Business model design

Proposal for 2009: The Product Truth Act

It’s about binkies.

Avent Soothie
Avent Soothie

I’ll take the risk of being a mom blogger, now that I am a new mom, for this post alone. As much as I’ve been aware of the difficulties required in finding out the truth about products, their materials, manufacturing methods, and backstories, there’s nothing like the experience of new motherhood to drive this point home so painfully.

The binky story:

While waiting in line to vote on  the great big day of Change, my brand new daughter began to vocalize her desire for a binky. She’s just that kind of girl, a new consumer, interested in self-soothing through the use of a binky. We chose a simple model – Avent, a division of Philips – shorthand for Dutch, and usually shorthand for trustworthy EU standards of product manufacturing. I took the opportunity of my child’s first act of consumption to investigate further, and decided to perform a rudimentary life cycle  analysis on her binky, and contacted Philips to learn more about how the product was made.

I was shocked to receive this response:

Thank your for contacting Philips AVENT.

We are coming out with bpa free soothers. The one you have has bpa in the handle and shield. The nipple is silicone.


Thank you,


Avent Consumer Care

Philips Consumer Lifestyle

I hadn’t even inquired about BPA. Sure, there were warnings of melamine in baby formula, and the threat that plastic toys produced before February 2009 may still be laden with phthalates. But BPA??? In a Binky? From a EU-based company?

What’s happening here? BPA will be banned from my water bottle, what’s it doing in a baby product? One explanation is offered by Mark Schapiro, the author of Exposed, The Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power, the US, under many years of an anti-regulation agenda, has become a toxic dumping ground for global companies who can dispose of questionable materials cheaply on the shelves of our big box retailers.

After so many years of lax consumer safety regulation under the current administration, it is critical that the green debate and action plans includes not just grand schemes for reducing carbon, but also an all inclusive plan for making binkies safe for babies everywhere.

The environmental debate can’t be a zero sum game, trading “independence from foreign oil” for “Green jobs” or “safe products”. We got into this gigantic economic and environmental meltdown because we’ve lost an understanding of how things are made, and we fail to see that everything is connected.

So before we begin any major multi million dollar investments in this supposed green collar economy, I propose a rethinking of the consumer product safety act to focus on product history, with a simple idea – all manufacturers, everywhere, who sell their goods and services in the USA, must print on the packaging: this is what its made from, this is where it was made, and here’s the estimated environmental impact of the thing that we are selling.

We can start industry by industry, phasing in a product transparency standard, and insisting that the once proprietary information of product materiality and process become available for public view. Whether you’re making binkies, alternative energy, or packaging collateralized debt obligations, you will soon be responsible for what you’re making, what it’s made out of, and how it got here. It’s what we lost at the dawn of the first industrial revolution that must finally be undone as we launch the next phase. I propose this idea as the Product Truth Act, and suggest that we would not be suffering from a global economic meltdown if we simply knew what was in the binkies that we continue to sell.