Thursday, August 12, 2010

The heights of greenwashing...

[Carol’s previous post smelled good. Sorry to follow it with one that smells so bad…]

Oh, the heights of greenwashing.

Meet the Earth Friendly Antimicrobial Vinyl toddler napmat. This handy mat that your child will sleep on five days per week in daycare or preschool is touted as “Earth Friendly” right on the front of the package. However no other claim or qualification of that statement can be found in the product specs on Amazon, or on the company website (Kindermat of Baton Rouge, LA).

Now meet the Eco Yoga Mat, sold by Gaiam. These yoga mats are, Gaiam claims, “as easy on you as they are on the Earth. [...] As always, Gaiam is committed to protecting and preserving our planet's natural resources.” However, when I emailed the company this spring asking what the contents of these mats were, and specifically if they were made of PVC, I was told, “While they do not contain the 6 banned phthalates they are made of PVC.” Apparently just meeting regulation (by removing phthalates that they are required to remove by section 108 of the CPSIA) is enough to make something “Eco.”

The hazards of PVC have been well documented before, but here is a brief primer. PVC, aka vinyl, releases dioxin throughout its production process. Dioxins are likely or known carcinogens (likely according to OSHA, or known according to this EPA Draft). Besides cancer, there are other health risks from dioxin and the other PVC byproducts, such as: endocrine disruption, endometriosis, neurological damage, birth defects and impaired child development, reproductive and immune system damage. Dioxins are also persistent bioaccumulative toxins (according to the United Nations Environment Programme, Stockholm Convention), meaning that once they get into our bodies, they stay there. (For more info see HBN’s PVC fact sheet).

Child’s sleeping mats and adult yoga mats – both made of PVC – and both claiming to be “good for the earth.” I see new greenwashing every day – just about anywhere my eyes fall – but this is really a new low. And from Gaiam? They should know better - they are supposed to be selling an "eco" lifestyle. Selling it indeed. But I hope they will think about avoiding greenwash and try to be transparent with thier branded products (maybe if enough customers start asking questions!!). And I hope people aren't taking the "eco" and "earth-friendly" claims at face value, but I fear some are. Onward with radical transparency...

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