Whole Flooz(ie)…?

Courtney Miller

[by Courtney Miller – owner, 2 Wheels and a Mop]

Green consumers – moms and non-moms alike – are aware of the importance of using eco-friendly cleaning products. Non-green products damage the environment by polluting the atmosphere and water supply and can negatively impact the health of adults, children, and pets. These products contain synthetic colors, chlorine, phosphates, and other chemicals that produce an overgrowth of algae when they enter rivers and streams. They often contain petroleum-derived substances, the production of which emits greenhouse gases and contributes to our society’s reliance on oil. In pets and humans, non-green products act as hormone disrupters and/or allergens, and can be acutely toxic if ingested in large quantities.

Green products, on the other hand, are generally thought to be petroleum-free, plant-based, and biodegradable. If you’re like many people, you pluck a product billed as green or eco-friendly from the shelves of your local health food store and trust that this classification is accurate.

Whole Foods Market’s new EcoScale (TM) Rating System, however, should give you pause.

While the system takes an important step forward by promoting transparency (the FDA does not require companies to disclose the ingredients of household products to consumers), it simultaneously exposes the fact that many of the products that Whole Foods carries – brands that are traditionally considered “green” – fail to meet the standards that green consumers are typically seeking.

EcoScale (TM) requires companies that wish to sell household products at Whole Foods stores to fully disclose the products’ ingredients on their packaging, to have those ingredients third-party verified, to refrain from animal testing, and to exclude the following ingredients: anything with significant environmental or safety concerns, phosphates, chlorine, synthetic colors, and formaldehyde-donors. The products that meet these minimum standards are rated “orange.”

Products rated “yellow” do not contain ingredients with moderate environmental or safety concerns and they exceed the standards of “orange” products by excluding synthetic thickeners, surfactants with impurities, and non-natural fragrances. It’s only the “green”-rated products that are consistent with what the green consumer is typically seeking – petroleum-free and 100% plant- and mineral-based. In this sense, then, the rainbow rating system does seem apt – “orange” and “yellow” ratings signal some amount of alert. But the sale of such products by the largest national health food store is disappointing from a green consumer standpoint.

In addition, a quick look at the specific rating choices reveals at least one significant flaw. EcoScale (TM) was launched on Earth Day this year and the roll-out appears to be moving slowly. A recent trip to the Asheville Whole Foods uncovered only 4 products (out of several dozen) actually labelled with an EcoScale rating. Two of them were “green,” and one of the “green” products was countertop cleaning wipes. Really? Disposable wipes are considered green? Apparently, the standards fail to account for common-sense eco-friendly standards, like waste.

The wipes may be considered “biodegradable” but this term is somewhat misleading. Technically speaking, many substances biodegrade over some amount of time – even a plastic bottle cap will biodegrade in 400 years. It’s the length of time, or how readily biodegradable a material is, that’s important. In addition, anything that biodegrades (even your broccoli stalks) emits carbon dioxide as part of the decomposition process, contributing to the exponentially increasing weight of CO2 in our atmosphere.

This hole in the EcoScale (TM) Rating System and the fact that many of the big-name brands in green cleaning are rated “orange” and “yellow” has provided me with the final push to create my own products. Over the next few weeks, I’ll experiment with this and investigate the ingredients contained in the insufficiently green brands and products that reside on Whole Foods’ shelves. In the meantime, bring a dose of skepticism with you to your local health food store.

Happy Mother’s Day!