By Frances Lucraft, Founding CEO, Grace & Green
Product transparency and making the right purchasing decisions can be a total minefield. It’s therefore not surprising that people look for shortcuts to help them decide. Yet these ‘sustainable signposts’ aren’t straightforward either. For example, you’re offered a carbon neutral shirt, an organic shirt and a recycled shirt. Which one do you choose?
It is now widely reported that consumers have a greater desire to adopt a more sustainable and ethical lifestyle. Yet whilst this is great news for our planet, this ‘desire’ still comes with a level of uncertainty as to what we should actually be looking for, and what really are the best ‘ethical’ choices.
This often requires a basic understanding and knowledge of what goes into the products we’re purchasing (as well as how they’re made). Even for the most knowledgeable of consumers, deciphering labels and navigating your way through the chemical soup that is the consumer-products industry can leave you a little exasperated. After all, few of us have the time to study the true environmental impact of every purchase we make!
A New Way of Thinking about Hygiene
Back in 2014, born out of a personal need for thoughtfully designed, natural and organic hygiene products, I sought to found a company that would challenge the status quo of the “feminine hygiene” industry as it exists today. In this unregulated sector, I wanted to form a brand that was the antidote to the big corporate brands with their big budget ads just churning a profit. I wanted to champion alternative and innovative production models and methods to provide transparency and authenticity, as well as safe and effective products for women. During the research phase, I found many products to be both alarmingly detrimental not only to the planet, but also to women’s health.
In 2016, a jury in Missouri awarded around $72M to the family of Jacqueline Fox, who sadly died of ovarian cancer at the age of 62. The lawyers for Fox’s family brought this civil suit against product giant Johnson & Johnson, stating that Fox used their baby powder as a feminine hygiene product. Her lawyers alleged that these products were the cause of her cancer. The jury agreed, holding Johnson & Johnson liable for counts of fraud, negligence and conspiracy.
This case serves as a stark reminder to consumers of just how disconnected we are from what we’re putting in – and on – our bodies. How many of us know what exactly is in the dozens of lotions, poisons, scrubs and serums that line our bathroom cabinets? How many of us have used baby powder without thought? Not to mention the various foods, washing powders and detergents that we all use on a daily basis.
This is scary, as today nobody certifies whether a deodorant or a yogurt is ‘technically’ good for our overall health. For most, we simply just look at the calories/nutrition facts or ingredient section, quickly scan and judge before we commit to using it. Surely we need more regulation? More information about the health and environmental impacts of the products we use – and full product transparency?
Whilst some product labelling and information is obviously legally mediated, this is only a requirement to disclose certain things. Unfortunately, it’s not enough just to know how to read product labels. Many consumer products are only loosely regulated – if at all – and current labelling requirements leave out some potentially toxic chemicals. Reading most product labels will give a breakdown of individual ingredients, but even this information is pretty useless unless you know offhand your Parabens from your Tricolsans.
A decade ago, the general public would have perhaps placed this onus for action on the government. Today, in a cost-conscious economy, this seems no longer the case, with more customers now expecting and relying on brands to show them the way. This is putting big brands under pressure to work with customers to adopt “sustainable” and “ethical” behaviours – lifestyles that have minimal impact on the environment as well as contributing to our wellbeing.
Yet exactly how to influence consumers remains a big question for many brands and business owners.
This poses a fine balancing act for ethical business and brands who now must demonstrate their own sustainable and ethical behaviour, while helping customers consume conscientiously. Presenting this in a clever, relevant way is integral.
The Problem of ‘Green-washing’
The Soil Association warns that the industry now puts money into marketing products it claims are “green” rather than spending money on formulating environmentally friendly, toxin-free products that are not harmful to the skin.
Most companies don’t make it much easier by cramming 76 ingredients into one tiny 8pt paragraph, slapping words like “natural” or “no nasties” on their products when they are anything but. The assumption that natural equals good is wrong. However, it’s understandable that people would feel that way, isn’t it? Natural just sounds good!
Is this a matter of being transparent? Or is this more of a critical issue? Because the more we know about what’s in our products the better decisions we can make…the better our decisions, the healthier our societies and culture.
Hopefully one day we will be able to make decisions based on the full picture. It will be the end of ‘green-washing’ as we know it, as well as the beginning of a more conscious approach to buying.
Autumn 2017 will see the official launch of Grace & Green, a hygiene company which I founded in 2014 with the aim of revolutionising the industry. It addresses the importance of provenance and origin – the value of asking where and how something is made, plus the impact those products have on health and the planet.
Driven by a passion for innovation and purpose, our product ethos has always been to bring women the most exceptional, high-performing and effective period and hygiene products. The G&G product collection has brought this ethos to life using pioneering design and innovative manufacturing, as well as the highest quality ingredients. The result is a collection that is both kind to bodies, and respectful to the planet.
We invite you to join the discussion. Join us on Twitter for #EthicalHour: September 18, 8-9pm BST to talk about what’s lurking in our products.