Make Mine "Safer by Design"

I know that if I tested the dust in the carpet in my home, it would contain toxic flame retardants. I’m sure that some of the furniture and electronics I own pre-date the phase-out of these toxic chemicals that began in California after Frontier Group helped break the story in 2003. I’d bet all the money I have that those very same chemicals are in my blood, threatening my health.

This fact is upsetting, to say the least. It also makes me wonder: How many other things in my home contain hidden hazards? Why didn't the companies that make these things think ahead?

When consumers find out about a threat such as toxic flame retardants, or bisphenol-A in baby bottles, their first instinct is often to try to change things by buying safer alternatives, if any are available, exercising their market power as individuals. Over time, consumers can make a difference this way.

But, as we document in our new report, Safer by Design, "Sometimes green products need a little kick from a regulation to overcome the barrier to change," as one industry official put it to the Los Angeles Times. Our report tells the story of of 14 leading businesses that have taken the time to think carefully about their products and services, designing new ways to deliver the quality that consumers expect – while phasing out ingredients that could harm the environment or public health during manufacture, use or disposal. In some cases, businesses acted to capitalize on a new market opportunity. In many cases, businesses were simply responding to the rules of the marketplace -- whether smog limits in Southern California, or restrictions on allowed uses of toxic chemicals established in Europe.

While consumer market power can create change, smart regulations can prompt companies to ensure, by default, that their products and manufacturing methods are “safer by design.” In so doing, we can prevent future toxic hazards before they happen, instead of the human-lab-rat system we have now.

If some companies can do it some of the time, as our report shows, every company can do it all of the time.

We need better public policies to overcome the barriers holding companies back from making better decisions. Better regulatory policy around chemicals can make it easier for companies to invest in innovation, yielding a cleaner, safer and more prosperous America for everyone.