Degrees Episode 05: Boma Brown-West

Chemical soup: The quest to create a toxic-free marketplace

Boma Brown-West is leading the charge to eliminate toxic chemicals from our food and consumer products. As the Director of Consumer Health at Environmental Defense Fund, her vision is to create a “new normal” where every aisle of every store is safe for every person. 

Why should you care? Because Boma says that there are over 40,000 chemicals used in the food we eat and the products we purchase–the soaps, cosmetics, tech, toys, clothing, furniture, etc. Collectively, we’re bring at least. 200 million pounds of toxic chemicals home from the store each year. And when we consider just hair and skincare, a disproportionate number of those chemicals are found in products created for and marketed to women of color.

The good news: Boma and her team are having success in transforming what goes into products and ends up on store shelves. Find out how a degree in mechanical engineering led to a crusade to help keep us all safer, healthier and free from exposure to toxic chemicals.

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Boma advising grad students on safer consumer products

Show Notes
  • 03:37 – Boma defines “consumer products” (spoiler alert: it’s everything!).
  • 04:24 – Toxic chemicals: how hazardous? How ubiquitous? Which are some of the worst offenders?
  • 05:47 – Boma talks about “Beauty Justice”: how and why women of color are at higher risk.
  • 08:36 – Why products marked as “free of” and “save from” aren’t being marketed as much to women of color.
  • 11:47 – Boma’s personal quest to make the marketplace both equitable an toxic-free
  • 13:45 – The challenge of tackling both business processes and product design
  • 15:36 – How Boma’s success with Walmart spread down supply chains and across industries
  • 17:51 – Boma’s path from mechanical engineering to dishwashers to consumer health.
  • 20:35 – On building (and learning from) a team with diverse perspectives.
  • 23:02 – The wisdom of finding allies and forgiving yourself.
  • 24:39 – Boma’s personal Board of Directors.
Dig Deeper

Want to learn more about Boma’s work at Environmental Defense Fund and what the future of shopping looks like? Check out these links:

SustainaBuy: Boma’s vision for making online shopping more transparent

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