Green Chemistry at Work

Released by: Environment California Research and Policy Center

Executive Summary

Leading California businesses are showing that consumer products don’t have to contain toxic chemicals, threaten public health, or produce large amounts of waste in order to work. These businesses are making California healthier and wealthier by designing products to be safe from the start, following the principles of green chemistry.

This report highlights 12 Golden State businesses or institutions that are identifying unnecessary hazards in their facilities, in their manufacturing processes and in the products they sell – and acting to eliminate them. In the process, these pioneers are demonstrating how a strong state-wide green chemistry policy can give birth to a new way of doing business – benefiting the people of California and setting an example for the nation as a whole.

Green chemistry is a design and business philosophy that seeks to make products safe from the start and prevent pollution at its source.

·         Traditionally, designers have failed to comprehensively consider the risks posed by their products, such as the potential ill-effects of hazardous ingredients brought inside our kitchens, offices and living rooms. In contrast, green chemistry emphasizes the design of chemicals, processes and goods that cause little or no harm to public health or the environment during manufacturing, use or disposal. Green chemistry also has the potential to reduce energy use, lower global warming emissions, and reduce or eliminate waste – all of which offer opportunities to simultaneously improve human health and a company’s bottom line.

·         California’s Green Chemistry Initiative is a groundbreaking effort to apply green chemistry principles to state chemical regulatory policy. This initiative aims to reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals that persist in the environment, accumulate in the food chain, have toxic properties, or pose a threat to workers or public health, in favor of safer alternatives.

While protecting public health and the environment, green chemistry can also be an effective business strategy. For example:

·         Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente offers a more comprehensive view of health care than its competitors. The organization has been working to eliminate the use of IV bags and tubing containing phthalates, a class of chemicals that interferes with healthy development and reproduction, in all of its neonatal intensive care units. Kaiser Permanente’s new hospital in Modesto, which opened in 2008, also features a new kind of phthalate-free carpet invented specifically because of Kaiser Permanente’s purchasing power – a carpet now being marketed to other health care facilities nationwide.

·         Cupertino-based Apple Computer, Inc. and Palo Alto-based Hewlett Packard have improved their products, expanded their market share, and ensured access to the global marketplace while eliminating a broad range of toxic chemicals from their products. Apple chose to phase out any chemical made with chlorine or bromine in its electronics. These two elements are commonly found in hazardous substances – for example, in PCBs and PBDEs, chemicals which accumulate in the food chain and can interfere with healthy development in children. Apple’s approach made it simple and cost-effective to ensure that the components it receives from suppliers do not contain PBDEs or related hazards by testing for a just few elements, rather than for large numbers of individual compounds. HP also requires its suppliers to avoid a list of restricted substances, and to voluntarily report on 240 additional ingredients of concern. As a result, Apple’s and HP’s products meet standards for sale in all markets worldwide, and the companies are prepared to rapidly respond to new evidence of potential hazards.

·         The South Coast Air Quality Management District issues regulations to reduce smog and toxic air pollution in Southern California. In response, BASF, Inc., one of the world’s largest chemical companies, developed a new kind of paint primer which does not contain organic solvents and therefore contributes to cleaner, healthier air and a safer workplace. Moreover, the innovative primer performs even better than traditional products, opening the door to new business opportunities.

·         Chico-based Klean Kanteen and Los Angeles-based Green-to-Grow manufacture water bottles and baby bottles without the use of bisphenol-A – a widely used chemical that scientists have linked to cancer, heart disease, thyroid disease, and developmental disorders. Both companies were well-positioned to capitalize on the emerging market for safer containers as concern over bisphenol-A exploded during the last decade. In fact, after stories about bisphenol-A proliferated in the mainstream media, Klean Kanteen’s business grew by more than 1,000 percent from 2007 to 2008 and the company grew from six to 36 employees.

·         San Francisco-based Method Products manufactures and sells home and personal cleaning products using non-toxic and biodegradable ingredients. CleanWell, another San Francisco-based company, designed a natural, biodegradable disinfectant to replace toxic triclosan in hand cleaners and surface cleaners sold by Seventh Generation. Even the Oakland-based Clorox Company, one of the nation’s largest cleaning product companies, has developed a line of cleaning products made from naturally-derived ingredients, with every ingredient listed on the bottle for all to see. These companies are creating and expanding new business opportunities. The market for cleaning products designed with green chemistry in mind is currently estimated at more than $100 million per year, and growing rapidly.

·         Los Angeles-based Nubar manufactures nail polish without using formaldehyde, toluene or dibutyl phthalate, all chemicals listed as hazards under California’s Proposition 65 labeling policy. Eliminating these hazards has given Nubar an excellent marketing tool, while enabling the company to sell its products in markets worldwide, including the European Union, where dibutyl phthalate is banned in cosmetics.

·         Pfizer, one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies, with more than 1,000 scientists based in La Jolla, used green chemistry principles to streamline and reduce the toxicity of the manufacturing process for the antidepressant drug Zoloft. The new process reduced solvent use by 90 percent and eliminated hundreds of tons of waste laced with hydrochloric acid. New companies, like Redwood City’s Codexis, are springing up to help pharmaceutical companies apply green chemistry innovations. Codexis, for example, developed three customized enzymes for Pfizer to use in the synthesis of Lipitor, a widely-used cholesterol management drug. The enzymes reduced the need for fossil fuels and harsh chemicals during the reaction process, reducing waste and energy use – and earned Codexis a 2006 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge award from the U.S. EPA. These green chemistry strategies reduce waste, cut costs, and improve manufacturing efficiency – all of which improve the bottom line.

These case studies demonstrate that green chemistry can benefit public health and the environment – and create new business opportunities, too. When California businesses and institutions think seriously about how they design, manufacture, or use products, they find opportunities to use less hazardous ingredients and safer designs – reducing hazards to workers and public health, preventing pollution, saving money, and creating markets for new and innovative products.

However, existing state and federal chemical regulatory policies are not doing enough to promote widespread adoption of green chemistry practices. Existing policies have key weaknesses – termed the “data gap,” the “safety gap” and the “technology gap” by chemical policy experts at the University of California.

·         The data gap: Existing chemical policies allow manufacturers to sell a chemical or product without studying or sharing information about its potential health or environmental hazards. As a result, consumers and businesses have difficulty knowing what ingredients are in a product, whether those ingredients are safe – or even knowing whether an alternative to a hazardous chemical is actually better.

·         The safety gap: Additionally, under existing policy, state regulators are unable to take effective action to address known hazards. As a result, California businesses may be allowed to sell products made with toxic ingredients banned in other countries.

·         The technology gap: Finally, existing policy fails to promote adequate investment in green chemistry research, development, education, and technical assistance.

California’s Green Chemistry Initiative has the potential to address the weaknesses in existing chemical policy and to help make the application of green chemistry principles widespread. In order to be most effective, the state’s Green Chemistry Initiative should:

·         Require chemical manufacturers to prove that each chemical they market is safe;

·         Empower regulatory agencies to restrict or ban the manufacture and use of chemicals that pose potential dangers; and

·         Ensure public access to information on chemicals and their potential hazards through mandatory reporting requirements, including product ingredient disclosure.

If effectively implemented, California’s Green Chemistry Initiative can develop a new green chemistry industry in the state, driving investment and employment in developing safer ways of doing business and helping California companies to remain competitive in the global marketplace.