Paul Newman and Paul Anastas: Green Salads and Green Chemistry

Just a few months after I started my business, I came across Paul Newman’s book, “In Pursuit of the Common Good,”  and had to buy a copy. I was always a huge fan of his; he was not only incredibly handsome, but he was an amazing actor, top-tier auto racer, and strong advocate for social justice. While I never had the good fortune of being introduced to him (although I did almost bump into him – literally – in the stairwell of his Westport, CT office), all my friends who knew him said that he was an incredibly kind, generous and down-to-earth guy.

image copyright People

But anyway, back to why I bought Newman’s book. I had recently started my business making organic and natural bath and body products. Being part of the broader crafting community through various online groups, I ran into an interesting phenomenon. There were many other bath and body product producers who claimed to make natural and organic products, but when I mentioned the idea that I didn’t want to use chemical preservatives, some got up in my face and starting writing in ALL CAPS that it is dangerous and irresponsible not to use them. They warned that I would kill my customers with bacteria, yeast, fungi and molds. Given that people have been making soaps and creams, etc.  for a long time before the advent of “Better living through chemistry,” not to mention the fact that companies like Badger Balm, Pangea Organics and Dr. Bronner’s have not been (to my knowledge) killing their customers in large numbers, I thought those statements might be a bit of an overreaction.

In Newman’s book, he describes the adventures he had in developing, manufacturing and distributing his famous salad dressing. Back in the early 1980s, when he began approaching companies to manufacture and bottle his recipe, there was no such thing as “all-natural” salad dressing. He finally found a bottling company willing to produce his dressing, but they tried to convince him that he had to use chemical preservatives, or his dressing would spoil quickly. They also wanted him to add other chemical agents and gums. But he refused to allow any chemicals in his products. So they gave his recipe to their chemists to test the formula.

Interestingly, testing showed that the combination of olive oil, red wine vinegar and whole grain mustard made a natural gum (no other dressings used olive oil or red wine vinegar at that time, instead opting for cheaper, lower-quality, refined soybean oil and white vinegar). In addition, the chemists found that the natural gum from the ground mustard seed had the same chemical effects as EDTA (a chemical preservative used in all dressings at that time), and the olive oil had a much longer shelf life than refined soybean oil, which together eliminated the need for preservatives. On top of this, the bottling company agreed that it was a far better tasting product than anything else on the market at the time. And here we are 30 years later, with 10s of thousands more chemicals than we had then, many of them used in our food, personal care and home cleaning products.

Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune of sitting in on a web conference sponsored by the American Sustainable Business Council where Dr. Paul Anastas was the speaker. Anastas is the Assistant Administrator for Research and Development for the Environmental Protection Agency. He is also the Director of Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, where he has been on leave since joining the EPA.

Anastas quoted John F. Kennedy by saying, “The greatest enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” Anastas feels that one of the greatest myths of our time is that “we have to use toxic substances to have quality of life.” Luckily, as Anastas pointed out, “green chemistry is helping us to belie this myth.” I thought of Paul Newman’s salad dressing adventures, and how he helped to dispel the myth that we need chemicals in our food to make it taste right and not spoil on the shelf.

And I thought of Newman when Anastas emphasized that the only way that the chemical myth is going to change is if we keep showing people how safe alternatives can not only work, but often work better. Anastas says that as advocates of the environment and human health “We have to be relentless in letting people know [the chemical myth] is not the case.” And with an increasing number of widely distributed products from companies like Newman’s Own, Badger Balm, Dr. Bronner’s, Pangea Organics, Seventh Generation, Method and so many more, the true is becoming more and more obvious.

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More toxic, less effective!

image copyright Art by Pir8t

The curious case of BP’s choice of dispersants

I usually write about happy, herbal and crafty news. But I am also a researcher and consultant who focuses on wellness and cancer prevention, so I feel compelled to write about what I find to be a disturbing discovery that affects the wellbeing of our water, the marine life in it, and quite possibly myriad numbers of humans at some point.

I have been greatly disturbed by the images of gushing oil and dead sea life throughout the Gulf of Mexico. And, earlier this week, when an EPA employee told me that the dispersants being used on the spill are highly questionable (very toxic and containing many unknown “proprietary” ingredients), I became even more upset. According to the EPA, as of May 18, 2010, “approximately 600,000 gallons of dispersant has been used on the surface and approximately 55,000 gallons of dispersant has been used subsurface, at the source of the spill.” So this was a lot of poison with unknown consequences being dumped into (and underneath) the already hurting waters.

image copyright NASA

So I was very happy to hear on May 20, 2010, that the EPA had issued an order to BP to stop the use of the very toxic dispersant, Corexit, and replace it with a less toxic, more effective dispersant. Except I couldn’t help wondering why they had allowed the use of this more toxic, less effective chemical to begin with, and for as long as they had. Then I heard something that provided a possible clue.

Last night on Anderson Cooper’s 360, journalist Ed Lavendera reported that 100,000 galls of Sea Brat-4, a less toxic, more effective chemical is sitting unused. Here is an excerpt from the CNN transcript:

LAVANDERA: Hundreds of containers are just sitting here in the Houston sun. To some it’s another example of the mismanagement of the oil spill. The containers are full of a dispersant called Sea Brat-4. Why is it sitting here and not in the ocean instead. No one really knows, especially says BP is on record saying it would use the stuff.

DOUG SUTTLES, COO, BP: We also have a second product called Sea Brat-4 which we’ll introduce into the process as well.

LAVANDERA: That’s what BP said almost a week ago, but we found the Sea Brat-4 sitting here. You’re looking at it, almost 100,000 gallons of the less toxic dispersant. Guess who ordered it? BP did on May 4th, almost three weeks ago.

John Sheffield is president of the company that makes it.

JOHN SHEFFIELD, PRESIDENT, ALABASTER CORPORATION: It’s ridiculous. I think something is intentionally stopping us from getting our product to the water.

LAVANDERA: EPA and coast guard officials say there’s nothing stopping them from using Sea Brat 4. Sheffield says he could be making 50,000 to 100,000 gallons a day. But a BP spokesman will only say the company had to use what was readily available and stockpiled and it has been asked to find add alternatives to Corexit. And getting a direct answer is hard for Congress to get as they grilled BP executive Lamar McKay this week about the issue.

This made me wonder if there was some connection between BP and the company producing Corexit, so I did some research. This is what I found:

  • On April 20, 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by BP sent oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
  • On April 30, 2010, BP released news that it had tested dispersants (tradename: Corexit) manufactured by Nalco Holding Co.
  • On May 1, 2010, Goldman Sachs recommended buying BP shares (source: MarketWatch)
  • Also on May 1, 2010, BP announced that it would use the Nalco dispersant on the oil spill.
  • Goldman Sachs Capital Partners, along with two other companies, owns Nalco (source: Nalco website).

So, piecing all this together, BP chose a less effective, more toxic dispersant, made by a company owned by Goldman Sachs. On the same day that BP announced they would be using this dispersant, Goldman Sachs recommended the purchase of BP stock. In other words, you wash my oily back, I’ll wash yours.

For updates on the EPA response to oil spill , you can visit their BP Spill website.

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Earth Day is April 22, and Herban Lifestyle is celebrating being green!


photo ©2009 Julia Guarino

As you probably know, Herban Lifestyle is proud to use only truly natural and organic ingredients, which means only organic and/or ethically wildcrafted herbs and essential oils, organic fabrics and fill, no preservatives, artificial colors, fragrances, or surfactants, and no synthetic, petroleum-based or other chemical ingredients. We pledge to these standards as a signer of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, and we always adhere to Whole Foods’ Premium Bodycare Standards.

But did you know that Herban Lifestyle is green in other ways? When we package things for you, we only use 100% recycled paper labels, and all packaging and shipping supplies are recycled, recyclable and/or biodegradable. To ship, we only use the US Postal Service; did you know that the USPS holds “Cradle to Cradle”Certification at the Silver level for human and environmental health? To further ensure environmentally responsible business practice, we always offset 100% of our carbon footprint through purchase of CleanCurrents and CarbonFund RECs, and we are an Environmental Protection Agency Green Power Partner, which means we purchase green power in amounts that meet EPA’s requirements.

As a member of Green America and the Sustainable Business Network of Washington, we also pledge to practice ethical business and labor standards, which is easy since everything we sell is handcrafted in Falls Church, VA we do absolutely no manufacturing! In our efforts to be conscientious members of our community we also donate 5% of gross revenues to charity, including Feeding America (formerly America’s Second Harvest), Sierra Club, Herb Research Foundation, and Martha’s Table, we donate goods to local charities (such as EcoVentures) for their fundraising efforts, and we purchase our 800 number through Earth Tones, where 100% of their profit goes to grassroots environmental causes.

We hope you’ll celebrate Earth Day with us! Check out the EPA’s website to learn about Earth Day events and volunteer opportunities happening near you. Be green!

This post was written by guest blogger, Julia Guarino.

Green Power

gpp_logo180Last week, I received news that Herban Lifestyle has been approved as an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Green Power Parter. The Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program that supports companies’ procurement of green power by offering expert advice, technical support, tools and resources. Green power is electricity produced from renewable resources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and low-impact hydro. 

Herban Lifestyle offsets 100% of its carbon footprint by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) from Clean Currents, a locally based company. RECs are certificates issued by clean power producers and certified by independent auditing bodies. Each REC equals the environmental benefits of producing 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity from a clean energy generation source rather than a fossil fuel source or other non-renewable energy source.  By purchasing RECs you are paying the difference between market rate and the production rate for clean energy, thus subsidizing clean power producers and allowing them to compete against the big guys.

If you’re interested in learning more, The University of Maryland has a very thorough description of what RECs are and how they work. And Montgomery County has a good fact page on the benefits of purchasing RECs.

If you are interested in purchasing RECs, Clean Currents has a carbon calculator that lets you estimate what your carbon emissions are per year or month based on how much you drive, what type of car you drive, your electric and gas usage, etc. and can tell you how much it will cost to offset some or all of your footprint. The EPA has an enhanced household emissions calculator that lets you not only calculate your carbon usage, but also allows you to play with ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint.