We’re thoroughly honored to have The Environmental Working Group’s Heather White clue us into the wealth of information she knows as Executive Director of The Environmental Working Group, or EWG. White has a hand in changing the way consumers behave by harnessing the power of information to give people the tools they need to live a healthier life.
In turn, the EWG hopes that this information will jumpstart consumer actions that can eventually impact policy: Whether it’s signing a petition, tweeting your Congressman (White is pretty active about tweeting the President), or simply putting your hard-earned dollars towards safer products, she believes change can come.
Photo by: Ralph Alswang
Here, the former lawyer pens an essay that tells us what lessons she’s learned along the way to becoming EWG’s Executive Director:
“I remember my “wake-up moment” like it was yesterday. I was living in Mount Shasta, California. It was a few weeks before I gave birth to my first child. I read a report titled “10 Americans” published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which had run tests that detected hundreds of chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies.
The findings were terrifying. The notion that babies were born pre-polluted with toxic chemicals angered me. How could any parent not be alarmed by this? The study made me recommit my professional life to help safeguard the public from these and other environmental hazards.
Three years later, I was hired as EWG’s chief of staff and general counsel. Today, I’m the executive director. At EWG, we use game-changing, original research to inspire people to take action to protect public health and the environment. We pride ourselves on uncovering key information that the public has a right to know. From polluted water to toxic chemicals in cosmetics to questionable industrial and agricultural practices, we focus on educating the public about issues that affect them directly.
The environment is not some distant reality, out there far away. It is the air we breathe, the water that we drink and the food we eat. It is also the chemicals we put on our skin and the products we buy and bring into our homes. Protecting the environment is about protecting our health.
My love affair with the environment began at an early age. I grew up in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. It was a place of majestic beauty. It was also an area shadowed by the looming presence of nuclear facilities and toxic waste dump sites. My family later moved around a lot – from Tennessee to Nevada, Maryland and Georgia. Everywhere we lived I was surrounded by stunning, magical landscapes – but also talk of cancer clusters, polluted water and radioactive waste. This gave me a sense for how deeply the environment affects our health.
I’ve worked as a lawyer, a presidential campaign staffer, a U.S. Senate counsel and a policy expert. But my most rewarding and important job is being a mom of two elementary school-age girls. I want to create a greener, healthier world for my children and the next generation. That’s what drives me. And I’m grateful for the privilege of doing this work.
The goal of EWG’s consumer tools is to bring environmental issues into the consciousness and daily lives of Americans. One of our most popular resources is the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database and its mobile phone app. Skin Deep and EWG’s other online tools rate the toxicity of nearly 80,000 products, informing consumers about the ingredients in the products they buy. We also publish consumer guides such as “The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” and “EWG’s Guide to Green Cleaners.” We push for fundamental policy changes, and our work also moves the marketplace to create safer, greener products to protect our health and the environment.”