Agar Cleaning Systems
What are some key sustainability aspects of your business and certified products?
At Agar Cleaning Systems, sustainability is one of our long-term goals and a core value for us. As a family-run company, we want to safeguard the environment for ourselves and future generations by driving perception changes around the effectiveness of what a “green” chemical can achieve. This has led us to preference re-growable raw materials wherever possible, harnessing the power of naturally occurring chemicals proven to provide excellent cleaning power.
While it is a difficult challenge to reconcile the need to reduce energy and water use, taking inspiration from nature has led to clever formulations that preserve the functionality of our products. These products help keep our living spaces clean, hygienic, healthy, and aesthetically pleasing.
In a cleaning process, higher chemical efficacy reduces the reliance on mechanical action and heat, thereby reducing the energy demand of the process. In this way, chemical use offers an environmental benefit. There are certain processes such as disinfection or cleaning porous surfaces whereby a chemical treatment provides the most effective and efficient results.
Using our knowledge and supplier base, we can formulate effective chemicals which reduce environmental impact compared with other products available in the market.
Minimising the environmental impact and maximising the performance of our products must occur in parallel. Cleaning is a labour-intensive activity; using the most effective products allows cleaning tasks to be completed in less time, saving labour hours and energy use, benefiting cleaning service providers and their clients.
Why did you choose to get a GECA certification?
We first received GECA accreditation for our neutral detergent, SPRUCE, in 2008. We chose to apply for GECA certification because we wanted to show our customers that an independent technical body had assessed the product against a rigorous standard for cleaning products that applied strict standards for ecological responsibility.
At the time, there were too many “green” labels appearing on products that had minimal actual green attributes. There was no clear definition of what constitutes a truly “green” product, so there was too much marketing spin and not enough being done to make things better for the environment.
The GECA lifecycle ecolabel gives our customers more confidence in our suite of GECA certified products and the brand itself, knowing there is no greenwashing and that we are actively contributing to safer conditions for our people, property, and the planet.
We also felt that GECA’s membership of the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) gives GECA unrivalled credibility in the international field of accredited, environmentally responsible labelling and product endorsement.
How important is certification to you and your customers?
Certification is essential because it provides robust proof that we are living up to our claims that these products are safer to use and better for the environment. It also makes life easier for our customers because they do not need to carry out extensive auditing of their supplier, in this case, Agar Cleaning Systems, because GECA has already done the assessment. Many Government and semi-Government bodies have recognised that GECA assessment is rigorous and of a high standard — a recognition now shared by a growing number of businesses Australia-wide.
Did you have to make any changes to your products or services to obtain GECA certification?
We had to reformulate our GECA certified cleaning products to some extent because we discovered that some perfumes contained ingredients that were not permitted by the standard, and some surfactants were problematic in the potentially anaerobic conditions of waste-water treatment plants.
We also made minor changes to certain colourants and replaced a few surfactants with others that biodegrade more rapidly. So, these materials had to be replaced, and it had to be done in such a way that product performance would not be reduced.
Luckily, we removed the old “hard” (meaning very slow to biodegrade) detergent compounds from use in our products in the 1980s when this issue first surfaced, long before we got our first GECA certification. We now focus more of our attention on developing products with GECA’s standards in mind, so changes to products for GECA certification are not required.
What do you think are the biggest sustainability challenges for your industry right now?
There are a few significant sustainability challenges in our industry that Agar is actively aiming to address wherever we can.
Reducing the amount of energy and emissions consumed by our delivery service is one of those challenges. The world of online shopping is creating an expectation in customers that those deliveries will be made quickly, and we need to reconcile that with the large geographical areas our vehicles need to cover in the big cities like Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to get the goods delivered to our customers.
Another major problem we face in our industry is greenwashing. Many companies in our industry make claims that products are environmentally friendly without evidence to support the claims. GECA certification helps by ensuring companies have independently assessed evidence-based claims, assuring customers that the product is true to its claims.
Finally, single-use or non-recyclable plastic use is a major issue. Plastic bottles should always be multi-use and recyclable. At Agar, we have specially screen-printed dispenser bottles for preparing ready-to-use solutions with our most common products. With simple dilution ratios printed on the side, these help our users mix onsite and refill when empty to extend the life of each bottle. Another initiative we have implemented is collecting our customers’ empty bottles once they are all used up to give them a second (or third!) life.