Are You Green or Merely Chartreuse?

May 27th, 2009

Okay. I’ll admit it. Most of the environmentally ‘friendly’ magazines and many advocates of green society make my flesh crawl. They don’t know of what they speak because ‘trade secrets’ remain secret. The advertising these days is about what you won’t find in a product. I took Grist magazine to task on this topic after reading their recent article on toilet bowl cleaners. Truly a suitable metaphor for the problem at hand.

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Re: Grist article, “Which Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner Wins with a Flush” by Sarah Van Shagen

To the Editor,

It is time for Grist to make recommendations regarding ‘green’ technology based upon real data concerning the actual merits of a given product. This article was an example of why consumer advocacy and the business of ‘green’ technology is going straight down the toilet. It is because we are all being told that we may not be ‘privy’ to the actual ingredients present in the products we purchase.

Are we supposed to become euphoric at the disclosure of what is not actually in our goods today? I sure do want to select the sweetener containing no depleted uranium. And that floor cleaner which doesn’t utilize rocket fuel sounds like something consumers can use with a clear conscience.

Grist, when will you realize that a free market is only free when consumers know exactly what we are getting for our dollars? Is our product of choice really ‘green’ or is it more of a ‘chartreuse’? That missing two percent on the MSDS sheet may omit a key ingredient that sends an asthmatic to the emergency room. Pyrethrins may be considered a ‘natural’ pesticide from chrysanthemums but there is nothing natural about the synergist added to most of these formulations which increase its toxicity ten-fold. How many people know that electrical cords commonly contain lead unless they are in a state requiring such disclosure on labels?

When Van Shagen mentioned the smell of these toilet cleaners being overpowering, those of us who know what can be added to fragrances went on high alert. Not for the vendor, but for the credibility of the reviewer. Trade secrets are really only secret from the consumer. Competitors analyze the formulas of their competitors automatically. Since most of us have no plans to manufacture these products in our bathtubs, the hazard to disclosure must be about, well, genuine hazards.

Please stand up for truth in commerce. Tell vendors you will happily review their products if they offer full disclosure of contents. You know, like companies have to do for their European exports? For those ‘other’ people whose governments believe they deserve to know what is in their homes. You’ll still have plenty of work to do in translating euphemistic references to nerve toxins on labels but at least we’ll have a real clue about why the health of Americans has gone straight down the tubes in recent decades. You can’t choose a green lifestyle without solid information.

Barbara Rubin

Categories: Grist Magazine, Letters

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