Green Chemistry and Consumer Choices – The Future of Our Supply Chains

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Attendees of the Net Impact Dinner and Dialogue event "Green Chemistry and Consumer Choice" February 23, 2012Net Impact Minneapolis hosted our first “Dinner and Dialogue” event on Green Chemistry and Consumer Choices.

The event focused on the choices we make when we purchase products, and implications for ourselves and society from a chemical perspective.

We had a lively presentation and informal conversation with Kathleen Schuler of the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum and Tim Kapsner of the Aveda Corporation that highlighted the trade-offs. They also shared the considerations behind the design, manufacture and use of chemical products to reduce or eliminate hazards to human health and the environment.

The Dinner and Dialogue event paired a fascinating and thought-provoking discussion with a delightful three-course meal in an intimate setting at Spill the Wine.

Dave Sheppard, Net Impact Minneapolis President, shares the following thoughts inspired by the event.

“Most of us would be forgiven for assuming that our regulatory system does a fairly good job of protecting American consumers from Toxic Chemicals.  After all, the primary law governing toxic chemicals in consumer products – the Toxic Substances Control Act (TCSA) – was passed in 1976.  But, as Kathleen Schuler of the IATP told our Dinner and Dialogue audience on the evening of February 23rd,  only five chemicals have been banned under the TCSA since 1976 – and none since 1990.  That’s out of the 62,000-odd chemicals in use as of 1979, plus another 20,000 or so added since then.  In fact, the EPA was unable to ban asbestos under the TCSA.  Kathleen’s point is that the TCSA is in need of modernization, and she provided several examples of deficiencies in current supply chain oversight.  Infant crib sheets recently purchased at a major Minneapolis department store were tested by the Minnesota Green Chemistry forum and found to have been treated with formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, for solely aesthetic purposes.  And it’s not necessarily the retailer’s fault – current law does not require much reporting from suppliers.  Kathleen shared some of the advocacy work she and the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum (MGCF) are doing, notably promoting the Toxic Free Kids Act in the Minnesota legislature.

One of Kathleen’s partners in the MGCF, Tim Kapsner – a chemist with the Aveda Corporation – spoke of his firm’s commitment to responsible chemistry and organic sourcing even when cost presents a major hurdle.  Aveda’s products command a premium because they are responsibly sourced, which mitigates the cost.  Tim used the example of salicylic acid, a compound used in many personal care products.  Many firms derive their salicylic acid from petroleum, and a low cost.  Aveda derives its product from wintergreen oil, albeit at a much higher cosst.  But Aveda sees development of this technology as a smart business hedge against the day when petrochemical souring will not command such a price advantage.”

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