Meet Dr. Pete: An Interview with Our Chief Scientist
As a product inventor, innovator, and sustainability expert, he’s the brains behind our Bio Laundry Detergent and was a founding member of The Sustainability Consortium.
We spoke with Dr. Pete to hear more about his background in chemistry, his innovations in the product world, and his vision for a more sustainable future.
My high-school chemistry teacher was so passionate and dedicated to science that he inspired me, triggering my interests in chemistry.
When I worked and lived in New Jersey in the ‘90s, the heavy pollution and the remnants of the previous 100 years of the chemical industry were evident everywhere.
During that time, my family lived in a township called Wayne, where part of the land, previously owned by W.R Grace, was contaminated with thorium, decayed uranium, and other heavy metals. In 2010, after nearly three decades, the Superfund site, contaminated with radioactive material, was finally cleaned up. 135,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil was removed from the site and the groundwater was cleaned to a livable standard. It cost $125 million. These experiences really shocked me and ignited my interests in green chemistry and sustainability.
My experiences in TSC and corporate sustainability leadership positions have given me a very different and expansive view when I look at designing and developing a new product. It is all about the entire system and the holistic approach of letting the system dictate each of the components, not the other way around.
Can you tell us why the environment matters to you?
In many media reports and public literature, environmental friendliness and human safety are often presented as two different concepts. But I think that they are always closely correlated and in many cases are two different sides of the same issue. For example, microplastic particles are often referred to as environmental pollutants. When marine life, such as fish, ingest microplastics, there is reported evidence of potential liver damage. When humans ingest the fish carrying microplastics, they may not always pass through our bodies harmlessly and could have imposed potential safety risks about which we have very limited understanding. So protecting the environment is always defending our safety and health because we all live in the same ecosystem.
How does sustainability apply to your work?
Nowadays as a consumer, you will run into “greenwashing” everywhere and every day. Part of it is just purely marketing schemes by using unfounded sustainability claims. In many other situations, there is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the scientific criteria and standards behind each category of consumer products. When we apply sustainability to our product development and business operations, understanding the science of each component and each step of our supply chain in the product life cycle is critically important. With this knowledge, we are capable of committing resources to the most needed areas that matter the most to safety and environment impacts.
To be honest, I have to admit that sustainability is also a new frontier where science is still in its infancy stage. When we run into areas where we need to make a decision when scientific guidance is out of reach, we apply common sense to fill in the gaps, keeping the best interests and safety of our customers and environment in mind.
Can you tell us why human safety matters to you and your formulations?
In considering human safety matters related to a consumer product, the industry is more confident in defining and addressing “acute effects”, which occur rapidly as a result of short-term exposures, such as a skin or eye irritation.
On the other hand, the industry is much less confident in and has much less knowledge about how to deal with “chronic effects”, which generally occur as a result of long-term exposure, such as carcinogenic or reproductive impacts.
At Dirty Labs, we place human safety at the very top of our priority list when we develop a new product. Our principle is to eliminate all of the unnecessary hazards based on both acute and chronic effects. When there is still uncertainty but reasonable doubt about an ingredient’s safety based on its chronic effects, we will remove the ingredient from our formulation to ensure the safety of our consumers.
And as a chemist, why do you think consumers should care—both about the environment and their own safety?
As I mentioned previously by using microplastics as an example, our own safety and environmental friendliness are two sides of the same coin, which is mostly true for the cleaning product industry. Switching to something better for our health often means the same for the environment, and vice versa.
At Dirty Labs, the key to resolving potential conflicts between product efficacy, human safety and environmental issues is through creative innovation, from which we find alternative and superior paths to maximize the benefits for people and the planet.
10/09/23 Ask Dr. Pete
As a product inventor, innovator, and sustainability expert, he’s the brains behind our Bio Laun...
Plastic pollution is evident everywhere, from the deepest ocean trench to the remote corners of ...