Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Seventh Generation, a company whose products include household cleaners and toilet paper, is one of the more environmentally responsible businesses around. The company is named after a Native American philosophy of judging the merits of an action based on how it will affect people seven generations from now.

Seventh Generation's e-mail newsletter is refreshing for the candidness of CEO Jeffrey Hollender and for the articles about the environment. In a recent one Hollender cites examples of corporate greenwashing -- marketing designed to make consumers think a company is being environmentally responsible when, in fact, it isn't. I've altered the order to suit my preferences.

n ... General Electric, Caterpillar, and Alcoa ... last year were widely hailed when they joined four environmental groups to endorse sweeping cuts in heat-trapping emissions. Problem was, behind the scenes, the three companies supported the efforts of an industry trade group to fight mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases, according to BusinessWeek. Sounds to me like the three giants are blatant emitters of that heat-trapping gas called hypocrisy.

n Procter & Gamble’s Tide Pure Essentials Detergents, with their earth-tone packaging and "naturally inspired scents," turn Tide into a green wanna-be. Consumers believe they’re doing the right thing for their families and the environment by choosing Pure Essentials. But according to P&G’s Material Safety Data Sheets, Tide Pure Essentials products are identical to conventional Tide!

n Sunshine Makers’ Simple Green plays a similar game. Its key ingredients comprise the same toxic solvent that can be found in traditional all-purpose cleaners such as Formula 409 and Windex.

n General Motors is advertising a plug-in hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt, which it doesn’t even sell [yet]. At a time when fuel-sucking SUVs have helped drive the US auto industry into a ditch, GM apparently hopes that its phantom Volt will give it a pristine green sheen.

In another article in the newsletter Hollender cites a story that talks about Procter & Gamble's effort to be more environmentally responsible (ie. adding more squares to its toilet paper rolls, so consumers won't go through as many cardboard tubes), while ignoring one of the biggest environmental woes it creates: releasing toxins into our environment through the chemicals in its products.

"P&G is doing a good job of reducing its greenhouse gases," says Devra Lee Davis, director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh, "but at the same time, it's using cosmetic ingredients like phthalates, where the evidence is growing that these chemicals could have a negative impact on our children and grandchildren."

Incidentally I was surprised to see that there is a Center for Environmental Oncology. While there is all this talk about finding a cure for cancer (ie. Race for the Cure, wear your pink ribbon for a cure, torture animals to find a cure), I rarely hear anyone in the mainstream talking about prevention. Ending the production of goods that contain harmful chemicals is a great place to start.

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