It’s easy to imagine the battle for greener chemistry as a titanic struggle between government and industry – but it’s consumers who really call the shots
Whenever the battle against toxic chemicals makes headlines, it’s usually linked to huge, sprawling disasters like Flint’s poisoned water or BPA-laden plastics – the kind of thing that involves large scale poisoning and disease and defies an easy solution. And, on those rare occasions when a happy chemistry story breaks – like the ban on antibacterial ingredients like triclosan, or the reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which will expand the government’s ability to regulate chemicals – the combination of confusing chemistry and bizarre political maneuvering makes the story almost incomprehensible for anybody who isn’t already an expert.
It’s easy to imagine the battle for greener chemistry as a titanic struggle between goliath industries and sprawling governments, with consumers watching from the sidelines as their lives and health hang in the balance. But this perspective – and most stories about toxic chemicals – ignore a key part of the equation: consumer demand. For all the much-discussed push of government policies and industry innovations, it’s the pull of consumers and the market that ultimately fuels the biggest changes.
The experts at the Guardian’s Green Chemistry Conference in New York in November highlighted the need to help consumers recognize the pull that they exert. On the government side, they’re focusing on policies and infrastructure projects that address voter concerns; on the consumer side, they’re bringing safer, greener products to market, often in the face of resistance from entrenched industries. In both cases, they’re being tugged along by the increasingly vocal desires and demands of voters and consumers.