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Spick-And-Span

With worries about health, safety and the environment on everyone's mind, getting clean is going green. You, too, can join the cleanup crew--and watch sales sparkle.

With the help of a growing number of green products and services, more consumers are cleaning up their acts. Some are doing it just by cleaning up their homes, using green cleaning products and services to create living environments that are free of the chemicals found in standard cleaning products. These chemicals are part of the reason indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the EPA. Because of surprising data like this, "[environmental] regulations are getting stricter and pushing manufacturers for safe, green products," says Pierre Bee, vice president of Orbeco Inc., a green cleaning company launched 15 years ago in Europe, where green living and businesses have existed for decades.

More people are starting to clean green, says Stephanie Barger, founder and executive director of the Earth Resource Foundation. "It's about the environment, sustainability and health."
After her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, Robin Levine learned that hormone-mimicking compounds in cleaning products could be to blame. So in 2006, she raided her pantry and mixed up some all-natural concoctions. A little white vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil disinfected Levine's home as effectively as standard cleaners. And before she knew it, she was launching Pasadena, California-based Eco-Me, maker of a natural home-cleaning toolkit. "You don't have to use a toxic chemical to kill bacteria," says Levine, 36, who projects 2008 sales of more than $1 million. "People think harsh chemicals make it clean, but that's false."

Petter Nahed started his green cleaning business, Maid Green, after seeing his mother, a housekeeper, frequently fall ill with breathing problems. He discovered that standard cleaners may contribute to asthma, which affects 12.4 million people in the U.S. Using insight from a relative in chemical sales, Nahed, 29, launched his own green cleaning service in Miami. The 2-year-old company uses all-natural cleaners, reusable microfiber cloths and low-energy, HEPA filtration vacuums.

At first, both Levine and Nahed saw resistance from potential customers. "People weren't [familiar] with green cleaning products or methods," says Nahed, who projects sales of about $200,000 this year. "They were skeptical when their houses didn't smell like bleach." Launching their green cleaning businesses meant focusing on customer education--something that requires a significant PR budget and lots of marketing, emphasizes Bee.

However, consumer awareness continues to grow, as do the opportunities for entrepreneurs. Levine suggests browsing cleaning aisles to discover unsaturated or nonexistent categories. Nahed points to niches like green window cleaning or lawn care. "There's huge consumer demand for this," adds Barger. Once you've launched, she says, you should educate your employees thoroughly, cross-market with like-minded organizations, and naturally, practice what you preach.

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This article was originally published in the May 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Spick-And-Span.

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