CBC News Misleads Consumers on Green Laundry Detergent

Last weekend CBC News carried a story on the theme “Some ‘green’ detergents contain petrochemicals”. CBC News had undertaken a test of three leading brands of ‘green’ laundry detergent for renewable carbon (plant-based carbon) content and had found that two of them contained some ingredients derived from fossil-based carbon. There are two aspects of the story which caught GallonDaily’s eye.

First, there is absolutely nothing anywhere that states that green laundry detergents should only contain plant-based ingredients. In fact, some plant-based detergents contain more embedded fossil energy, because of their manufacturing process, than detergents from petroleum raw materials. Even Ecologo, which the CBC’s advisor, journalist Adria Vasil, suggests consumers should look for on green products, does not require green cleaners to be made from 100% plant-based surfactants. Only a rigorous Life Cycle Assessment, which the CBC did not perform, can determine the real fossil carbon content of a product. Hence the CBC story was, in GallonDaily’s opinion, misleading to consumers.

Second, perhaps of greater interest to businesses making claims about plant-based ingredients, is that CBC published the report of the testing lab which identified the percentage of fossil carbon in the green laundry detergents. The testing was done by Beta Analytic Inc. in Miami, Florida.  Beta Analytic is a radiocarbon dating laboratory that applied an ASTM testing standard to determine the percentage of fossil carbon and tropospheric carbon in the product. There are few cases where the reports from application of the ASTM standard are in the public domain, so the CBC tests provide an opportunity for manufacturers, brandowners and consultants to see the results of actual tests undertaken to determine the fossil and contemporary carbon content of products.  It should be noted that ASTM itself states that the test method does not address environmental impact, product performance and functionality, determination of geographical origin, or assignment of required amounts of biobased carbon necessary for compliance with [US] federal laws. In other words, the test method that the CBC used is by itself insufficient for determination of fossil carbon content for regulatory purposes.

Another television news program, not the CBC, invited Adria Vasil, the person quoted by the CBC as demanding government regulation of green claims, which regulation already exists though apparently not to her personal liking, to a joint interview on the subject of the CBC findings with GallonDaily’s editor. Vasil’s agent declined the interview opportunity, reportedly saying that she would not be taking any more media interviews until her next book comes out in the Spring.

The CBC News report and, by a link on the page, the Beta Analytics report can be found at http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2011/07/08/laundry-detergent-green.html

Full disclosure: GallonDaily’s editor has been third-party analyst for the largest green product program in Canada since 1989.

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