.

  • Species extinction.

  • Extreme meteorological phenomena.

Factors in climate change and the cleaning industry

There are many factors that contribute to climate change such as electricity and heat production, agriculture, forestry and other land uses, manufacturing and construction, industry processes, transportation, other energy and buildings. Overwhelmingly though, C02 created through the burning or consumption of fossil fuels is the main contributing factor.

The number of areas for discussion are many but fortunately many people are discussing them, yet still, one could easily be overcome with the magnitude of the problem. However, the focus of this article is to look at two smaller, yet significant causes of greenhouse gases, by shining the light on the cleaning industry. The first is plastic chemical containers and the second is VOC’s, synthetic Volatile Organic Compounds.

This is about all those plastic bottles and containers in your kitchen cabinet below the sink and in the bathroom, not only used in the home, but commercially too and in large quantities. We are talking about cleaners and personal products.

Plastic pollution

In the first instance, over 99% of plastic is made from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels, and the fossil fuel, plastic industries and climate change are deeply connected.

In 2021 a paper was published by a number of leading UK and American universities and environmental organisations, titled “The fundamental links between climate change and marine plastic pollution”.

In this paper, the authors discussed how Plastic pollution and climate change have commonly been treated as two separate issues and sometimes are even seen as competing. The paper presents an alternative view that these two issues are fundamentally linked. Primarily, they explore how plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions from the beginning to the end of its life cycle. Secondly, they show that more extreme weather and floods associated with climate change, will exacerbate the spread of plastic in the natural environment. Finally, both issues occur throughout the marine environment, and they show that ecosystems and species can be particularly vulnerable to both, such as coral reefs that face disease spread through plastic pollution and climate-driven increased global bleaching events.

Let’s face it, cleaning products have never been more popular. With the rise and fame of Mrs Hinch, delivering her latest cleaning hacks on social media, our supermarket aisles are filled with dozens of different cleaners for windows, floors, stoves, toilets, bathtubs, disinfectants — you name it — there is a cleaner for it!

VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds)

Aside from the fact that cleaning products are made with chemicals using petroleum and natural gas and are extremely energy-intensive to produce. Did you know that consumer products (including cleaning products) emit just as much VOC pollution (volatile organic compounds) in to our air as exhaust emissions from vehicles? Scientific evidence has indicated that the air within our homes and workplaces can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialised cities.

Just the perfume alone in your cleaning solutions contains chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that react with other chemicals in the air, creating harmful ozone pollution.

When thinking about the number of products used in daily life, it doesn’t compare to how much fuel you put in the car. But for every kilogram of fuel that is burned, only about one gram ends up in the air. For these household and personal products, some compounds evaporate almost completely and so the levels are infinitely higher.

It is hard to say how much pollution is down to VOCs, but an estimate is that between one quarter and a third of all particles are made up of organic compounds that originate as VOC’s.

Others report that the amount of VOCs emitted from household and industrial products is two to three times higher than official estimates suggest. The result is surprising since only about 5% of raw oil is turned into chemicals for consumer products, with 95% ending up as fuel.

Interestingly domestic use of VOCs is now beginning to dominate, displacing the traditional sources from vehicles and industry. This is a challenge for regulators since many of these sources, including cleaning and personal care products, aren’t controlled. If the information is correct, then many countries will need to rethink how they plan to meet their international obligations to reduce emissions.

This article only touches on a minute aspect of the research I have undertaken over recent months during my journey to learn more about how and what the cleaning industry needs to do to support making a difference for climate change. There is no doubt I will continue my search for knowledge and share my findings, however, in the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about the information in this article, take a look at my speech at The Manchester Cleaning show in April about this subject on Floorbrite’s YouTube channel.

By Nina Wyers, Marketing & Brand Director at The Floorbrite Group