Global population is expected to reach 10 billion people by 2050. It's imperative for change to occur if the current standard of living is to be maintained. This is especially true because most of this growth will come from countries considered undeveloped.
As global development continues and affluence increases, people in developing countries will demand the necessities of life — fresh water, food, clothing and shelter — as well as things Americans often take for granted: energy to light, heat and cool homes; running water and hot water; indoor plumbing; transportation options; infrastructure that makes all these things work; and items once considered extravagant, such as cell phones and computers.
None have written so articulately about "global carrying capacity" as Donella Meadows in The Limits to Growth. No one wants to reduce the standard of living in America. But for development to be sustainable, it must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. And to do this, it is essential to recognize that conditions are changing — we must work smarter and more efficiently to prevent the increasing consumption and exploitation of natural resources from overwhelming our environment.
So what does all of this have to do with the cleaning industry on Earth Day?
The cleaning industry in the United States has become a global leader in embracing green strategies. Cleaning chemicals have become more effective, use less packaging, and are less toxic during use and disposal. Emerging technologies can eliminate or significantly reduce the volume of chemicals in applications such as general cleaning and sanitizing, laundry and cooling towers. Greener cleaning equipment is more efficient and durable, extending replacement time and reducing the impacts associated with manufacturing and waste from disposal.
Even products like toilet tissue and paper towels are being greened, providing improved performance and using less fiber. Some even use non-tree fibers or those made from rapidly renewable sources — forests, plantations and farms that are managed sustainably.
What also makes the cleaning industry a leader is it has gone beyond just the "greening" of individual products. The cleaning industry has learned that the products it makes are used to solve specific problems, which require an integrated systems approach. The industry is demonstrating the importance of working with multiple categories, such as chemicals, equipment and paper products to generate the best outcomes — environmentally and financially.
Perhaps what the cleaning industry also has pioneered is that competition is good when it is focused on the right things. As companies in the cleaning industry focus their research and development budgets on products, systems and services to give themselves a competitive advantage in the marketplace, they also are reducing harmful and wasteful impacts on health and the environment. As a result of these efforts, there is a greater likelihood that the marketplace will meet the demands of today while creating a better standard of living in the future.
This has happened because those involved with cleaning schools and universities have been the drivers of the cleaning industry, resulting in greener products and more sustainable manufacturing. This serves as undeniable proof that these global challenges can be met.
Happy Earth Day!
Ashkin is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit educational organization. [email protected]