You guessed it: we’re talking about the dangers associated with some of our most commonly used household cleaners.
We’ve been chronicling the dangers of chemicals, usually undisclosed on labels, found in household cleaners for several years—and we’ve been highlighting the heroes and villains in the household cleaning product industry.
by David Steinman
One of the very exciting new figures in the household cleaning product industry, someone who is and will continue making an enormous difference in OUR lives, in our health and the health of our children, is Adam McCarthy.
Adam is the founder and CEO of Greenology Products, Inc. based in Raleigh, North Carolina, the first line of certified organic household cleaners in the world—and with this not-so-simple accomplishment known by its GreenShield Organic brand name, the ballgame for product effectiveness and safety for all natural products is being changed, the bar raised.
For the Children
The concept for certified organic cleaners came to Adam from his own personal life. “About six or seven years ago when my kids were all small they would crawl on the floor and rub their eyes or put their thumb in their mouth and I noticed that my wife had just wiped down the counters or cleaned the floor. I was curious what was in the products. I started reading labels. I was baffled by the lack of disclosure.” As Adam surfed the internet, even in this age of information overload, what was known about the ingredients in cleaning products was far overshadowed by what wasn’t and continues to be not known—but he also became concerned about the toxicology of chemicals like naptha, butyl cellosolve (also known as butoxy ethanol), petroleum distillates, parabens, and phathalates. What he learned was alarming, and what he didn’t know was equally frightening.
Many ingredients for example were labeled as “inert,” as they were not part of the “active” formula and, as a result, they were not being disclosed anywhere, not on labels, not on websites or even on the federally mandated material safety data sheets required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. To further confuse the issue, some manufacturers were using generic terms like “surfactant” when there could be hundreds or thousands of possible chemicals to which the term refers.
Having been involved in global manufacturing throughout Europe and Asia for many years, Adam had seen it all—from poor labor practices to hazardous workplaces and wanton environmental pollution.
“I set out to do something different to empower consumers at the store level so they could decide what ingredients they wanted to bring into their homes,” he says. “We wanted full disclosure. From the day we launched GreenShield Organic in February 2009 we have listed every ingredient used on our labels, even the inert ingredients.”
Convincing the Powers that Be
But moving from concept to the practical presented incredible challenges. First of all, when Adam went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for overseeing organics, although the federal government had certified foods and cosmetics as being organic, it had never done household cleaners.
He encountered initial resistance. Many people would have given up and say it couldn’t be done. Adam worked diligently with his team to educate USDA officials that it was possible to produce certified organic cleaning products. It wouldn’t be easy, though. He was blazing a new trail through the thicket of government regulations. “That,” says Adam, “required a lot of learning on the job. For example, whereas manufacturers of chemically based cleaners, which are usually the most dangerous to our health, can choose from literally thousands of synthetic substances (most not well tested for their human health effects). But by going organic, the choices are more limited. It’s like entering a whole new world. One has to learn what was used and worked well over the centuries and how to do things traditionally.”
But Adam knew it could be done. One of his inspirations was the late Emmanuel Bronner, founder of the traditionally crafted Dr. Bronner’s soaps, who showed that traditional methods of soap making could be adapted to the twenty-first century with great success, both healthwise and financially.
And there has been a lot of trial and error as well.
For example, Greenology laundry and dishwashing detergents use a traditional washing shrub known as Sapindus, a genus of about five to twelve species of plants and small trees in the Lychee family, Sapindaceae, native to warm temperate to tropical regions in both the Old World and New World. Members of the genus are commonly known as soapberries or soapnuts because the fruit pulp is used to make soap. The generic name is derived from the Latin words saponis, meaning "soap," and indicus, meaning "of India." The drupes (soapnuts) contain saponins which are a natural surfactant. They have been used for washing for thousands of years by native peoples in Asia as well as Native Americans. However, the Greenology team has developed a patent-pending process of combining soap nuts with organic coconut oil and glycerin to create even stronger cleaning power. But perfecting the process has taken time. That’s why some two years were required before the company could actually begin its October 2009 launch of the world’s first certified organic green cleaning product line.
Finding The Market \ And then who was going to buy them?
Well, as it turns out, there was enormous and gratifying demand for GreenShield Organic from the start—thanks in no small part to the strong recognition factor of what it means to be USDA certified organic.
One unlikely but serendipitous turn of events was when Lowe’s Home Improvement stores immediately bought in and became a major outlet for the line. (Indeed, Lowe’s has often been on the lookout for innovative green home improvement products; the company has been also a great outlet for negative-ion generating CFLs from Purely Products, another Healthy Living partner.) Whole Foods was an early adapter and brought in the line to their stores where it also performs exceptionally well. More recently, Wegman’s added several GreenShield Organic products.
When stores bring in new product lines, it is always risky. And in this case, the key would be three factors: while about seven to eleven percent of shoppers today are very loyal to green brands and products for a variety of reasons (from activist and ideological to health and medical concerns), the vast majority of shoppers—some 70 percent of the market for household cleaners—are loyal to both environmental consciousness and health, performance, and price. They want to buy products that are good for the environment and their health but they also demand great pricing and, of course, performance.
Yet with all this said, Greenology had one thing its competitors in both the mainstream and natural categories didn’t: the highly coveted, recognized and trusted USDA certified organic seal. That means a lot.
“Our competitors sell under the natural banner—and there are some great brands out there—but we have come along with the one and only organic seal—and that makes a huge difference to consumers. The nice thing about the organic seal is that it is the most trusted with a 73 percent brand recognition, so there is not a lot of education that has to be done. Unlike a lot of the other generic seals that people don’t know, this one has an instant trust factor. That has been a big advantage for us.
“There has been a building consensus among consumers for us, thanks to our organic certification, price and performance. I always felt that we were going to capture that seven to eleven percent of dedicated green lifestyle customers already there. At the other end of the spectrum, I didn’t believe we would capture the ten to fifteen percent long time loyalists of national non-green brands. However, that middle 50 to 70 percent of green aspirants are the shoppers we are targeting.”
“There has been a building consensus among consumers for us, thanks to our organic certification, price and performance. I always felt that we were going to capture that seven to eleven percent of dedicated green lifestyle customers already there but I didn’t fool myself into thinking that the other seven to ten percent of the Formula 409, Windex, Tide, Gain stalwarts would come our way if they have been buying Formula 409 for twenty years; however, that middle to 50 to 70 percent of green aspirants are the shoppers we are targeting.”
Being green and organic however goes beyond the label. For Greenology, that means the company’s ethics are just as important—supporting the local economy is critical. For example, to create a neutral carbon footprint and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the company tries to source as much of its raw ingredients and supplies as possible from local sources. Many of the company’s bottles come from Greensboro, labels from Clayton, cartons from High Point, and all production is done in Hickory. Many of the company’s initial partnerships were with North Carolina companies: Lowes is based near Charlotte; Fresh Market, Greensboro, and Food Lion (another early partner), from Salisbury. If you don’t know your American cities, we’re talking North Carolina. Today, the company is firmly established, growing steadily, obtaining patents on its innovative formulas, and reaching out to more and more markets. Natural and organic grocers and smaller health food stores are the next big push—this is an important market, says Adam, noting that the combined sales in this market are equivalent to or greater than some of the largest chains—and this is where grass roots education begins and early adapters really learn about green products and their unique qualities and benefits. GreenShield Organic has a leading selling cleaner now on the fast growing Green Polka Dot Box online organic shopping site—and their products are now being marketed successfully throughout Asia, particularly Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. “It has been fun to see that these countries are hungry for organic products in some cases even more so than in the United States,” says Adam. “Many Asian nations are not only adopting the green lifestyle but championing it in all aspects, not just foods, but carrying across the spectrum. We have a very active Asian contingent setting up distributorships and pushing the green and organic agenda overseas.”
Most of all, the challenge is to let consumers know that green means comparable cleaning power. In a recent set of studies performed by Underwriter Laboratories, Greenology cleaners performed just as well as the major brands; yet, their other benefits—healthy ingredients that are safe for us and the environment; sourcing locally; and keeping money in our economy—all yield additional pluses. No wonder that consumers are going green—as in Greenology.
Resources GreenShield Organic cleaners are available at major retail outlets, such as Lowe's Home Improvement, Whole Foods, The Fresh Market, Food Lion and Wegman’s grocery stores—and increasingly at independent organic and natural groceries and health food stores. The new line of cleaners includes all-purpose, bathroom, kitchen and glass spray cleaners, laundry and automatic dishwashing detergents, as well as a line of surface wipes.
The Healthy Living Guide to GreenShield Organics Cleaning Products
Greenology’s GreenShield Organic products reduce hazardous health effects such as skin, eye, and respiratory irritation or burns; allergies, multiple-chemical sensitivity, headaches, and nausea; gastrointestinal ailments, poisoning, cancer, reproductive hazards; and damage to liver, kidneys, and other internal organs. They are great for the most chemically sensitive consumer, as well as for young families with infants and toddlers, use around pets and our precious planet.
Greenshield Organic Laundry Detergent is a USDA certified organic formula made with Cocos nucifera (saponified organic coconut oil), Sapindus mukorossi (organic soap nuts), Aloe barbadensis leaf juice powder (organic aloe vera) and other safe ingredients that penetrates stains and protects colors and is free and clear of fragrances and dyes. It is formulated for both high efficiency and regular washing machines. Best of all, it is phosphate- and petrochemical-free.
Greenshield Organic All-Purpose Cleaner is an all-in-one certified organic cleaner for all areas in your home, office or school. Made with organic citric acid, malic acid, soybean oil, lemon extract, acetic acid, soap bark, glycerin, it removes grease, grime, dirt, mold, mildew and other yucky things that have accumulated. Made with a patented organic antimicrobial cleansing agents, this powerful cleaner will kill and prevent further growth of odor causing bacteria.
Greenshield Organic Glass Cleaner is made with acetic acid, soybean oil, peppermint, glycerin, and water removes dirt, dust, bugs and more and helps prevent fogging, leaving a streak-free shine.
Greenshield Organic Bathroom Cleaner uses citric acid, malic acid, acetic acid, and organic soap bark. It will remove soap scum and body oils and much more. Spray on all hard surface areas in your bathroom to remove soap scum, mold, mildew, body oils, urine and other smelly deposits that have accumulated.
Greenshield Organic Toilet Bowl Cleaner uses citric, malic and acetic acids with pine needle oil and is a powerful blend of cleaning agents that removes lime scale, iron deposits, and toilet ring. Squeeze cleaner around toilet and under toilet rim until surface is coated. Allow surface to remain wet for 5 minutes. Scrub thoroughly with toilet bowl brush and flush.
Greenshield Organic Kitchen Cleaner is made with citric acid, malic acid, soybean oil, lemon extract, acetic acid, soap bark and glycerin and will tackle grease and grime problems and much more.
Greenshield Organic Automatic Dishwasher Detergent is a powerful blend of organic cleaning agents such as Cocos nucifera (saponified organic coconut oil), Sapindus mukorossi (organic soap nuts), Aloe barbadensis leaf juice powder (organic aloe vera) formulated to conquer tough food stains and greasy messes. This specialized formula leaves kitchenware sparkling clean and residue free
Greenshield Organic Biodegradable Surface Wipes with citric, malic and acetic acids tackle tough grease and grime jobs, yet come from sustainable resources and ingredients. Use on all hard surface areas for great grease cutting, grime and dirt removal! Unlike most Surface Wipes, which are ammonia-based, GreenShield Organic Surface Wipes are people, pet and planet friendly!