Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Shades of green

October 11, 2010

Perhaps Tim Knell put it best: “There are about as many definitions of ‘green’ when it comes to cleaning products as there are shades of green colors.” The vice president of research and development for Shore Corporation, a manufacturer of chemical products for several industries including carwashes, likens the situation to that of the food industry, which has several definitions for “organic.”

Although it’d be nice if we could embrace all colors and definitions of green, the issue remains that not having a collective understanding and acceptance of green technologies is a major roadblock in the path of industry certification.

According to Dave Hart, director of vehicle wash at Zep, Inc., the carwash industry is in a unique position. Unlike similar cleaning businesses, such as those in the janitorial and sanitation industries, most automated carwashes would have a difficult time adhering to the guidelines set by third-party agencies such as Green Seal, EcoLogo, DFE and CSPA. Without third-party certification, it’s harder for carwashes to properly market and educate consumers about green carwashing.

Instead, chemical providers to the industry have stepped up to provide a growing number of options in branded cleaning products which meet that particular company’s standard for green cleaning. To better understand these certification programs and benefits of participating, Professional Carwashing & Detailing has tracked down several industry leaders and chemistry experts to help us uncover the science and policies behind green cleaning.

Green chemistry and reclaim systems
Due to its experience in the janitorial and sanitation markets, Zep is careful to avoid using the term “green” in its literature. “We say earth-friendly because the term ‘green’ in our company has a much more stringent criteria found in industries with more contact with the general public,” Hart explained.

Instead, Zep offers customers an eco-friendly line called EnviroEdge. The program includes a training kit, as well as marketing materials to help carwashes educate employees and customers about the benefits of green cleaning.

According to Lloyd Snell, CEO of Annford, Inc., a manufacturer of cleaning products to the carwash industry, the first step in creating a green carwash is recognizing that all components of the carwash — including water use and treatment — matter in the big picture. The second is identifying the specific chemistry that should be avoided.”

All chemistry should be biodegradable,” Snell explained. And he said carwashes should discontinue use of the following inorganic materials that are known to be detrimental to the environment and to water management:

• Formaldehyde;
• Halogenated;
• Aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons;
• Hydrofluoric acid; and
• Ammonium bifluoride.

For operators who recycle water, Snell recommended avoiding some bio-based detergents that contain ingredients that are pH sensitive and unstable in reclaim systems. “The byproduct is usually an insoluble floc of fatty acid,” Snell explained. Other bio-based "solvent" degreasers are also unstable in reclaim systems.

The big picture
Like Snell, Tim Knell of Shore Corp. stressed a wider look at the overall concept of green carwashing. “What must be stressed is that ‘green products’ are not the answer, but that ‘green practices’ are,” Knell stated.

For example, Knell said an operator could use the mildest, most natural soap available, “but if you ship it across the country in a dilute form, don’t recycle the container, use it at a higher level than necessary, and don’t properly treat the wastes you cannot say you are acting in a green manner.”

Knell cautioned operators to carefully consider any green product before buying into the hype, and instead focus on the overall wash process.

“Green cleaning standards should mean the total lifecycle environmental cost of the cleaning process. To us, this means making concentrated products to reduce waste in packaging and shipping,” he said.

A lot of green terms are “feel good” marketing copy, said Stuart Hammerschmidt, also of Shore Corp. For instance, none of the following terms have a proper, quantifiable definition: eco-friendly, biodegradable, non-toxic, renewable, recycled, natural, organic and safe. Instead, Hammerschmidt said operators should consider the federal, state and even municipal regulations in place. Carwash owners can look to California for an example of what may be heading down the pipe line, too, since it has rather strict VOC (volatile organic compound) and discharge regulations.

Across the ocean
American manufacturers aren’t the only ones concerned about the environment. MA-FRA, an Italian-based chemical provider which is poised to break into the American market, views its eco-friendly business practices and products as a necessity (thanks to strict Italian laws), as well as a personal responsibility. The company’s commitment to the environment began in the early 80s, when it launched a complete CFC-free (chlorofluorocarbons) spray line. In the 1990s, the company began production of its Ecomaf line, detergents based on natural surfactants, as well as launched alkylphenols-free and phosphate-free detergents.

In 2004, the company received its ISO 14001 certification, which maintains the company is an environmentally friendly managed one, and in 2008, it developed NTA-free formulas detergents and later launched its Ecolabel consumer line.

According to the company, these products clean as well, and cost comparative to those of non-green products. It also offers an ecological certification program to carwash owners which use MA-FRA’s low-impact products.

“[This certification] guarantees them to maintain COD and BOD levels,” explained Alessio Casselini, executive director for the company. COD, or chemical oxygen demand, and BOD, biochemical oxygen demand, are two important indicators of the quality and safety of water used and treated at the wash, which are regulated by the European government.

“The active certification of MA-FRA has allowed many carwashes to avoid closing down in particularly dry summer seasons due to town council resolution,” Casselini said. Carwashes are often considered “squanderers of water control, he further explained, but control bodies have realized that carwashes using MA-FRA products can guarantee a low environmental impact, as well as lower water consumption.