Is the Swiffer Eco-Friendly?


Don't gag on your granola, but 'tis so indeed—that is, if you would believe Gianfranco Zaccai, the president and CEO of Continuum, the award-winning design and innovation consultancy behind P&G;'s Swiffer products. And he's not just talking about the CarpetFlick.

Zaccai makes this whopper of an assertion in a BusinessWeek op-ed, while rallying designers not to "just make more stuff the world doesn't need," but to keep sustainability—which can be profitable, to boot—in mind.

Designers now have an ethical responsibility to avert the destruction of the planet on which their children and grandchildren must live—this is the same responsibility any of us has. Designers also have a professional responsibility to help their clients' profitability in the short and medium terms by designing products that cost less to produce and are more desirable. Finally, designers have a long-term fiduciary responsibility to their clients; the degradation or destruction of the environment is in nobody's long-term interest.

Now that's an argument we'd be hard-pressed to find fault with. In fact, we'd go so far as to call that attitude downright admirable. But then Zaccai whips out the Swiffer, which he proclaims embodies the very essence of "sustainable profitability." (Dude, you should have quit while you were ahead.) Cleaning the floor with your old-fashioned mop and detergent is a disgusting, messy job that "uses many gallons of hot water and great amounts of detergent every week in millions of homes around the world," he says. And the people, they don't like the hot, watery mess.

The water, the energy needed to heat that water, and the environmental impact of dumping the detergent into the waste stream are terribly costly, and all for a job no one likes doing anyway.

On the flip side, cleaning a floor with a Swiffer uses almost no water at all, and only involves a sheet of paper (the only disposable) and a few squirts of cleaning agent. "Designing a superior experience makes it possible to increase profit and decrease mindless waste simultaneously," Zaccai says.

"Decrease mindless waste."

We'll wait right here as you let that sentence sink in, but suffice to say, even Alanis Morissette could divine the irony of that statement.

What Zaccai fails to mention is that, unless you houseclean just once a year with a single, lonely wipe, mounds of these disposables will only wind up rotting in a landfill somewhere, as their toxic chemicals slowly leach into our soil and poison the water table. If that doesn't exemplify mindless waste, we don't know what does.

And I'm not sure what old-timey mop Zaccai was using, but my sponge mop cleans just as quickly and efficiently as my retired Swiffer did. Yes, it requires an added step—rinsing the sponge head—but that isn't exactly crippling my quality of life. And it doesn't make the angels weep for me or my pocketbook. (Like printer manufacturers and wireless service providers, Swiffer knows to bait you with a cheap product, and then wheel you in like a feisty fat halibut with the consumables.)

Considering that the concentrations of some 20 toxic compounds can be hundreds of times higher indoors than outdoors, you're probably better off not introducing these nasty cancer-causing chemicals into your hearth and home in the first place. (Check out our guide on how to green your cleaning for more info.)

And Zaccai? We'd like to introduce you to a piece of functional design that doesn't run roughshod over the environment: The mop. We keep it right next to our broom.

Remember those?