Last year we got a good response from readers and colleagues when Mike Indursky of Burt's Bees talked in a TreeHugger interview about developing The Natural Standard - an attempt to specify exactly what is, and is not, meant when a company describes its products as "all natural". At TreeHugger we get inundated every day with press releases for products that use terms like all natural or sustainable, yet in reality there can be a huge disparity between what is meant by such definitions (you only have to look at the recent Dr Bronner's law suit to see how controversial this stuff can get!). On the one hand, many companies are working hard to produce the most natural, sustainable and transparent personal care products they possibly can, yet other companies are continuing to make the same-old-same-old - formulations that are made up of 95% petrochemicals, with a good measure of parabens and other goodies thrown in, and then adding a few randomn herbs for the purposes of claiming them as an all natural product. And unfortunately there's been little in the way of regulation to discourage such behavior.
So when the Natural Products Association invited us along to speak at the official launch of The Natural Standard, and its corresponding consumer seal, we were only too delighted to attend. On the panel were representatives from leading natural personal care companies such as Weleda, Burt's Bees, Aubrey and Farmaesthetics. Also present were TreeHugger favorite Josh Dorfman of the Lazy Environmentalist, our very own Summer Rayne Oaks, and your humble author. Much of the panel discussion centered on the need for such a standard - namely to clear up the huge confusion that exists around what companies mean by 'natural', and to define specific ingredients and processes that are, and are not, allowed in products using these terms. There was also a great deal of talk about how the standard can act as a forum for further debate and an ongoing evolution - continually raising the bar to achieve greater excellence as the truly natural personal care industry develops. Specific elements of the new standard include:
• Product must be made up of at least 95 percent truly natural ingredients or ingredients that are derived from natural sources
• No ingredients with any potential suspected human health risks
• No processes that significantly or adversely alter the purity/effect of the natural ingredients
• Ingredients that come from a purposeful, renewable/plentiful source found in nature (flora, fauna, mineral)
• Processes that are minimal and don't use synthetic/harsh chemicals or otherwise dilute purity
• Non-natural ingredients only when viable natural alternative ingredient are unavailable and only when there are absolutely no suspected potential human health risks
We are sure that there will be quibbles about certain elements that are, or are not, permitted according to The Natural Standard. In many ways that is the point - the very act of defining what is meant by the term 'all natural' in-and-of-itself creates an opportunity for dialogue. And we are encouraged to see that the folks from The Natural Products Association and the Natural Standard are openly inviting debate and discussion to help move the standard forward. As Summer Rayne Oaks pointed out in her presentation, it's absolutely vital that any such standard, however welcome, is not just accepted at face value - it's up to us as citizens, as consumers, as retailers, and as bloggers and journalists to scrutinize such efforts, to continue to ask hardball questions, and to push for greater accountability among all businesses. But we are confident that The Natural Standard will provide the perfect opportunity to do just that.
::The Natural Products Association::via site visit::