While Change Can be Hard to Win, Large Corporations Take Small Steps

The lack of a playground door latch

Last week we learned of great accomplishments in the green activism community. First, corporate giant Procter & Gamble announced it will eliminate triclosan and diethyl phthalate (DEP) from all its products by 2014. This doesn’t mean that Pantene will be totally clean, but it is a great stride toward safer personal care products and one that will hopefully be mirrored by other manufacturers.

Then Walmart took the lead in the Safer Chemicals Safer Families “Mind the Store” challenge. Walmart announced that by January 2015 all manufacturers who sell cleaning products, cosmetics, baby and personal care products will have to disclose the ingredients used in their products online. It also prioritized around 10 toxic chemicals (to be announced later) which they will seek to reduce and eliminate from certain product lines.

We know that it was consumer pushback that led P&G and Walmart to make these changes. And it is extremely empowering to know that all our petitioning, advocating, boycotting and purchasing decisions have not been in vain.

Right now I needed a victory — and these were big ones.

Because sometimes it certainly feels impossible to get even the simplest changes to happen.

For instance, the beautiful, fully renovated playground in my neighborhood has just one major flaw. The door swings open to a busy city street, often luring children with the sounds of the ever-present Mr. Softie truck. But it isn’t the Mr. Softie truck that’s my biggest problem (because at least for now Sam believes they only offer yucky ice cream). My problem is that the door has no latch. Any 2-year-old can push it open — if it isn’t wide open already — and run into the street in two seconds flat. Other parents have certainly noticed, but to my knowledge, no one else has inquired.

Should be a simple fix, right? I have contacted the park committee who explained that they had to order a special latch that required city approval and has apparently taken well over a year. I spoke to the city construction workers who handle park maintenance and they told me they needed a special permit to even touch the door. I offered to purchase the $20 worth of materials and do it myself, but I am not permitted, as I am not in the city’s construction union. I continually badger the park supervisor who keeps saying, “Should be getting it any day now.” We last corresponded in June.

I also thought I made a valid suggestion to my neighborhood association regarding the arguably pointless paper newsletter that is mailed to all members monthly. I posted to our message board that we might consider ceasing the paper newsletter — which must eat up plenty of our hard-earned funds with design, printing, and postage — and replacing it with an e-newsletter, a more modern, well-accepted, greener version of sharing news. We could even add incentive to advertisers with dedicated blasts and special offers. Most people on the message board readily agreed with my suggestion. That was two months ago, and I just received my most recent newsletter, this time in full color. It was followed up with another paper mailer requesting more money for imperative initiatives like street cleanup and safety patrols.

It feels like I just can’t win even the most simple — and obvious — battles.

I try to remind myself that maybe I have enacted some change.

My preschool still uses Lysol and hasn’t switched to organic snacks, but I am pretty sure the switch from Purell to Clean Well Hand Sanitizer was my doing. I’m fairly confident that I was the impetus behind my local playspace’s switch from Clorox Wipes to Seventh Generation Disinfecting Wipes. And I know I signed my name on all the petitions to Johnson & Johnson, P&G and all the other large corporations who are finally making some small steps to safer products.

We have a long way to go — and often we are Davids battling Goliaths. But if you can get your park to install a door latch or your association to switch to paperless newsletters, I applaud and thank you for being an absolute giant!

Paige Wolf is a Philadelphia mom and author of Spit That Out! The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Children in the Age of Environmental Guilt. This post is adapted from her blog, Spit That Out!

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