Better Living through 'Sustainable' Green Chemistry
I guess, my favorite quote justifying why at Aloha Bay we offer naturally occurring products as an alternative to synthetics comes from Columbia's Joan Gussow, a reporter for Time in the 1950's. She went on to become one of the pioneering spokespersons for natural lifestyles. Years ago, when asked whether she preferred butter or margarine, Joan remarked, "I trust cows more than chemists."
For decades, many manufacturers used the most powerful weapons in their chemical arsenals, with scant attention to where they wound up or what they might have been doing to people or the planet.
The modern era of chemical pest control began in 1934 with the discovery of the insecticidal properties of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) by Swiss chemist Paul Müller. It became extremely important during World War II in areas where tropical diseases and parasites posed greater threats to soldiers than did enemy bullets. DDT seemed like a wonderful discovery. It is cheap, stable, easily applied, and highly toxic to insects while being relatively nontoxic to mammals.
It was quickly discovered, however, that this magic bullet was not always benevolent. Within a short time, many beneficial organisms were exterminated by DDT, while the pests it was created to control had developed resistance and had rebounded to higher levels than ever. Furthermore, persistent chlorinated hydrocarbons such as this tend to be taken up by living organisms and concentrated through food chains until they reach toxic levels in the top carnivores such as birds of prey or game fish. Species such as peregrine falcons, brown pelicans, osprey, and bald eagles disappeared from much of their range in the Eastern United States before DDT and similar persistent pesticides were banned. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, is possibly one of the most influential books in all of American environmental history, presents the argument against excessive, widespread pesticide use.
In 1935 DuPont hired Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BBD&O) to change DuPont’s image from “the powder people” to “peace time manufacturer.” A corporate advertising campaign was launched promoting DuPont’s role in improving daily life with the slogan "Better Things for Better Living...Through Chemistry." The tag line "through chemistry" was removed from advertising in the 1980's. The slogan was replaced in 1999 with 'The Miracles of Science', capitalizing on DuPont’s strength as a science company. To read more details about DuPont go to http://heritage.dupont.com/touchpoints/tp_1939/depth.shtml.
Protests in the 1960's didn't all revolve around the Vietnam War; Dow Chemical and DuPont were common targets, as people disliked the "artificiality" they represented. Today, the term 'green washing' is generally used when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being green rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices.
This phrase became popular as culture shifted from mod to hippie in the later half of the 1960's. Protesters would show up for a rally, or love in wearing DuPont propaganda buttons, the 'chemistry' in better living through 'chemistry' was translated to mean 'LSD.' As my college roommate from that period has often quoted "If you can remember the '60s', then you weren't there."
Since the early 70's, when the pesticide DDT nearly wiped out the bald eagle, public policy has dealt with the risks on a chemical-by-chemical basis: Ban a few, restrict others and clean up the mess left behind.
Meanwhile, nearly half of the nation’s waterways are classified as impaired by pollutants, the air of most cities is shrouded with soot and smog, and the multibillion-dollar bill to clean up.
Chemical contamination starts in the womb. Even before a baby takes a breath, her body contains chemicals passed on by her mother. Tests of umbilical cords show that a newborn’s body contains nearly 300 compounds – among them mercury from fish, flame retardants from household dust, pesticides from backyards, hydrocarbons from fossil fuels. Everything we buy, breathe, drink and eat contains traces of toxic substances. Every day, about half a dozen chemicals are added to the estimated 83,000 already in commerce. In the United States alone, about 42 billion pounds of chemicals are produced or imported daily. Although California has no major chemical manufacturing plants, it is a large user: About 644 million pounds are sold daily in the state, according to a University of California report on green chemistry published in January. Many chemicals are probably benign, but basic health and safety data are lacking for about 80%.
Synthetic chemicals flow around the globe via oceans and winds turning animals and us consumers into unwitting lab rats. Scientists and regulators continually try to figure out whether various chemicals pose a threat, and to what degree, yet they rarely come up with definitive answers. Even when a proven hazard is banned, it can take decades, perhaps centuries, for it to dissipate. Sometimes, its replacement is just as risky.
"Here in California our hazardous waste sites are still growing. And they’re still leaking," said Maureen Gorsen director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which is spearheading a Green Chemistry Initiative launched by Gov. Schwarzenegger. "We need a massive chemical shift. We need to move to the beginning, to the design part, what goes into the products we use rather than what comes out the end."
Our society is dependent on the chemical industry to maintain at least the current standards of living and improve the qualities of our lives – better living through (better) sustainable green chemistry.
Of course aside from the example of pesticides, there are hundreds of examples of how our lives have improved through scientific breakthroughs. Not so many decades ago, a cut or scrape, if it became infected, could be deadly. For women in childbirth, the touch of an attendant's unwashed hands often caused a mysterious fever that carried off thousands of women and left as many children motherless. Bacterial infection dogged humanity for millennia, until a mild-mannered German chemist named Gerhard Domagk patented 'Streptozon' the world's first antibiotic. It was also the first so-called sulfa drug, one of a powerful class of sulfur-containing antibiotics that interfere with bacterial metabolism.
The past few decades has benefitted from successful developments in water treatment, waste disposal methods, less toxic building materials, detergents, etc., but unfortunately all this comes with the price tag of 'pollution.'
Green chemistry is the latest approach to the synthesis, processing, redesign, and use of chemicals (synthetics) that reduce risks to humans, wildlife and thereby solve environmental problems. Innovations in designing green chemicals are emerging in nearly every U.S. industry, from plastics and pesticides to toys and nail polish. Once viewed as part of a fringe lifestyle, rooted in the hippie movement, natural, nontoxic and organic are going mainstream. Driven by regulations, consumer demand, an eco-friendly business philosophy and fear of future lawsuits, retailers and manufacturers are eliminating some chemicals, pulling products off shelves and redesigning others.
It’s the same with candle making. Clearly the candles made today even though the colors or fragrances contain small percentages of non-toxic chemicals are better for ensuring a cleaner indoor environment than tallow. There are a number of marketers still trying to promote that synthetics fragrances and colors and paraffin wax as poison and only soy candles are clean burning. While others claim that only “beeswax candles actually help clean the air. When you burn it, it emits negative ions that bind to dust, mold, odors and allergens in the air. These particles then become heavy and fall to the floor where you can vacuum them up.” Sorry folks, it simply is not true.
For the last decade our approach at Aloha Bay has been to embrace the leading edge technology using naturally occurring ingredients to engineer a better, cleaner burning candle. Likewise, we thoroughly research all our raw ingredients to ensure they meet or exceed California’s strict Proposition 65 criteria for containing no natural or synthetic hazardous materials. We have our botanicals tested for safe levels of heavy metals. We continue to work with palm wax and prefer to scent with essential oils for the natural foods industry. However, even in that 'green' market segment most consumers want richly scented candles with the highest percentage of synthetic fragrances and UV stable synthetic dyes. For us vegans and purists, we offer unscented candles without any color and our new certified organic line scented with organic essential oils and organic compliant fruit and vegetable dyes. We have to demonstrate to consumers and retails that buying green is not only more healthful but also more pleasurable, more attractive, and won't cost them much more. In other words "If it needs to be ugly to be green, it won’t ever be mainstream," said Adam Lowry, a Stanford University chemical engineering graduate and co-founder of Method, one of fastest growing private label green suppliers.
We identify with small chemical companies and giant natural bath and body corporations, including BASF, Rohm & Haas, Aveda & Avalon who are implementing a new tenet of "better living through ‘green or sustainable’ chemistry" - creating safer substances that won’t seep into our bloodstream, endanger wildlife or pollute resources.
But the greening of chemistry is a slow shift, not a revolution and for a small company like us, it’s a huge investment not just in terms of money but human resources. Our candle maker, and lab department is Bart who is also our CEO, new product developer, import expert, factory designer and manager, and equipment designer.
Paul Anastas, Yale University chemistry professor and considered the father of green chemistry, said the movement is "not simply choosing the next, less-bad thing off the shelf. It’s about designing something that is genuinely good. Green chemistry is not a theory," he said. "It’s being demonstrated by companies over and over again." We agree with John Warner, former director of University of Massachusetts’ green chemistry doctorate program and now president of a research company creating sustainable chemicals. With a little ingenuity, every substance in the world "can be reinvented and made safe."
None of us can afford to go back in history to 100% natural or organic raw materials, but we can all vote with our buying dollars to shop for the safest products for our families and planet.