Heroes

These researchers used science to make laundry packs a new way.

They want you to have clean clothes. And to make the world a better place.

These researchers used science to make laundry packs a new way.
True
Seventh Generation

For the last nine years, Kay Gebhardt has had a demanding and often unsung (at least publicly) job.

If you've ever tried to get grass stains out of your kid's jeans or little dots of salad dressing out of a treasured silk blouse, you were probably concerned about whether they'd come out — but did you give much thought to the safety of the detergent you were washing your clothes in?

Kay's given it a lot of thought.


As a scientist for Seventh Generation, she's helped create the testing methods that determine if new products meet the company's strict and ambitious safety goals.

She knows each ingredient in a given product and what it does. And if she doesn't know, she makes it her business to find out.

"Our internal standards are the highest thing we try to achieve," she said proudly. "I never have to convince my colleagues about the right thing to do."

Over the last several months, Kay and her team have worked on an ambitious new product for Seventh Generation: laundry packs.

Image by Seventh Generation.

If you don't know what laundry packs are, they're convenient little capsules of detergent that consumers can toss into the washer with their clothes.

Laundry packs promise a world with fewer moments like this.

Why is it so important to get laundry packs right?

In 2015, Consumer Reports wrote that they "strongly urge" families with small children to skip laundry packs containing liquid because of the "continued danger" they pose. One such danger?

Accidental ingestion.

It sounds kinda absurd, but curious kids sneaking into laundry cupboards, grabbing detergent packs, and trying to eat them is, unfortunately, a real thing that's happened.

Image via iStock.

In 2015, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that in 2014 there were 938 exposures to liquid or hybrid laundry packets that resulted in "moderate or major harm" (requiring extended treatment and resulting in permanent damage, such as loss of vision). And, sadly, four exposures to liquid or hybrid laundry packets resulted in death.

The Seventh Generation team didn't want to add to those statistics.

Seventh Generation originally started working toward a liquid formulation for their laundry packs. But after months of work and testing, it was clear there were ways they could make their laundry detergent packs safer.

So the team went back to the drawing board, and to powder packs.

In an interview, Kay explained the rationale for going back to powder:

"If a kid bites into a laundry powder pack, it quickly fills the mouth with an extremely unpleasant chalky taste. Instead of accidentally swallowing some of the detergent — which can happen with liquid formulations — kids are compelled to spit it out."

Kids may swallow some of the powder, but the idea is that, since it's not liquid, they can't swallow the whole thing. Also, they don't look like candy, so they are less likely to want to eat them.

When it came to testing their new laundry packs, Seventh Generation's goal was two-fold: meet their own internal requirements plus those of EPA's Safer Choice program.

The Environmental Protection Agency's Safer Choice label is prestigious — only 2,500 products sold in the U.S. meet its tough environmental, health, and safety standards. Seventh Generation's is one of only two laundry pack products for home use on the list.

Seventh Generation's commitment to safety goes beyond imagining worst-case scenarios.

Some companies, like Seventh Generation, research all ingredients in their products to ensure they don't hurt fish when they reach rivers and streams. Image via iStock.

There's skin testing for irritation and possible allergies (and never tested on animals).

There's research on each chemical ingredient to ensure the products won't hurt fish or aquatic organisms if they make their way into storm sewers and waterways.

There's testing to ensure the product performs well using high-efficiency, energy-conserving machines. Even the packaging is designed to have as small of an impact on the environment as possible.

Here's the result: an EPA Safer Choice Certified Product. You can relax, knowing you've made a good choice. Image via Seventh Generation.

Once a new product reaches store shelves, the long hours of testing and formulating behind the scenes are invisible to the consumer.

Some people working on these products might find that disappointing. For Kay, it's all worth it to ensure customers are getting a rigorously tested product that works well and does right by the environment.

"There are so many reasons why I stay with Seventh Generation. I’m passionate about the mission that we have, and how we are so authentic and aligned with the changes we want to see in the world. Ultimately, I want to come home to my kids and feel good about what I do. I want to say, 'Mommy makes products that do good and mommy is trying to change things.'"
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
True

Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

Keep Reading Show less

In the hours before he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, then-President-elect Biden was sent a letter signed by 17 freshmen GOP members of the House of Representatives.

In sharp contrast to the 121 Republican House members who voted against the certification of Biden's electoral votes—a constitutional procedure merely check-marking the state certifications that had already taken place—this letter expresses a desire to "rise above the partisan fray" and work together with Biden as he takes over the presidency.

The letter reads:

Dear President-elect Biden,

Congratulations on the beginning of your administration and presidency. As members of this freshman class, we trust that the next four years will present your administration and the 117thCongress with numerous challenges and successes, and we are hopeful that – despite our ideological differences – we may work together on behalf of the American people we are each so fortunate to serve.

After two impeachments, lengthy inter-branch investigations, and, most recently, the horrific attack on our nation's capital, it is clear that the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans does not serve a single American.

Keep Reading Show less
True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.