Soap Suds or Soap Scum? You Decide

A wonder of diversity, going up in smoke
A recent report published by Greenpeace (“Burning up Borneo”) was released detailing the actions of Unilever in the rainforests and peatland forests of Borneo. According to Greenpeace, Unilever, a company containing some of the world’s largest brands such as Dove, is contributing to the deforestation by fiscally supporting the construction of palm oil plantations.

Unilever’s trading with palm oil suppliers has several detrimental effects on the environment. First, the habitats of endangered orangutans and other wildlife are diminishing and their populations are decreasing to where they're threatened with extinction. Second, an area the size of Ecuador has been cleared, mostly for palm oil. Having that carbon sink removed and emitted into the atmosphere has a large impact on global climatic change. In fact, Indonesia is the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, behind the USA and China. Unlike the other two countries, Indonesia’s emissions are mainly a result of the destruction/burning of peatland forests, which sequester large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. In essence, these forests are the wetlands of carbon dioxide.

How can we make an impact on this story without securing a flight to Indonesia and participating in a protest? Our consumer choices must adjust when valid information is released. I have used Dove for a majority of my life, but now am looking elsewhere. Burt’s Bees is a personal care product company that uses earth friendly, natural products. They avoid petroleum based products like petrolatum and propylene glycol and other artificial ingredients like phthalates, DMDM Hydantoin, parabens, oxybenzone, and dimethicone. These synthetics have been specifically linked to skin irritation, hormonal disruption, and acne breakouts. Instead Burt’s Bees use beeswax, botanical oils, herbs, flowers, and minerals. Their product line includes everything from exfoliants and lotion to chapstick and sunscreen.

Additionally, Dial has made significant steps in its source reduction and use of renewable materials within the past 5 years (; page 42). Their packaging contains more recyclable materials than in the past (25% recycled resin in detergent bottles and 90% recycle fiber in soap cartons). Some bottles even contain calcium carbonate (a renewable resource) as a substitute for the plastic resin. While the packaging and manufacturing of their products has become more sustainable, I was not able to find out whether their active ingredients (i.e. cocoa butter) are sustainably produced, unlike the palm oil from Unilever.

So is it soap suds or soap scum? Our choices determine our collective impact on the environment. Moral fiber is predicated on making sagacious decisions in the context of reputable information rather than ignoring/denying that knowledge. I look to make a significant transition in my consumption patterns regarding my personal care products. I will continue to research those companies, such as Dial, that are making positive impacts in one arena to ensure that I am not supporting unjust actions elsewhere within that company. Without significant environmental standards and oversight on the business sector, our actions collectively may speak loud enough.


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  • Posted on May 3, 2008. Listed in:

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