Who Makes The Best Disinfectant: Sunshine or SC Johnson?

As I was logging into my Yahoo! Mail account last week, I caught a glimpse of SC Johnson’s new advertising campaign heralding ingredient transparency. On November 25th, SC Johnson launched their new ad, “Honesty,” and corresponding website, www.WhatsInsideSCJohnson.com, both dedicated to emphasizing “the company’s commitment to disclosing the ingredients in its products.”

Photo by Arlington County. Some rights reserved.

According to their press release, “SC Johnson has a history of taking action beyond what is called for by industry.” It even quotes Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson as saying, “The truth is, companies often don’t have to tell you everything that’s in their products.”

Ironic, then, that the self-congratulatory disclosure seems to have stemmed from a notice received in the fall of 2008 indicating that SC Johnson was out of compliance with section 659.6 of the New York Code of Rules and Regulations. This section requires manufacturers of household cleansing products to report the following information:

(1) the amount of elemental phosphorus by weight as measured to the nearest one-tenth of one percent;

(2) a list naming each ingredient which equals or exceeds five percent of the contents of the product by weight and specifying the content by weight of each ingredient to the nearest percent;

(3) a list naming each ingredient which does not equal or exceed five percent of the contents of the product by weight, provided that ingredients which are present in trace quantities need not be included on such list unless the commissioner specifically requests any such ingredient to be listed and provided further that the commissioner may require the listing of one or more of such ingredients by weight to the nearest percent;

(4) the nature and extent of investigations and research performed by or for the manufacturer concerning the effects on human health and the environment of such product or such ingredients; and

(5) a statement that the product does not contain nitrilotriacetic acid (NTA) in excess of a trace quantity.

Not to diminish the steps SC Johnson has taken. Although I could do without the self-righteous glow (“Companies don’t have to tell you everything that’s in their products. But SC Johnson isn’t just a company. We’re a family who cares about yours.”), the $8 billion privately-held company is at least ostensibly willing to work towards environmental disclosure. According to Earthjustice, the non-profit public interest law firm that sent the notice, after SC Johnson learned that they were out of compliance, the company “began a dialogue with Earthjustice and other groups about how it might come into compliance.”

SC Johnson was one of several household product manufacturers to receive notices or requests for information from Earthjustice. However, unlike SC Johnson, CEOs at Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive were far from cooperative, refusing to disclose information about the chemicals in their products. Earthjustice later filed a lawsuit against these less-than-forthcoming companies, “seeking a court order compelling Respondents to comply with their non-discretionary duty to make the disclosures required by New York regulations.”

Seems like sunshine may be the best disinfectant, but compliance is a pretty good preventative measure.

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