Tonight on his PBS show, Bill Moyers asked whether the movement towards “radical transparency” that Daniel Goleman describes in his new book Ecological Intelligence is really happening. Goleman responded by pointing to a generational shift that shows younger people not only care more about environmental and social issues, but that they also have the social networking prowess to spread this information.
I agree with Goleman, but believe the movement towards greater transparency is happening even faster than this generational change.
As just one example, over the last month there has been a major shift towards greater transparency by household products companies here in the US. Historically, household chemical manufacturers in the US did not have to disclose their ingredients unless they fell within very specific parameters (e.g., active ingredients above a certain concentration that are known to be toxic). This means most chemicals do NOT have to be listed.
To understand the irrationality of our current product labeling system, go into your bathroom and look at your liquid hand soap and then look at the harshest chemical you can find – maybe your toilet bowl or tile cleaner. Notice that the hand soap – which is classified as a personal care product – lists all of its ingredients, in order of concentration. While the much stronger household cleaning chemicals likely lists one or even zero ingredients.
Given the opportunity to not be transparent with their customers about the chemicals in their products, most companies choose to hide behind a veil of marketing claims, and more recently green claims.
But this is very rapidly changing. Without any new government regulation, but some important non-profit efforts (check out the campaign of Women’s Voices for the Earth), mainstream companies are following the lead of smaller green companies, and disclosing their ingredients voluntarily. Clorox recently announced that they are disclosing all of their ingredients on their website. SC Johnson followed suit. As did Method Home.
[Let me know if you know of any other companies releasing ingredient data recently.]
These companies had previously argued that their ingredient lists were confidential business information, and that they couldn’t disclose them because of a threat of lost market share. I believe these same companies are now realizing that the real threat to their sales and their brands is from being considered non-transparent. As they say, the cover-up is often worse than the crime in the US.
This is just one of many examples of increased transparency in the marketplace. I will be discussing more of these cases in the coming weeks.