True Quality CleaningStraight talk about caring for fine garments & household textiles from an expert who calls it like it is. In plain English.

BP CEO says Gulf oil spill is organic and non-toxic

Oil tar on Gulf watersTony Hayward, chief executive officer of British-owned oil giant BP, appeared before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today.

Looking dapper in a tailored Savile Row navy pinstripe suit and sporting his distinctive look -  baby face, pale complexion, rosy cheeks and tussled brown hair - Hayward testified that BP's deep water oil drilling technology was "environmentally friendly", and that the huge Gulf of Mexico oil spill posed "no toxic risk" to the environment, whether it be sea life in the Gulf or animal, bird and plant habitats on the coastal wetlands of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

When questioned by Committee Chairman, Jeff Bingaman (D - New Mexico) about his "environmentally friendly" and "no toxic risk" comments, Hayward admonished Bingaman to "chill out", and explained that the crude oil contains carbon, that anything that contains carbon is "organic", and that anything "organic" must be "good." So it's logical that crude oil (even a crude oil spill) must be good.

Sounds insane, doesn't it? Well, it is. That's because I just made this all up.

But that's the EXACT rationale dry cleaners use to justify cleaning in synthetic petroleum solvent (it's "environmentally friendly"). And that's the EXACT justification they use for marketing their synthetic petroleum dry cleaning solvent (it's "organic").

Here's some background ...

Many dry cleaners are now proclaiming themselves to be "organic cleaners."

Local organic produceClearly, these cleaners are attempting to capitalize on the public perception that "organic" equals "safe." That, in much the same way that organic foods equal "safe for consumption" and "safe for the environment", organic drycleaning similarly equals "safe for fine garments" and "safe for the environment".

Here's my position on the use of the term "organic drycleaning": it's a deceptive and misleading business practice. Consciously and intentionally deceptive and misleading.

There are three things you need to know about "organic drycleaning":

  1. There's no such thing as "organic drycleaning".
  2. Almost every single one of the 26,000 cleaners in the USA qualifies to be called an "organic drycleaner."
  3. "Organic drycleaning" almost never equals both "safe for fine garments" and "safe for the environment".

Here's why ...

99.9% of all cleaners in the USA use one of three primary drycleaning solvents or fluids:

  • Perchloroethylene aka perc or PCE (brand name: Dowper from Dow Chemical and PerSec from Occidental Chemical)).
  • Synthetic petroleum (brand name: DF 2000 from Exxon Mobil or EcoSolv from Conoco Phillips).
  • Siloxane (brand name: Green Earth from Green Earth Cleaning).

97% of all cleaners clean in perc and/or synthetic petroleum. BOTH perc and synthetic petroleum are ORGANIC SOLVENTS BY VIRTUE OF THE FACT THAT THEY BOTH CONTAIN THE CHEMICAL ELEMENT CARBON. That's a basic -- and indisputable - fact of chemistry. Accordingly, almost every cleaner in the USA can proclaim themselves an "organic drycleaner."

Truth is, both perc and synthetic petroleum are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies them as Toxic Air Contaminants. As such, they are strictly regulated at the federal, state and local level -- both in how they're used and how they're disposed of.

Given that almost every cleaner in North America can claim to be an "organic drycleaner", why are some cleaners resorting to using the "organic drycleaning" hook?

I can only speculate ...USDA Organic

No drycleaning industry standards

There are no drycleaning industry standards governing the use of the term "organic".

Contrast this to the agricultural and meat products industries. For most of us, organic has come to mean

  • plant-based foods grown without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides
  • animal foods that have been fed organic plant-based foods during their lives and are free of growth hormones, antibiotics and irradiation.

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced strict standards for labeling food as organic, primarily to stamp out the rampant abuse of the term "organic" in the marketplace. You can see the impact of these standards for yourself by studying the labels on products in the organic section of your local supermarket.

I predict that "organic" personal care products (shampoos, conditioners, moisturizing creams, lipsticks, etc.), "organic" cleaning agents (dishwashing liquids, all purpose cleaners, etc.) and "organic" services (drycleaning, carpet cleaning, maid service, etc.) will be similarly regulated in the near future.

NYC StreetLack of understanding of basic drycleaning chemistry

Organic chemistry, in general, and stain removal chemistry, in particular, is clearly a mystery to those operating under the "organic drycleaning" banner. There again, why bother with such technical knowledge when your entire operation is geared to getting garments into a machine, onto a press, and into a bag. ASAP. They're in by 9:00 and out by 5:00; or picked up on day 1 and delivered on day 3.

Substitute for "alternative to perc"

It's quite possible that those cleaners using the term "organic drycleaning" are merely searching for a catchy phrase to describe the fact that they do not clean in perchloroethylene (aka perc or PCE).

If this is true, the term "organic drycleaning" is nothing more than green washing, a term used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.Organic drycleaning on Broadway

More specifically, the term "organic drycleaning" commits all the seven sins of greenwashing: the sin of the hidden trade off; the sin of no proof; the sin of vagueness; the sin of irrelevance; the sin of fibbing; the sin of the lesser of two evils; and the sin of worshiping false labels.

Overwhelming competitive pressures

Ordinary cleaning is a highly competitive business. Apart from fast turnaround, low prices, convenient location and broad smiles, most cleaners offer little to separate themselves from their competition down the street or across town. Organic drycleaning may be their attempt to do just that.

Opportunity to raise (unjustifiably) prices

To deal with rising labor and supply costs, many ordinary cleaners have cut costs to the bone. So they've had to look for ways to raise revenue by raising prices.

But it's not easy to raise prices, particularly in this economic environment. So they've come up with a novel strategy: we'll call our dry cleaning "organic", appeal to the environmentally conscious customer, and raise our prices by 10% to 15%. After all, according to a 2008 GfK Roper Consulting/Yale University study half of study respondents reported that they would "definitely or probably pay 15% more for an eco-friendly laundry detergent." And if they'll pay more for "an eco-friendly" detergent, why won't they pay more for "eco-friendly" dry cleaning?

the Cloud machinesThe question remains ...

The big question is this: Are these cleaners using the term "organic drycleaning" because they're afraid to disclose that they still clean your fine garments in a toxic, environmentally hazardous solvent -- only now it's manufactured by Exxon Mobil (DF 2000) or Conoco Phillips (EcoSolv) instead of Dow Chemical (Dowper)? Or are they using the term simply to pull the wool over the eyes of an uninformed and gullible public?

"Organic drycleaning": fact or con? You be the judge.

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