From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published March 30, 2011 08:10 AM

What is Green?

Green science or products can be loosely defined as the term for any application of science, knowledge or technology towards improving the relationship between human technology involvement and the impact this has on the environment and natural resources. It is a broad category, in that it can cover many different facets of technology and human development. With more and more environmentally conscious consumers trying to choose green products, American Chemical Society scientists reported today that the first reality check has revealed that the ingredients in those products may come from a surprising source —— petroleum, rather than natural plant-based sources.

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Now green products have no single definition.  For some it means only natural grown ingredients.  For others it may mean my product is more green that the competitor.  

In a study presented here today at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), Cara A.M. Bondi and colleagues described their analysis of more than a dozen samples of commercial liquid laundry detergents, dish washing liquids, and hand washes. Their study checked where the carbon in the product came from.  By their definition carbon from petroleum is less green than carbon from other sources.  

"Not all carbon is created equal —— carbon originating from petroleum is clearly not from a renewable resource. No one can dispute that we need to use less petroleum and consumer products are no exception," Bondi said.

Carbon can really come from plants, coal or petroleum.  Admittedly some carbon can be recycled which further blurs the source definition.    To answer that question, Bondi's team turned to a variation of the famous carbon-14 dating technique — used to analyze carbon in ancient bone, cloth, and other artifacts.

The products tested showed significant variation in plant-derived carbon content: hand washes ranged from 28%-97%, liquid laundry detergents from 28%-94% and dish washing liquids from 43%-95%. The research also revealed that all of the products tested that are positioned in the consumer market as green contained over 50% more plant-based carbon on average than product samples tested without such positioning.

"Some of the other findings, however, were a surprise" Bondi said. "The plant-derived carbon content of the product samples tested was largely inconsistent with some of the content claims made on packaging. For example, a liquid laundry detergent that makes the claim 'petrochemical free' contained only 69% plant-based carbon, meaning that 31% of the carbon in this sample is, in fact, petroleum-derived."

"Carbon derivation is the cornerstone of sustainability and, as such, understanding the ratio of plant-derived versus petroleum-derived carbon is critical for both consumer product manufacturers and raw material suppliers who are trying to minimize petrochemical use," Bondi said. "While radiocarbon dating is commonly used by archeologists to determine the age of artifacts, this method has not customarily been used to understand the renewable carbon content of consumer products. We show that consumer product manufacturers who desire to use less petroleum can incorporate radiocarbon dating per ASTM D6866-10 as a method to verify the renewable carbon content of raw materials and finished products, as well as measure the sustainability and renewability improvements of formulation development efforts."

What is surfacing here is exaggeration in product claims helped by no firm definitions.  Green, to some, should embrace the following principles:

1.    Sustainability - meeting the needs of society in ways that can continue indefinitely into the future without damaging or depleting natural resources.

2.    Creating products that can be fully reclaimed or re-used.

3.    Reducing waste and pollution by changing the patterns of production and consumption.

4.    Creating a center of economic activity around technologies and products that benefit the environment, speeding their implementation and creating new careers that truly protect the planet.

For further information:   http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/acs-sii030911.php

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