- - Monday, March 13, 2017

Anyone who’s bought a washing machine knows Energy Star, the government label that denotes energy efficiency. People who buy cleaning products are increasingly aware of Safer Choice, the federal mark for items that are safer for the environment.

Safer Choice is a voluntary program at the Environmental Protection Agency. If the EPA deems that a product meets stringent criteria, the agency gives it a Safer Choice designation and allows it to display the Safer Choice logo.

More than 2,000 products proudly carry the Safer Choice label. Businesses large and small simply apply to become a Safer Choice partner by submitting their products for EPA review. Today, millions of satisfied customers can easily identify “green” products from more than 500 companies thanks to the Safer Choice logo.

Yet some organizations are calling for the elimination of Safer Choice. That would be a mistake.

While the program is not perfect, Safer Choice has proven to be effective in assisting companies to innovate “greener” and often “safer” chemistry in cleaning products.

Indeed, the Safer Choice program benefits not only consumers and regulators, but industry as well. For many businesses, a national program like Safer Choice is preferable to a patchwork quilt of programs managed by individual retailers, private companies that issue certifications, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or local governments. It would be costly if companies had to formulate products to meet dozens of different standards. What’s more, the Safer Choice program is applied uniformly across the country and is fully accountable to Congress and the executive branch of government.

Safer Choice checks all the boxes when it comes to protecting confidential business information. Industry can be confident that its trade secrets remain just that, secret. This preserves their reputation against counterfeit products and their often-substantial investments in their products. Most of the 500 industry partners of the Safer Choice program are small- and medium-sized companies that would be priced out of private programs. The program’s broad appeal is demonstrated by the fact that big household names not only participate but are calling for expanding the program’s scope.

Many NGOs like the voluntary program. Stalwart Safer Choice supporters include the Environmental Defense Fund, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Breast Cancer Fund. Major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Wegmans are also supporters of the program.

Other organizations such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute have expressed concerns about the program and argue that the EPA is forcing the reformulation of products and that some products may go away altogether. This is incorrect. As a voluntary program, no company is forced to participate but 500 do so willingly to remain competitive and also because of rapidly increasing consumer demand for Safer Choice labeled products.

But its elimination shouldn’t even be on the table. Like any federal initiative, Safer Choice could benefit from becoming more streamlined, efficient and flexible like Energy Star. Any changes in the program should be done on the margins and in concert with the EPA and industry.

And why not? There’s a huge and growing market out there for green and sustainable products. Hospitals are specifically asking for disinfection products that meet Safer Choice criteria. Consumers should be given every opportunity to easily identify products that meet stringent health and safety standards such as cleaning products and disinfectants.

After all, who isn’t in favor of healthier communities? Certainly, the many companies that participate in the Safer Choice Program are.

• Phil Klein is executive vice president for legislative and public affairs at the Consumer Specialty Products Association.

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