In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the Design for the Environment (DfE) partnership program. The program was created to achieve an end: to develop partnerships in the private sector and industry, with environmental groups, and with academia to reduce environmental and health risks associated with chemical pollutants found in common household products and commercial and industrial practices.
Design for the Environment’s work is significant. Its mission is to test the safety of both traditional and alternative chemicals in a whole range of processes, industries, and products. And, according to the DfE’s website, the program has been something of a huge success – reducing the use of “chemicals of concern” by hundreds of millions of pounds every year.
To obtain a Design for the Environment seal of approval, the EPA must first vet products according to relatively stringent guidelines and an arduous scientific review. These guidelines take into consideration human health concerns, environmental impacts, and the performance and cost of traditional and alternative technologies. Determining whether or not a chemical used for a product is safe(er) for people and the earth is a long process, conducted by the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), and organization that has been testing an analyzing chemicals for more than 30 years – so their expertise is substantial.
The OPPT first uncovers masked chemicals of concern – that is, scientists determine if environmentally-hazardous chemicals appear less harmful because they are diluted with water or other less-toxic chemicals. If the chemical’s effects on the environment and people is not known, they study the chemical structure of the compound to understand its potential effects. The DfE program then searches for negative interactions between chemical combinations – individual substances on their own may not be toxic, but in combination can be deadly. Fragrances and dyes are then screened to ensure they will not pose any adverse health effects, including carcinogenic and environmentally-toxic compounds. Lastly, the product is screened to see if any safer substitutes are commercially available, and economically-feasible for mass production.
There are over 2,000 Design for the Environment-approved products available on the market, with an easy-to-identify seal in place to allow the consumer to quickly and easily identify which products are safest for their health and the environment. Considering that there are over 60,000 commerically-used chemicals, many of which have not passed the guidelines set forth by the Design for the Environment, seeing a DfE seal on a product really means something – not only that the product is safe, but that the company that produced the product put time, energy, and resources into making it the safest it could be. This, of course, speaks to the ethical philosophy of the company producing the product.
Green Depot Solutions: Any green product with the EPA’s Design for the Environment seal is sure to be a sound and safe product, and Green Depot in particular produces an in-house line of DfE-approved cleaners and detergents produced locally in the New York City metropolitan area, and with a refilling station located at our flagship store on the Bowery, along with a full range of other green products and sustainable building materials.