Natural and Organic Product Blogger Exposes Greenwashing

Video | November 17, 2016

Wisconsin Public Television

The expression “think globally, act locally” goes back a long while. And in today’s highly connected world it’s easier to do both. Jess Brandt’s story proves that local actions can have a wide influence.

Brandt grew up and still lives in tiny Gays Mills on the Kickapoo River.  It’s a town surrounded by apple orchards where many have embraced a natural, organic lifestyle. So that way of life was a clear preference for Brandt, especially after having children.

“It’s such a huge weight and responsibility to know you’re responsible for everything for that little child,” says Brandt. “They're just so small, they're so sensitive .They're dependent on us for everything. So I’m just trying to make sure they have the safest stuff available.”

To ensure that the food, cleansers and toys that her children would be contact in with were the safest possible, Brandt became an obsessive label reader and product researcher. Before long, she was sharing her findings with a larger online community of like-minded parents through a blog and Facebook page. “I just loved connecting with other families who have the same values,” she recalls.” They care about the safest products. They want them to be made in the U.S.A.”

As her audience and reputation grew, healthy product manufacturers began sending Brandt products to sample and review online, hoping to land on her recommended list. One company probably wishes they hadn’t.

Brandt recounts, “Several years ago, I received a dish soap from a company and it worked great.” In fact, it worked too well, according to Brandt’s experience with natural soaps. “I looked at the label and the more I thought about it with my background knowledge of what it takes to make a soap, there was nothing in there that indicated what made it a dish soap.”

The company said the product’s great sudsing ability came from organic kelp extract, a claim that Brandt found suspicious. “That just did not add up and it just really bugged me,” she says.

Eventually, Brandt was bugged enough to have product professionally analyzed by a chemist.  While the testing confirmed her doubts, it was still a shock. “There was no kelp extract, there was no organic coconut oil,” says Brandt. “It was your regular, average dish soap, which they were selling as organic for twenty dollars.”

Brandt’s impact was soon seen when she published her results and moved the company to her list of greenwashers, those who make false claims about their product’s ingredients. “So I published my findings on a Friday afternoon on my blog and Monday morning I found out the company was shutting down.”

Brandt was surprised that her blog published from distant Gays Mills could have such wide influence. “It just goes to show that anyone anywhere can really do anything,” she says.

But the most rewarding impact Brandt is having is on her own children, evident when she told her young son what had happened. “I said ‘Mama caught a company lying about what they were selling, and now the company can't sell their stuff anymore.’ And he looks at his little sister and says, “Sissy, don't lie to Mom!”

Tags: Gays Mills / organic / blog / parenting

Andy Soth is a reporter for the "Wisconsin Life" project who grew up in a neighboring state but now loves Wisconsin because it’s like Minnesota without the smugness.