The Ology brand includes everyday household products: baby and personal care products and household cleaners formulated without the use of harmful chemicals, energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs, and paper products that are 100 percent tree-free and produced from renewable sources. Walgreens, the nation's largest drugstore chain, will sell Ology products exclusively at its stores.
The drugstore chain has been somewhat vague about the specifics of the formula used to create the chemical-free personal care products. A Walgreens spokesperson said only that Ology’s liquid products are made with “plant-based and mineral-based raw materials,” and did not say whether the products are made of biodegradable materials.
But Walgreens has been very clear about which harmful chemicals it has removed from these products. In addition to removing artificial dyes and fragrances, Ology liquid products are also free of toxins including ammonia, chlorine bleach, formaldehyde, and triclosan. There is mounting evidence that such chemicals, which are commonly used in everyday products, could pose serious risks to human health, contributing to asthma, cancer, and heart disease.
Researchers at the University of California Davis, for example, found that repeated exposure triclosan, a chemical commonly used in antibacterial soap, can cause reduced contractions in cardiac and skeletal muscles, contributing to heart disease and heart failure.
The prevalence of harmful chemicals on the U.S. consumer market has engendered alarm among consumer advocacy groups. One nonprofit leading the fight to take products with harmful chemicals off store shelves is Los Angeles-based Healthy Child Healthy World, led by CEO Gigi Lee Chang.
"Until the U.S. adopts better regulations around product safety,” said Chang, “parents are left to bear the burden of protecting their children’s health by educating themselves and making conscious purchases.”
The U.S. may be on the verge of adopting such regulations. In June, the Senate approved passage of the Safe Chemicals Act, legislation that seeks to update the woefully ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. TSCA has managed to permit over 80,000 chemicals for commercial use in the U.S. that have never been fully screened for toxicity to humans.
If passed, the legislation would force a major overhaul of the daily living products industry. As such, Walgrens’s introduction of Ology appears to be part of the company’s effort to stay ahead of the legislative curve.
But consumer trends, rather than legislation action, are likely the most significant factor in the Ology launch. Walgreens has suffered a 3.6 percent decrease in sales from this time last year, and hopes that its new green product lines will provide a financial boost. The company is hoping to tap into increasing consumer demand for products free of harmful chemicals.
"Walgreens is proud to be leading the charge by providing ‘Ology,’ the first nationally accessible and affordable line of household liquid products free of harmful chemicals available in our stores,” said Joe Magnacca, the Walgreens executive in charge of daily living products and solutions. “Ology reflects our dedication to innovation, our constant drive to improve our customers’ quality of life, and our ongoing commitment to help people get, stay and live well.”
CVS, Walgreens’s largest competitor, does offer a line of “green” products Earth Essentials, although the product offering is limited compared to the Ology line.
Ology products will be priced to be competitive with conventional formulas of leading brands, and Walgreens asserts that removing the harmful chemicals from household products has not rendered them any less effective.
Harry Stevens is a freelance reporter covering climate change, corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, and sustainable finance. Harry has contributed to several media outlets, including Justmeans, GreenBiz, TriplePundit, and Sustainablog. You can follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_Stevens