Cleaning Up the Toxic Chemical Economy


We've had green chemistry on the brain a lot lately, and for good reasons: according to a new report released today by Clean Production Action, all of us carry upwards of 200 different industrial chemicals in our bodies. The focus of the report, though, isn't the chemical sludge flowing through our systems -- that's well established -- but rather how six companies have taken significant steps towards reducing and even eliminating substances known to be dangerous to our health and environment from the products they create and the services they provide. Healthy Business Strategies for Transforming the Toxic Chemical Economy provides case studies of Avalon Natural Products, Dell, Inc., H&M;, Herman Miller, Interface Fabrics, and Kaiser Permanente that detail the processes by which these companies are rethinking and redesigning their methods of design and production, as well as their products themselves, in order to eliminate dangerous chemicals.The report highlights these companies to illustrate that not only are they doing the right thing, but that they're also "doing well by doing good." The motivations for instituting comprehensive policies regarding chemicals vary from company to company, of course: some started from the highest purposes of protecting workers, customers and the natural environment from harm, while others saw the litigation and PR nightmares that arose from either a poor understanding or an outright neglect of the chemical inputs going into their products. In each case, these companies are finding the rewards are well worth the extensive costs of transitioning to greener chemicals:

All of the companies' investments are paying off in different ways: from cost savings and the creation of new sub-markets to product differentiation, reduced reputation risk and improved quality. For companies seeking similar results, their efforts show a clear path for corporations to better manage chemicals in their supply chains and products.

According to Interface director of environmental management, Wendy Porter, who helped design a plant-based office fabric using safe dyes "Our unique knowledge gives our salesperson an edge over the competition. We even get inquiries from our competitors, who want to know if certain chemicals are okay to use."

Cleaner products make for healthier homes and families. Avalon Vice President Morris Shriftman explains, "We want our customers to be conscious of what they put on their skin. We want them to understand that it's not just about the small amount of a chemical in a single cosmetic. It's about the cumulative risk for a woman applying and re-applying cosmetics 15, 20, even 25 times in a single day shower gels, cleansers, toners, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, mascara, lipstick, deodorants, creams with penetration enhancers, and so on."

While some might consider a research report like this the ultimate bedtime reading, CPA's detailed analysis of the changes each company instituted in greening its own practices, as well as those of its supply chain, provides a fascinating look into how corporations can move in much more sustainable directions while maintaining, and even increasing, profitability. Every company, from automakers to fashion designers to corner coffee shops, sells products or provides services with chemical inputs. Each of these types of businesses can change the way it handles such elements of its offerings, and will likely come out stronger by doing more than simply complying with regulations, or hoping that the worst won't happen. :: Clean Product Action's Healthy Business Strategies for Transforming the Toxic Chemical Economy (in PDF)