One of life’s little truths is that what makes it big with humans eventually ripples over to their pets. From fashion to food, you can often figure out what’s coming next in the pet industry by looking at what’s hot for humans right now. This is how anyone paying attention to the growing push to use environmentally conscious products over the past 20 years could predict the rise of green pet cleaning products. Eco-conscious pet consumers can now buy stain removers and odor controllers that not only do what they promise, but are safe for their pets and the world around them.
The advantages of using green cleaning products lie in the effects that they have—or better yet, don’t have—on the environment and the pets they are used around. Simple Green has been in the business of environmentally safer cleaning products for over 35 years, but has only in recent years made the jump into the pet-stain and odor-cleaning business. The Simple Green Pet Stain & Odor line of cleaning products are all orally nontoxic and biodegradable, and according to the company’s marketing specialist, Denise Dochnahl, the peace of mind that this brings to pet owners is a huge advantage. “There is the side effect of not causing harm to household surfaces that are being cleaned, as well as the peace-of-mind that comes with knowing that your family—your children and your pets—will be in the areas where these products are used, and it will be safe for them.”
Steven Vena, president of Doggonit Products, which manufactures Oggo Brand Household Cleaning Products, agrees that pet safety is one of the biggest draws to these products. “It’s important to avoid using harsh chemicals around pets,” he says. “Animals have better noses than humans and use their sense of taste on almost everything. Harsh chemicals can have a lingering impact on their environment which can cause harm to pets long after you’re done cleaning. Using ‘green’ all-natural cleaning products are a much safer choice.”
The perceived disadvantages of green products usually fall into one of two categories. The first is that they don’t work as well as traditional ones. Some consumers believe that those harsh chemicals that can make traditional cleaning products less safe for both the environment and pets also make those products more effective. While that may have been true in the past, Dochnahl says it is not the case with today’s products. “I think green formulas have come a long way to compete with the efficacy of traditional cleaners,” she says.
Some consumers also perceive that green products cost more, and while that may still be true in some cases, some industry insiders say that will soon be in the past. “As technology and science advance, we are not only finding safer ways to manufacture products, but we are reducing the cost of these eco-friendly processes,” says Brian Collier, creative marketing and public relations coordinator for Tropiclean. “This makes competitively priced, eco-friendly products a reality more times than not.”
What’s So Green About It?
While the U.S. government doesn’t currently have a legal definition for green products, the Federal Trade Commission does have a set of Green Guides that provide some regulation for marketing environmentally conscious products. However these Green Guides were last updated over a decade ago and still remain vague about many terms.
As an alternative to true government regulation, private organizations like Green Seal and the Green Business Bureau offer voluntary certifications for companies interested in displaying their ecological consciousness on their product labels. The biggest disadvantage to this system is that there’s no universal standard. The qualifications can vary, depending on each organization’s standards. A product that earns one seal may not necessarily be qualified for another.
As it stands now, green can mean a number of things—being organic, using natural ingredients, or avoiding environmental or consumer harm as much as possible during the manufacturing and use of the product.
Dochnahl sees green as a fluid term that depends on the manufacturer. “Green is an interesting term in today’s marketplace,” she says. “I can’t tell you what it means to other product manufacturers, but to Simple Green, it means a product has been tested and proven to not cause harm to the environment or the people using the products in their homes.”
The lax regulation of green products has led to the problem of “greenwashing.” Greenwashing is the practice of marketing a non-green product as one that is ecologically conscious and environmentally friendly. As more consumers began to factor the effects of the environment into their purchasing choices, more companies are hoping to catch those sales by positioning their products as good for the environment. Without official regulation, manufacturers can make claims about their products without many legal repercussions.
Vena says that consumers must be on guard against such greenwashing. “Unfortunately, the world still operates on a buyer-beware platform,” he says. “Sometimes the lure of popular consciousness can cause companies to cross the line with misleading packaging and slick marketing speech. That said, the free market system also provides punishment to the bad apples. Social media, for instance, is a powerful tool for consumers to discuss product experiences, both positive and negative.”
Collier agrees that retailers must be cautious about the products they bring into the store. “In consumer trends, we often see that organizations work every angle possible to get traction,” he says. “Retailers and consumers both must be very conscious about the products they choose that claim ‘green’ benefits. It is primarily on their shoulders to research the companies and products that measure up to their claims.”
On the other hand, Dochnahl warns to avoid throwing the greenwashing label around too loosely. “Just because a product or manufacturer doesn’t meet someone else’s definition of green, that doesn’t mean they’re green-washing,” she says. “But when the Federal Trade Commission publishes its final updated Green Guides and green becomes further defined, I’m sure we’ll see some claims and logos disappear from labels and advertisements.”
Government regulators may still be struggling to figure out exactly what constitutes a green cleaning product, but that hasn’t slowed their popularity with consumers. “All-natural green cleaning products are not just a trend,” says Vena. “They are the new benchmark for any cleanser that’s suitable for in-home use.”
“I think the average consumer is much savvier than ever before, and retailers are wise to provide them the options that they want. In today’s marketplace, if a retailer isn’t providing the right options for the savvy consumer, that consumer will go elsewhere.”
However, while there may be a healthy demand for green cleaning products, not every pet owner knows exactly what to look for in this category.
“Education is key in selling these products,” says Dochnahl. “While consumers now know to look for options, many of them don’t know what questions they should be asking, or what information they should be looking for. Part of that education process lies with the product manufacturers, in good advertising and good labeling. But part of it also lies with the retailers in knowing the products and helping their customer to understand what they need and to make the right product selection.”