Consider “Green Works” When You Shop

Consider “Green Works” When You Shop
By Audrey McCollum
Many manufacturers have conveyed indifference to the health of the planet, even denying the reality of global warming. So I was delighted to receive a recent e-mail from Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club (SC), announcing a partnership between the SC and Green Works, a line of household cleaning products developed by the makers of Clorox.
The five products include an all-purpose cleaner, both concentrated and diluted, a glass and surface cleaner, a bathroom cleaner and a toilet bowl cleaner. According to Terry Appleby, manager of the Lebanon and Hanover food co- ops, they have been in stock since February. When I found them at the back of the Hanover store, I saw no indication of an affiliation with SC. However, Catherine Corkery, Chapter Director of the New Hampshire SC, told me on the phone that in Concord stores the cleaners now carry the SC logo on the back of the container. That will soon be widespread.
As I read through the listed ingredients, including lemon and coconut oils, I was troubled that corn-based ethanol is among them in three products. This substance, now promoted by the U.S. government in an attempt to reduce our reliance on petroleum, is gravely cutting into the use of corn as food for animals ­ two-legged and four. However, Carl Pope responded to my inquiry by pointing out that the supply of cellulosic ethanol (from prairie grass, for example) is still too small for commercial use.
I also wondered how the partnership would impact small “green ” producers. For example, my husband and I have been using Seventh Generation paper towels and dishwashing liquid, which are made in Burlington, VT. Could such a company hold its place against one partnered with the SC? Yet Pope argues that “we must partner with big companies that have the large distribution networks so they can make a good product that ‘s affordable and we can put it in the hands of as many people as possible. ”
Corkery and Robert Norman, long-standing SC member and delegate from New Hampshire to the National Council of Club Leaders, agree that the partnership is a first-time venture for the SC, and the present contract is for only one year. And they both recognize that this is a debatable alliance.
“The Sierra Club is seen as controversial (anyway) because it is known for taking strong stands against people or actions that are destructive to the environment, ” said Corkery. But the most intense current criticism is being voiced by members because the SC will be garnering some profits from Green Works sales. Or, in Pope ‘s words, “This is a cause-related marketing relationship and a portion of each sale comes to the club. ”
At first I, too, found this very troubling, and Norman pointed out that “publicity associated with our taking money may damage our image as an independent entity being led by principles rather than being bought. ” Then I thought of other environmental organizations that my husband and I support. World Wildlife Fund, for example, sponsors nature-oriented voyages in which a contribution to WWF is built into the cost of the trip. Is this so different?
Another objection, according to Corkery, is that of “Sierra Club taking money from industry with a checkered past. ” Yet it appears that this company has cleaned up its act (pun intended).
Chlorine bleach is indeed the signature product of Clorox. Yet, according to online information, Clorox bleach is about 6% sodium hypochlorite and the other 94% is plain water. When flushed down into the sewer it breaks down into water and salt. The manufacture of household bleach is responsible for an infinitesimal portion of chlorine use in the U.S. economy. By far the major use of sodium hypochlorite is to purify drinking water (see http://www.sierraclub.org/greenworks/)
And in any event, Green Works products contain no phosphorus or bleach. They do not use aerosol, and no testing on animals has been done.
Although New Hampshire SC member Thomas Van Vechten understands the concerns about this new partnership, he writes succinctly about the positive aspects on e- mail: “The decisions that consumers make when choosing products in the store have significant environmental impacts, but it is hard to assemble all the information needed to evaluate a potential purchase. Manufacturers have little incentive to disclose the full environmental hazards created by the production, distribution, use, and disposal of items they want us to buy. So there is certainly a need for specific guidance from environmental organizations letting consumers know which products are least damaging. This information is the most helpful if it is available right on the product. So this project will give people some useful information that will help them to protect the planet. ”
Furthermore, Pope maintains that Green Works cleaners will be priced 30-50% below comparable “green ” products, making them available to more householders. And in Corkery ‘s words, the alliance offers “a way anybody can do something about environmental preservation. ”
So Bob ‘s mind and mine are still open. I’m persuaded that the substances that most households have on hand ­ water, baking soda and vinegar, for example ­ can meet most of our cleaning needs. Yet we have hard water from our well that deposits unsightly iron stains in our “johns”. So we ‘ll give the appropriate Green Works cleaner a try.
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Audrey McCollum is a writer and retired psychotherapist
who lives in Etna. She can be reached at
amccollum@valley.net. This article was published in the
Connecticut Valley Spectator on May 22, ’08.