Shop Smarter and Healthier- CEH’s Winter 2014 News
Many of you may have seen the YouTube sensation Dumb Ways to Die. But you may not know that the CEH video Dumb Ways to Shop is using humor to take on a serious problem: ongoing problems with lead-tainted purses and other fashion accessories from three leading mall stores.
In fact, as the New York Times reported, for years CEH has repeatedly found high levels of lead in products from Forever 21, Charlotte Russe, and Wet Seal. The problem even drew attention from a Chinese whistleblower, who alerted CEH to a lead-tainted product sold at Charlotte Russe even after the company’s own testing showed high levels of lead.
Watch the video below and let these companies know that they need to do better to resolve their lead problems!
In January, we shared the news about our landmark legal agreements that aim to end the use of harmful flame retardant chemicals in foam furniture and children’s products from Playtex, West Elm, and other leading companies.
Now we’re giving you the tools you need to keep up with which brands have agreed to remove flame retardants from their products, and which ones have not. Stay tuned to see progress reports for how each company is doing on eliminating these chemicals from their products.
Jean Hansen is the Sustainable Interiors Manager for the global architecture firm, HDR Architecture. She’s been a great supporter of CEH for many years, both as an employee sponsor of the HDR grant application and also as a partner with CEH on safer furniture purchasing for businesses, healthcare facilities, and interior designers. Jean has also supported CEH by going solar as part of a campaign with our partner, Sungevity.
Q: How did you become interested in sustainability practices in architecture?
A: It goes back to the mid/late 90s, when I was introduced to concept of green cleaning, in particular for our healthcare clients we design facilities for. I’m an interior designer by background and the majority of my work is involved in the design of medical facilities. After I heard about green cleaning and how harmful some conventional cleaning supplies can be, I began to research safer alternatives and how that might affect how we design and detail healthcare facilities and the materials we select. It also pointed out how important it is to work with an expanded team on the client side, that includes the Environmental Services staff, as our decisions can make a huge impact on the not only the patients and their families, but also on the staff for the life of the facility.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about your professional history and how you became involved in the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED rating system committee, and how that led you to your work at HDR?
A: After learning about green cleaning, I also began to research how health and sustainability could affect our designs beyond the interior materials selections and details. My research led me to the newly developed USGBC’s first generation of LEED rating systems for New Construction*.
Shortly afterwards, I attended two pivotal programs that greatly influenced my work; the first green building conference focused specifically on healthcare co-sponsored by Kaiser Permanente in Oakland and an initial training for the LEED rating system in Atlanta. Following the conference, Kaiser Permanente (KP) decided to look further at how sustainability tied into the built environment as related to healthcare design and invited me to attend the meeting.
That first meeting at KP led to what became known as the “Green Building Committee” and later “The High Performance Committee”, and we met every month for 10 yrs. We accomplished a lot; including the development of KP’s” Eco Scorecard”, sustainable product questionnaire, sustainable standards and market transformation with a number of product manufactures for safer, healthier use. Kaiser had a number of product standards, so we were able to work closely with a number of companies to identify the health hazards associated with their products and the development of safer alternatives. Our process included sending a questionnaire to Kaiser’s contacts at each of the companies and sometimes their competitors, meeting with the manufacturers’ representatives to discuss the makeup of their products, and the work entailed to safer alternatives. We saw a number of products change over a relatively short period of time— amazing market transformation almost right before our eyes, looking back at it. One of the most valuable aspects of this work is these products became available not only to KP but to all specifiers and end users.
My initial attendance at the green healthcare conference also led me to development work on the Green Guide to Healthcare, the USGBC’S LEED for Healthcare rating system, a sustainable furniture rating system (BIFMA’s level) and most recently to the Health Product Declaration (HPD, and also to my current work at HDR. It has been an exciting journey for my professional and personal life. I was following the work that HDR was doing in the “sustainable design world”, exciting work, and met my (future) boss at a green conference 2-3 years before starting at HDR. We really connected and when a friend and colleague told me HDR was opening an office in San Francisco, I knew I was at a point in my life where it might be a good idea to talk to HDR about working together. The rest is history. I have been at HDR for almost seven years now and focus all of my time on sustainable design and human and environmental health issues for the built environment.
*Leadership in Envery and Environmental Design (LEED) is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance, of green buildings, homes, and neighborhoods.
Q: You’ve worked a lot with CEH on issues of toxics and safer purchasing of furniture for offices and healthcare. How has that helped guide your sustainability practices?
A: My work with CEH has allowed me not just to be an advocate, but to develop tools, resources and presentations for others and to share this information locally as well as nation-wide. I’ve really enjoyed my work on the new flame retardant regulations in CA as of January 1st this year with Judy [Levin, CEH]. Together we have developed factsheets specific for the design industry and have co-presented webinars on the new regulations and the purchase of safer furniture. Our work together has also been great because it has helped me become more fluent with the fire safety regulations in greater detail, thanks to Judy’s incredible knowledge on the topic!
Also because of my familiarity of all of the great work that CEH does, when HDR started a foundation a year ago, CEH was one of the first non-profits that I thought of to reach out to about HDR’s Grant program. Judy and Michael [Green] were very interested, and the rest is history!
Drugstore shelves are lined with shampoo bottles whose ingredients lists are full of names that are impossible to pronounce. Methylchloroisothiazolinone, sodium laureth sulfate — what is all that stuff, and are these ingredients safe for our families to use? One would hope that these ingredients that are lathered into our scalps and scrubbed into our skin have been tested and approved for safety. But unfortunately, often that is not the case. There is very little government regulation of cosmetic products, and cosmetic companies can include almost any ingredient they choose.
One common ingredient found in many shampoos and other products, called cocamide DEA, is a chemically-modified form of a coconut oil that is used as a thickener or foaming agent in many personal care products. It’s also a known carcinogen that was recently listed as such under California law, so CEH stepped up to take legal action against companies that sell products containing cocamide DEA.
Our research and independent testing found cocamide DEA in over 200 shampoos, hand soaps, and body washes, including major brands like Paul Mitchell and Bed Head, and the house brands of Trader Joe’s, Walmart, and Kmart. We also found cocamide DEA in OGX – formerly known as Organix until we forced them to change their misleading name on their toxic and not-at-all-organic shampoos.
To date, CEH has taken legal action against more than 160 cosmetics companies whose products contain cocamide DEA. So far, 14 companies have agreed to legal settlements that require them to reformulate their products so that they do not contain the carcinogen. Those companies include Saks Fifth Avenue, Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, Lush Handmade Cosmetics, and Colgate-Palmolive. We expect many more settlements in the coming months.
We are continuing to look for cocamide DEA in personal care products and to take legal action when we find illegal products. In the meantime, the best way to protect yourself and your family is actually quite simple. Just check the ingredients lists on the back of your products for cocamide DEA. If any of them do contain cocamide DEA, feel free to throw it away and opt for a product that doesn’t contain cocamide DEA the next time you’re out shopping.
Mark your calendars…CEH is having a spring event!
May 8, 2014
San Francisco, CA
More details to follow…
We are proud to be partnering with innovative solar company, Sungevity, to raise money for CEH while helping your bottom line too! By sending Sungevity a request for an iQuote, you will immediately get connected with a solar specialist who will help you understand if your house is eligible to be powered by the sun. If you go solar through this program, you will get a $750 credit from Sungevity, and Sungevity will donate $750 to CEH! It’s a win-win for everyone.
This month’s featured supporter Jean Hansen has already gone solar with Sungevity, thereby raising money for CEH! If you’re looking for an opportunity to start the process of getting clean, affordable solar energy for your home, now’s your chance! Send in for an iQuote today.