Engineering Our Way to Safer Products

What do dishwashers have to do with the safety of toxic chemicals? Well, aside from the fact that dishwashing detergents may contain toxins, both dishwashers and chemicals are firmly ingrained inside Boma Brown-West's brain.

EDF's Boma Brown-West is engineering safer products by cleaning up the supply chain

As Manager of Consumer Health at EDF, Boma leads our Behind the Label: initiative, which lays out a path to corporate leadership for safer chemicals in products. She works closely with product manufacturers and retailers (such as Walmart) on sustainability strategies that promote the development and usage of safer chemicals in the consumer products that we all use every day.

But chemicals weren’t always the focus of Boma’s work: armed with an M.S in Technology & Policy from MIT and B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Yale, Boma spent the first decade of her career at Whirlpool Corporation, where it was all dishwashers, all the time. Starting as an R&D engineer, Boma rose to become Lead Sustainability Engineer, where she played a driving role in establishing Whirlpool’s North American Sustainability strategy.

For the EDF staff, all of this dishwasher expertise really hit home when, on the same day, the two dishwashers in EDF’s DC office went down simultaneously… and Boma fixed them both!

But, on a grander scale, Boma’s background consistently informs her chemicals work, in several ways. “First of all, it’s helpful to understand the product development process from first-hand experience,” says Boma, “as well as the opportunities and challenges of evolving the process (via things like ingredients and material-selection decisions) to make safer and more sustainable products. Secondly, both require ‘systems thinking’, when problem-solving. Things like understanding the different points-of-view of a company’s different business functions, for example, and trying to anticipate how decisions made in one part of the system may have unintended consequences on the rest of the system.”

“Third,” laughs Boma, “my fluency in corporate speak comes in very handy.”

Luckily for the rest of us, Boma seems to have put dishwashers behind her to focus entirely on safer chemicals in the marketplace. “I love working towards greater chemical safety—human health is very important to me. I love working towards more sustainable supply chains because consumer products (in their entire life cycles) have such a big impact on us and the environment. Both issues are about giving humans and the environment the best ability to thrive.”

What’s on the horizon for Boma and her team?  “TSCA reform hasn’t been signed into law yet,” she said, but when it does, we will 1) work hard to ensure it gets implemented credibly and in a timely way, and 2) continue to push companies to exhibit safer chemicals leadership, which means going beyond regulatory compliance.”