Eco-Conscious Cleaners and Disinfectants: A Conversation with Kirsten Hochberg, PhD


Eco-friendly cleaners and disinfectants are important for sustainability in health care settings. They are biodegradable, have a reduced impact on ecosystems, and promote cleaner indoor air quality, all of which are especially important to the younger generations.

In today's world, sustainability has become an increasingly vital concern for businesses, medical care facilities, and consumers alike. One area where this commitment to sustainability is making significant strides is in the development of eco-conscious cleaners and disinfectants.

Using eco-friendly cleaners and disinfectants in health care settings is important because, among other reasons, traditional products can harm aquatic life and emit harmful pollutants. Eco-friendly alternatives are biodegradable, have a reduced impact on ecosystems, and promote cleaner indoor air quality. They're also often manufactured sustainably, helping to protect the environment and promote sustainable living practices.

Infection Control Today® (ICT®) spoke with Kirsten Hochberg, PhD, a senior clinical and scientific affairs specialist at CloroxPro, to gain insights into how these products work, their role in achieving sustainability goals, and the latest innovations in the field.

ICT: Would you explain how naturally derived ingredients are used in these eco-conscious cleaners and disinfectants and how they maintain effectiveness?

Kirsten Hochberg, PhD: [Concerning] the term naturally derived, these ingredients don't work any differently than traditional disinfectant actives, or cleaning actives. It's a matter of where they are sourced from. They are expected to work similarly to traditional ingredients.

ICT: Sustainability is a growing concern for businesses. How do EPA-certified safe-to-use and designed-for-the-environment cleaners and disinfectants play a role in helping facilities meet their sustainability goals, especially in achieving LEED certification? (LEED is Leadership in Energy Environmental Design, and it's a green building certification program that is used worldwide.)

KH: LEED certification has grown over the years. And in terms of disinfectant and cleaner products. LEED allows 1 point towards your certification if you use environmentally preferable products, including those that are EPA Safer Choice and designed for the environment certified, so by simply making the switch between which products you're using and choosing those with these EPA certifications, you can earn up to one point towards the LEED certification of the building.

ICT: Could you provide some examples or case studies, maybe, of how eco-conscious cleaning products have positively impacted facilities, specifically in terms of sustainability and efficacy?

[CloroxPro’s] Eco-conscious cleaners and disinfectants, as we've discussed, they're as effective as traditional. They're expected to be as sturdy as effective. In fact, part of the certification of EPA Safer Choice and Design for the Environment. To get that certification, you need to show comparable efficacy to traditional products. So, what you get when you choose one of these certified products is one that is effective but also provides a sustainability benefit and a more eco-conscious choice for your facility if that is part of your goals.

ICT: My next question is about Clorox's latest product, CloroxPro EcoClean. It utilizes natural ingredients while ensuring effectiveness. Can you provide some information on how this product was developed and what distinguishes it from conventional cleaners and disinfectants?

With our line of EcoClean products, we are bringing a disinfectant, an all-purpose cleaner, and a glass cleaner. All of them are anchored under the EPA Safer Choice and Design for the Environment certifications. The disinfectant cleaner uses a lactic acid-based active ingredient and kills and disinfects in 2 minutes or less, even against some harder-to-kill pathogens like norovirus. It also sanitizes hard surfaces in 15 seconds. This all brings a great more sustainable option for facilities that need to disinfect but want to do it more sustainably.

ICT: How do Clorox products compare to other environmentally safe products that are out on the market?

KH: The Clorox products, there are several other products in the market, including ours, that have the Design for the Environment certification on a disinfected. The key right now is that there aren't that many of them. And among those designed [to be] environment-certified products, ours has one of the faster contact times, which is very helpful for disinfecting because it's much easier to kill pathogens if you can do it in a shorter contact time.

ICT: How can businesses and consumers ensure that they are making environmentally responsive choices when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting their surfaces?

KH: If sustainability is a goal, I think it helps to look for products with a third-party certification that can be EPA Safer Choice for cleaners designed for the environment for disinfectants. And there are also other certifications like Green Seal and eco logo that provide similar benefits. So that's a good, easy way to choose a product that has a more eco-conscious benefit. Additionally, look for differences in the packaging, so something that is fully recyclable or uses post-consumer recycled plastic. So that will reduce the impact of everything from the chemistry to the packaging in the whole lifecycle.

ICT: What are the common misconceptions or challenges that businesses face when they're transitioning from or to eco-conscious product cleaning practices, and how can they overcome them?

KH: One of the biggest misconceptions is that a more sustainable product wouldn't work as well. We've shown with Clorox EcoClean disinfectant, for example, that you don't need to sacrifice efficacy to choose a sustainable disinfectant, that you can still have a disinfectant that can kill germs in 2 minutes or even faster, that can clean well, our glass cleaner in the EcoClean line is streak-free, which is comparable to other traditional glass cleaners. You don't have to sacrifice efficacy. And that's a big misconception that we come up against all the time.

ICT: Are there any emerging trends or innovations in the field of eco-conscious cleaners and disinfectants that we should be aware of?

KH: I would point out several. There are trends from government regulations and goals all the way to private businesses. Starting with the government, over 76% of US states have a policy in place saying that you should purchase environmentally preferable products before you would choose a traditional one. And those policies have been increasing in the past several years. We can expect more and more US-owned or state government facilities to require eco-conscious products. On the private business front, more buildings are seeking LEED certification. More buildings are looking to make sustainable changes. More than more than 90% of S&P 500 companies are putting out sustainability reports every year. This tells you that sustainability is a growing trend. And it's important, not just from the government's perspective, but also to big private businesses, who view this as important because their customers think that it's important.

In addition to just private companies, they're making these changes because the consumers, especially millennials and Gen Z, have been making more changes. And our sustainability is very important to these generations, who are becoming the biggest consumer market.

After the interview, ICT asked Hochberg one final question:

ICT: How can companies and consumers further convince federal agencies that eco-friendly and eco-conscious cleaning products can be used in place of the already-approved but caustic cleaning products, such as in preschools, schools, clinics, and hospitals?

KH: Many federal agencies have already recognized that eco-friendly and eco-conscious products can be used in place of traditional. In fact, the EPA released the guidance now followed by federal US government agencies, the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program (EPP). This program has become the basis for the more than three-fourths of US states that have enacted their own policies. As part of our efforts to demonstrate the efficacy of eco-conscious cleaners and disinfectants, we have started compiling education and real-world research about eco-conscious cleaners and disinfectants. In one study, we showed that Clorox EcoClean Disinfecting Cleaner can kill many of the same pathogens as traditional disinfectants and, in many cases, could disinfect against these pathogens faster than the traditional product.

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