The EPA has created a program called the "Design for the Environment", through which they award a government seal to detergents and cleaners made with chemicals that are deemed less harmful than others to the environment. On the surface, this seems like an excellent idea, right? Unfortunately, a recent interview with Clive Davies, chief of the program, highlights some of the major flaws of the program, which, it seems, are favoring huge mega-corporations over small, truly green businesses.
Sounds kinda familiar.... as a small organic farm that cannot afford organic certification, we are all-too-aware of government's tendency to squeeze out the little guys. Most small farms are unable to afford the high cost and extensive paperwork needed to achieve USDA Organic certification. Which, of course, is no problem for large agribusinesses, who often do not care for the health of their ecosystem in holistically beneficial ways.
But I digress... back to the EPA. In order to understand my complaints, it would help to read the interview here. Basically, when asked about harmful chemicals in cleaners, Davies sites phosphates and nonylphenyl ethoxylates as major toxins. But when pressed to disclose which brands actually have these chemicals in them, he avoids the question. When further pressed, he says "some automatic dish washing detergents". That's an understatement. Laundry detergents, fabric softeners, spray cleaners, even some dish soaps, contain these toxic chemicals and others. It would be pretty easy to name them, too. But obviously, Davies doesn't want to point fingers. I mean, it's only the health of our planet at stake, right?
Then he goes on to name some of the companies that have received the EPA's "distinguished" award. Can you guess who he names? It's not Dr. Bronner's, one of the most natural and organic brands out there, or Aubrey Organics, who doesn't use a single synthetic chemical in their cleaning and personal care products. No, he actually names Clorox, Method, and Amway. And when he is questioned about why Seventh Generation is not on the list, he says they "didn't submit proper information". Funny, especially when you consider that Seventh Generation is one of the few companies out there that actually uses full disclosure and lists all ingredients on their labels. Was that too difficult for the EPA to find?
(NOTE: When I looked up the list myself, Seventh Generation was on it, so I'm not sure what that means, but I'll be looking into it.)
In fact, when asked why only 22 companies have been given this "distinguished" award, he comments: "It’s not a simple thing to formulate a safer cleaning product. A company has to invest in the chemistry, and then they have to invest in the performance testing, and they have to make sure that it’s safer, and they have to make sure it works, and then they have to make it through us."
Notice the repetitive use of the word "invest". If a supposedly non-profit governmental organization is requiring large investment on the part of companies to achieve a certain designation or award, especially when that designation is supposed to designate "greenness", then they are truly missing the boat. By doing so, they ensure that only the very largest and wealthiest corporations will succeed.
If our government can't take the lead in supporting truly green, small businesses, then how are we to transform our society into one that puts eco-values at the forefront of our consumerism? I am hopeful that Obama's team will be tackling this problem, since he has shown an applaudable commitment to environmental and sustainability issues.
Here is the list of award winners that I found (also listed below). There are a few great companies on there, like Earth Friendly Products, and a lot that should never have been given "green" status, based on their past (and current) use of toxic substances in some of their products. I mean, Dial? S.C. Johnson? Clorox? Proctor & Gamble? Get real!
So I decided that I am going to go through the application process myself, trying to earn my retail store the status of "Champion" under the Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative, a program of the Design for the Environment Program. According to the guidelines, all I have to do is demonstrate that my business will sell only products containing surfactants that are not harmful to the environment. That should not be hard to do, since we screen everything we sell and not a single item contains phosphates, optical brighteners, chlorine, or other harsh chemicals. Of course, looking at the list, there seems to be only one retailer that has been awarded Champion status...This should be fun!
List of EPA "Champion" Product Formulators that have supposedly:
- Demonstrated the use of only safer surfactants in products;
- Documented a strategy for ensuring that only safer surfactants are used in products.
Barricade Fire Gel
Bissell Homecare Inc.
ChemLink Laboratories LLC
Clean Control Corporation
Corporate Express, a Staples Company
Earth Friendly Products
Eco Concepts, Inc.
GEMTEK Products LLC
Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products LP
Natural Soap Formulas
Pure & Gentle Soap Inc.
Reckitt Benckiser, Inc.
S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.
Seventh Generation, Inc.
Spurrier Chemical Companies Inc.
State Chemical Solutions
The Dial Corporation, A Henkel Company
The Procter & Gamble Company
US Formula Technology
U.S. Polychemical Corporation
Virox Technologies Inc.
Interested in applying for the designation for your own business? Click here to download the application.