Lisa Bronner is a prolific writer, consumer advocate and speaker on health and green lifestyle issues from the US. She is the author of the blog Going Green with a Bronner Mom and granddaughter of Dr Emanuel Bronner, founder of the top-selling brand of natural soaps in North America. We spoke to her about everything Dr Bronner’s supports- GMO labelling, fair trade and environmental sustainability in her recent visit to London.
When did your passion for green lifestyle issues begin?
With my children. Although I should have known better because of my family legacy, I wasn’t motivated until my kids were at stake. Funny how we’ll do things for our kids’ sakes that we wouldn’t do for ourselves.
I realized that there are so many things about my kids’ lives that I cannot control, that I needed to grab hold of those that I can control such as what they eat and what chemicals surround them. No one is going to prioritize my children as highly as I do, and no one is going to make the best decisions for them as I will. It may have started with them, but I enjoy the challenge now for myself. Making healthy food tasty. Making homecare safe, simple, and effective.
You are the author of the blog ‘Going Green with a Bronner Mum’, so what can you tell us about this for those who haven’t read it yet?
I write my blog with the busy mom or busy professional in mind who wants to make greener, healthier lifestyle choices but doesn’t have the time to figure out all the how-to’s.
I am trying to break down information into digestible pieces so that they can take one step at a time on the green journey. There is so much information and misinformation and hype out there that it can be hard to find what is worthwhile.
My blog seeks to filter the information and simplify it. I focus on mostly on personal care and house care. About half of my blogs relate to the many ways to use Dr. Bronner’s products for personal and home care. For example, our castile soap, which is primarily a body soap, also makes a fantastic household cleaning spray (55 mL soap in 1 L. water). Because our ingredients are clearly listed on each bottle, you can know that you’re not using anything dubious or harmful.
What is GMO labelling and why is it so important to you to spread the word about it?
GMO’s, or genetically modified organisms, are living things whose DNA has been swapped, amended, or in some other way altered in order to bring about some desired trait. This is a huge issue in the United States where over 90% of products sold in the markets are genetically modified.
The most common purpose for this modification is to make plants resistant to certain petrochemical herbicides such as Round-Up, whose active ingredient is glyphosate. This means that heavy doses of the herbicide can be applied to crops, leading to increasing amounts of residue on plants, increasing amounts of toxic run-off into the water supply, and increasing amounts of resistance from weeds, which adapt to withstand the application as well.
Most of this genetic alteration has been done with little to no risk assessment before foisting it on the unsuspecting public. There are no labelling laws in the U.S. to let consumers know their food is experimental and untested.
Dr. Bronner’s has been a long-time supporter of GMO labelling because we strongly feel consumers have the right to know what is in their food.
Fortunately, the EU and Britain have much more stringent laws regarding the growing, selling, and labelling of GE foods. But these laws need to be upheld against constant attack from massive agribusinesses.
Why is fair trade such a key part of the production process?
Fair Trade ensures that the people who contribute the production of any product are treated fairly, paid fairly, and given fair working conditions. “Organic” has been a great step forward as far as treatment of the environment, but is absolutely silent on the treatment of the people.
A product can be produced organically and still be made with near slave labour. Fair Trade addresses this loophole. For us at Dr. Bronner’s, Fair Trade means that everyone who has worked for our soap, from the coconut farmer in Sri Lanka to the bottle filler in the U.S. has been hired and treated fairly, paid a living wage, and given safe working conditions.
It further means development for the community as well, as 10% of the Fair Trade premium goes towards a community betterment fund, building things like indoor toilets in schools in Sri Lanka, or providing school uniforms and books for workers’ children to attend school.
My grandfather, Dr. Bronner, called this “Constructive Capitalism”, sharing the proceeds of the product with the workers who helped make it.
We take things further, beyond the requirements for our Fair Trade certifications and have instituted several other policies. This includes a salary cap of 5:1 so that our highest paid employees (the execs) make no more than 5 times what the lowest paid vested employee makes.
How do you personally ensure that you and your your family always live green?
It’s a whole bunch of small decisions that add up to a big picture – from what we buy to what we eat to what we throw away. All these can be done greenly.
This means choosing products of high quality and with less packaging, whether it’s a vacuum cleaner (hoover) that won’t break and be tossed out quickly, or food that doesn’t come in wrappers, which usually means fresher food that’s healthier too. Or seeing if we can repurpose or give away items we no longer need, like children’s clothes or toys they’ve outgrown, even housewares, rather than just tossing them in the rubbish.
What advice do you have for others who want to follow in your footsteps but do so on a budget?
Anyone who wants to live more greenly can make changes one step at a time. Too many changes at once is likely to become overwhelming and frustrating and quickly abandoned. Learning how to G-I-Y, or Green It Yourself, is an easy and very economical way to begin a green journey.
Learn to replace your common store-bought household cleaners with homemade alternatives that are just as effective at a fraction of the cost. Mix equal parts vinegar and water for an excellent glass cleaner. Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda instead of scouring powder on sinks that need some extra scrubbing. Make a good All-Purpose Cleaner that can multi-task in the kitchen and bathroom and everywhere else.
Your grandfather founded Dr Bronners- so why is it vital to use only organic body care and food products?
We only get one body in our lifetime and we need to take care of it with only the best. Think if you were only allowed one car for your whole life. You needed that car to last 80+ years. You would make sure that it only ever received the highest grade petrol, had the best fluids, and the most regular maintenance.
Our bodies are similar. Non-organic ingredients in our food or personal care can junk up our bodies, with toxins or contaminants that it can’t process. This leads to sluggishness, hormonal imbalances, sensitivities, allergies, even infertility and cancer. We are seeing skyrocketing rates of these things, that has almost exactly mirrored the rise of foreign, toxic chemicals in our foods and personal care.
“Organic” ensures that a product does not contain any toxins that will clog up or break down our bodies and also provides some protection that the environment was not harmed in the production.
You have recently donated $50,000 to the national immigration Law Centre so what prompted you to make this donation?
America is a nation of immigrants. There are few people in the States whose ancestry does not include an immigrant in the last couple generations.
It was founded as a place that welcomed the world. My grandfather Dr. Bronner, born a German Jew, immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1929 and left behind a nation wracked by religious intolerance. His parents and his community perished in concentration camps because of this intolerance. And now, in the United States, recent policies and language have jeopardized the strength of our immigrant legacy by singling out certain people groups and banning them outright from entering our great nation based on their religious heritage.
This is anathema to the very core of our country and of our company. We made the contribution to the national Immigration Law Center to support their efforts to fight for immigrant rights, to find solutions for maintaining the security of our residents without forfeiting their freedoms.
What are your thoughts on sustainable palm oil?
As palm oil has grown in popularity as an ingredient in food and personal care, the demand for it has resulted in horrific farming practices that are destructive to the environment and its inhabitants, particularly as seen in the quickly disappearing rain forests of southeast Asia.
Through the brilliant work of our sister company, Serendipalm in Asoum, Ghana, Dr. Bronner’s is demonstrating that palm oil can be produced sustainably, building up the environment rather than depleting it. Founded in 2008, this palm oil mill has supplied our company and others with palm oil, while at the same time teaching the area farmers organic and sustainable farming practices. In addition, as part of our Fair Trade efforts, this mill has been a huge benefit to the local community by providing mosquito bednets to all families and by building a maternity ward at a local hospital.
What is next for you?
There is so much work to be done! I am making a series of short videos for my blog that give those busy folks quick, easy ways to detoxify their homes and bodies. Dr. Bronner’s is also moving forward on a huge Regenerative Agriculture campaign that seeks to revolutionize the way America and the world farms, replenish the soil instead of depleting it, improving the living conditions of farm animals, and sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere and back into the soil, reducing Greenhouse Gasses in our air. It’s all part of our efforts to leave the Earth better than we found it.