Shop Greener in Greener Shops by alice1311


									Shop Greener in Greener Shops
By Miya Kitahara

The average American spends six hours a week shopping.i How might the environment
in these locations affect your health?

More than 190 different synthetic chemicals have been found in the average American body.ii After
the home and office, retail locations are one of the places we spend the most of our time. From the
isle walls and shelves, to carpeting, to the millions of hangers, all of the elements that surround you
have an impact on your body. Whether by offgassing, or direct contact as in the case of hangers,
chemicals in these objects can enter your system.

What can be done to reduce our risk of further contamination?

The new wave of “green” building and construction offers many alternatives to conventional,
chemical-intensive materials. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification
standards include the reduction of toxins.iii “Sick building syndrome” also calls attention to
the fact that indoor air quality can be worse than outdoors.iv Stores like Patagoniav and REIvi
are building their new stores “green” and choosing non-toxic alternatives, which lets you
shop with confidence.

Conventional paints emit fumes, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs).vii According to the
American Lung Association, “VOCs are released from certain solids or liquids as gases at room
temperature. They include a variety of chemicals (benzene, carbon tetrachloride, styrene)” viii The
EPA reports that indoor concentrations can be up to ten times higher than outdoor.ix Health
effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; and nausea; damage to the liver,
kidney, and the central nervous system. Some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.x
VOCs also combine with Nitrous Oxides (NOx) from automotive emissions to create the yellow
smogxi that suffocates cities, causing lung irritation and inflammation, and aggravating asthma.xii

The Green Seal approves paints that are low- or no-VOC alternatives.xiii For a list of low-VOC
paint suppliers, visit Green Seal’s website at

Carpeting and other forms of floor covers can offgass as well.xv Healthier flooring options
include bamboo and naturally treated wood, cork, or tile products. Teragren in Washington state
offers flooring made of environmentally preferable Moso bamboo. Bamboo grows very rapidly,
reaching maturity in 5 to 6 years, compared to over 60 years required for hardwood trees.xvi The
resulting floors are durable – 25% harder than red oak and 12% harder than maple – and visually

If a store uses carpeting, they can minimize offgassing by looking for the Green Label Plus from
the Carpet and Rug Institute's Indoor Air Quality Test Program. They measure 13 chemicals that
are considered harmful to human health.xvii
Interior Displays
Many display structures are built using particleboard that is held together with adhesives and
preservatives, such as formaldehyde, which can offgass into the surrounding air.xviii Formaldehyde
exposure causes nose, eye, and throat irritation, can trigger asthma attacks, and may cause cancer.xix
It has been linked specifically to nasopharyngeal cancer.xx “As many as 3,000 different building
products” contain formaldehydexxi. Some states are considering bills to require the adoption of
formaldehyde emissions standards similar to the European Union E1 Standards, to protect the
health of their citizens.xxii

Displays can be made of materials other than particleboard as well. Ecowood displays offers
systems of sustainable wood shelving units that are not treated with harsh chemicals. They use an
advanced waterborne system to apply low VOC finishes to their units.xxiii

Polystyrene hangers are the norm, and contain and offgas benzene directly into clothing and into the
store’s atmosphere. Benzene, the active ingredient of cigarette smoke, can cause cancer and
immediate neurological effects like dizziness.xxiv Some hangers are made from polycarbonate which
contains the hormone disruptor biphenyl A. Most plastic hangers are so difficult to recycle they are
banned from recycling facilities. In landfills they leach dangerous chemicals into the ground water
for up to 1000 years.

A great replacement is a paper hanger, such as the Ditto Hanger, which is made with recycled
paper, vegetable dyes, and non-toxic adhesives, with no traces of heavy metals.xxv Aside from the
chemical content, this healthier alternative also enhances the look and feel of your shopping

Cleaning Products
The Green Seal also applies to cleaning products. Harsh chemicals can be replaced with natural
alternatives.xxvi There are non-toxic alternatives containing no chlorine (bleach), ammonia,
formaldehyde, or petroleum distillates.xxvii Some Patagonia stores use Seventh Generation
cleaning supplies. All Seventh Generation products are
vegetable derived, phosphate-free, chlorine-free, not Give your next shopping trip a
acutely or chronically toxic, and uses minimal VOCs.xxviii health boost. Show this list to
Also visit the Green Seal website for a list of approved your favorite retail shops.
industrial cleaners and cleaning services.xxix
                                                                No-VOC paints
Lighting                                                        Flooring that does not off-gas
Natural light is a great mood enhancer, and may even
increase Some retailers have increased the            Display structures that do not
amount of sunlight that enters a building by installing        contain chemicals such as
skylights and larger windows, and structuring floor plans      formaldehyde (E1 certified)
to maximize light’s reach. Rainbow Grocery in San
Francisco uses a “Daylight Harvesting” project where            Non-toxic paper hangers
special reflector-enhanced skylights and automatic sensors
maximize natural lighting.xxxi                                  Non-toxic cleaning solutions

                                                                More natural lighting
Introducing more natural light into the space also means less electricity used. Products also look
different under different lighting. Natural lighting in the store will provide a more accurate
purchasing environment for what your purchase will look like when you leave the store.

Websites of Companies and Organizations Listed

i Betsy Morris, "Big Spenders: As a Favored Pastime, Shopping Ranks High with Most Americans,"
Wall Street Journal, July 30, 1987.
iv EPA:
v What Makes a Building Green?
vi REI Boulder: A Vision in Green
vii EPA:
viii American Lung Association, Virginia:
ix EPA:
x EPA:
xi EPA:
xii EPA:
xiii Green Seal certification standards:
xv Carpet and Rug Institute Green Label

xvii Carpet and Rug Institute Green Label

xviii World Health Organization
xx World Health Organization
xxi American Lung Association, Virginia:
xxii State of California, SB 509 Senate Bill

xxiii Our Materials
xxiv EPA:
xxvii Simple Green website
xxviii Seventh Generation Non-Toxic Ingredients
xxix and
xxxi Daylight Harvesting

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