Environmentally Green Ice Melt?

December 10, 2012

No regulatory oversight in “green claims” make buying an environmentally appropriate ice melt the commercial equivalent of buying liver pills at a carnival.

The desire to “go green” continues to gain momentum in ice melt products.  The lack of any rules governing label claims complicates decision making.  The growing desire to achieve environmentally compliant certifications coupled with increased “green” awareness is driving demand for Earth-friendly deicing products.

Normally, a quick glance at a label or a review of certifications is all that is necessary, however, the claims and endorsements of a green label can be confusing where there is no regulatory oversight or penalty for deliberate deceptions.

There are no firm government regulations that regulate when the term green can be used in promotional materials, product names and packaging, and, more often than not the seals and certifications on labels are nothing more than a self-appointed approval by the seller.

The Ice Melt Industry

Because the bulk and packaged ice melt industry is largely unregulated, there’s nothing to prevent a manufacturer from; adding small traces of premium deicer additives to basic rock salt and claiming greater environmental benefits; creating a unique symbol that implies eco-friendliness; including “green” or “environmentally friendly” in the product name — or making other misleading marketing claims without providing any scientific form of validation.

Ice melt manufacturers may use these terms to merely indicate that packaging is made from recycled material or that the product contains green coloring, whereas consumers may interpret these terms to mean that the product is beneficial to the environment in some way.

Other products that truly are environmentally friendly, substantiate their claims with the manufacturer’s own research and/or third-party certifications.  Obviously, third party certifications from government agencies or academia are usually the best assurance.

While environmental claims are often more subjective than performance claims, they should be quantifiable in some way, such as through fewer chemicals introduced into the environment or other means.  Again, these facts must be clearly spelled out and independent sources identified in order to substantiate the claims.

How can ice melt users pick the products that can make a positive difference?

To help protect businesses and consumers against misleading marketing claims, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued the Green Guides that give general guidelines for corporations to follow when making claims that their products are environmentally friendly.  While the rules are started and are very broad, something is better than nothing but still we lack the enforcement arm from the government to bring violators to task.

Green Guides was first published in 1992, updated in 1998 and is currently undergoing further updates.

Proposed changes can be viewed on www.FTC.gov but, in general, the Green Guides essentially states that marketers should not make environmental benefit claims without the appropriate substantiation in place to prove them and that claims should be limited to a specific benefit, with clear and prominent qualifications.

Substantiation may require scientific evidence, tests, analyses, research, quantification or other validation.

Marketing claims should also specify whether they refer to the product, the packaging or both.  Be sure to understand this important difference.  CMA, calcium magnesium acetate is LEED certified.  However, putting 0.00001% CMA on salt is not.  Only 100% CMA is going to pass the test and not destroy the new concrete.

What To Look For

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Design for the Environment (DfE) certification is perhaps the best and most widely known validation for the environmental claims of ice melt products.  Adding a small amount of a DfE approved material to salt however, does not magically transform the salt to DfE.  The certified chemical breakdown of ingredients is the only way to know.

The DfE symbol means that the EPA’s scientific review team has thoroughly screened the material for potential environmental harm and determined that it contains “only those ingredients that pose the least concern among chemicals in their class.”

Product manufacturers who pass the DfE’s strict certification requirements earn the right to display the DfE logo on their recognized products.  Increasingly today, marketers and manufacturers are applying small amounts of DfE products to celebrate the logo on the label even though it has little or no benefit at these low levels.

Another certification agency worth noting is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which uses a suite of rating systems for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods.

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is intended to provide building owners and operators with a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

Although few deicers are currently LEED-certified, demand for environmentally friendly ice melt products will surely grow the number of certified products.

Here’s What Matters

What is the key takeaway for maintenance and sanitation professionals?  When it comes to ice melt, finding the terms “green” or “environmentally friendly” should be the beginning of your investigation, not the end.  Look for some type of claim substantiation or quantification, either from the manufacturer or from a reliable third-party.

Manufacturers who have gone through the effort to secure scientific data that substantiate or quantify their claims — or have passed the rigors of a third-party validation — will be eager to share that information on their packaging and promotional materials.  Manufacturers and products which claim “secret formula” or are unwilling to comply with the Federal Right-To-Know laws providing a detailed list of ingredients should be avoided.   Most legitimate deicer manufacturers will provide a certificate of analysis on any product they offer.  This is a detailed breakdown of ingredients that is certified by the producer as true.

Bottom Line

Request a certificate of analysis for any product offered if you’re unsure.  This will provided a full chemical breakdown of ingredients and will quickly allow the consumer to determine whether they are buying fiction or facts.

MeltSnow.com is ready to provide a certificate of analysis on any product we offer to any customer.   We have nothing to hide and your representative will work with you to get the right products specified for your facility to meet both safety and environmental needs.   Snow and ice control is our business.  Let us help you find the right product.

 

Reprinted From Cleaning & Maintenance Management Magazine – used with permission