Inside an Ace Hardware store on the edge of Washington’s San Juan Islands, some products have a new label that reads “orca-friendly,” with a logo showing one of the whales that lives in the water nearby.
“There’s a whole range of things people use in their homes or put on their lawns that make their way into the watersheds, wherever they are,” says Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, which partnered with two Ace stores on the labeling project. “It just so happens that our watershed here in the Pacific Northwest has endangered orcas in it.”
A store in Anacortes, Washington, along with another in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, has added the labels to about 100 different cleaning and garden products.
Harris is hoping that the program spreads. “Dolphin-safe tuna started similarly,” he says. “They knew they weren’t going to go out and shut down the global tuna industry. They needed to go company by company, just like we’re going product by product, store by store.”
Ace Hardware stores are owned independently, but Randy Burgess, the manager of these stores, is advocating for some of the 4,700 others to do the same thing.
In theory, any product that would be safe for whales would also be safe for other marine life. “When you’re advocating for the top of the food chain, you’re advocating for everything else,” says Harris.
There’s a catch, however: the labels are based on Burgess’s 30 years of knowledge about the products he carries, but not scientific evidence.
“Toxins are a major problem for this orca population,” says Giulia Good Stefani, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Counsel’s marine mammal project. “Educating local consumers about their personal impacts is a terrific idea–but what I’d add is that it’s important we target the right products and chemicals. That requires expert review.”
Because there are so many other eco-labels out there–more than 300, by some counts–it’s even more important to be accurate. “It’s easy for people to get confused,” Stefani says. “We need to ensure we’re giving people good information.”
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