This article is sponsored by Thinkbaby
For more on this topic, check out the full Summer Safety & Activities collection
Kevin Brodwick is the founder of Thinkbaby & Thinksport, & his main focus is to address the growing need for safer products by creating an alternative line of consumer products. These products include items like sunscreen, bottles, travel containers, & more! We had the opportunity to ask Kevin a few questions on the topic of Summer Safety & are excited to share his insight with you!
Be sure to check out Kevin’s other article as well:
Q – Tell us a little about yourself – your career, your hobbies, your background, etc:
My parents were both big scientists. As such, I had an interesting childhood of being surrounded by top scientists from around the planet. It became quite evident at an early age that there was a big disconnect from the things being discussed at the dinner table, and what the outside world was hearing. It became my mission to bridge this gap of complex science, and to make newly discovered solutions accessible to problems that we were/are all facing.
When I began learning about bisphenol-A, and the broader issue of endocrine disruptors in 1996, it became a problem that I was highly motivated to solve. First, I began working with a lab funded by the National Institutes of Health which focused on harmful chemicals leaching from consumer products. This was an eye opening experience, as it quickly became evident that it didn’t matter where the product was made; every country from the US, to Switzerland, to Asia had this issue.
Starting my Career
After receiving a tremendous amount of push back from consumer product companies, I decided to take on the challenge directly and build a company myself that would specifically focus on creating safer alternatives. It is definitely a balancing act though because we don’t want to scare people into changing behavior.
We take the approach that we offer safe solutions, but if someone wants to understand more of the science that drives us, we are happy to oblige. But sort of like Whole Foods, where you largely trust the items have been vetted for safety, most people just want to make safe choices without having to spend a great deal of time becoming experts themselves. We are the ones that stay up late worrying so that parents can focus on worrying about what preschool their baby will get into…
When I’m not trying to save the world from harmful chemicals, I’ve had a long tenure as an endurance athlete. I’ve been racing in triathlons for the last 30+ years with a dash of bike racing on the side. Maintaining health and a general level of fitness are really important to me, but I’ll admit that the hours and travel associated with following our company’s mission is also intense and takes a lot of my time.
Q – When did you start Thinkbaby, & what was the catalyst for its creation?
We started the company just over 11 years ago. After assisting Whole Foods in creating their policy around removing BPA, we set off on a course of targeting products ranging from baby feeding, baby body care, sports bottles, yoga mats, to sun care and body care products. We had a lot of organizations push back on the science we were sharing, including the largest trade organizations for children.
During the first several years, we spent a lot of time educating the consumer world, retailers, and media on the prevalence of BPA and other chemicals that also behave like it. We spent zero direct effort pushing for regulatory change. Instead, we left this to the experts like Environmental Working Group, NRDC, World Wildlife Fund, and Healthy Child Healthy World. These organizations are well equipped to drive both social change and apply pressure at the political level. The pace of change within domestic and foreign governments is just too slow for my energy and interest. So we set off to affect change through sharing the science, but in a consumable way.
Early in the development of Think, I also became a new parent. No question that as a parent everything becomes a heightened state of frenzy! All of a sudden, everyone driving down the road is driving like a maniac. Every corner of a table, electric outlet, and utensil becomes a focal point. And as you go deeper into the process of safeguarding your home, you start to realize that household cleaners, pesticides, antibacterial soap, and more, is actually harmful. And unlike cigarette smoking, there are safe alternatives out there. Even if you don’t tackle everything, every change towards healthier food to a healthier environment is a step in the right direction.
Q – What are some of your core goals in creating safe products?
We target products that we know are full of harmful chemicals to create safer alternatives. There are certainly plenty of products that we haven’t been able to solve this for quite yet. But we continue to drive innovation from safety and sustainability, to being as functional as possible. This is how we approach solving a problem.
We use the Precautionary Principle in everything that we do. So we don’t just jump on an ingredient because it is free of some other ingredient. We research each ingredient through databases of known hazards, conduct our own testing, and rely heavily on emerging science. For most people, building a box that is safe is not very interesting. But for us, we look at functionality and always work to bring something new to the story. And with our ingredient/material selections, we want the product to be as long lasting as possible. In the production, we look at the use and disposal of the product. We would never want to produce something that harmed people or the environment along the way.
There are plenty of companies that have entered the space of “Green” products, took a lot of short cuts and potentially became much larger than us. For us, we stay very focused at a lower level of problem solving. And we never stop looking for ways to further drive innovation into every single product that we currently have, and products that are in various stages of development.
There are some other aspects to being a leader in the safe products movement. One is that we have a responsibility to continue educating consumers, pushing other product companies towards building safer solutions, and helping entrepreneurs focus on solving problems. All of these activities help spur more development and ultimately more momentum.
There still remain a vast number of products that contain harmful chemicals. However, both Thinkbaby and Thinksport will continue to create alternatives to these products. The day that everything is completely solved, and the need for Think goes away, will actually be a great day. And on that day, I hope to find a big shady tree to sit under, and take a nice long nap!
Q – Tell us more about the science behind the work that you do!
We look at problems from a very scientific perspective. So first, we do rely heavily on peer-reviewed science. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there. Junk science, or science that is funded specifically by third-parties designed to benefit them, is largely tossed out. Too often we see people make comments regurgitating something that they’ve read online, and they don’t understand that it doesn’t pass basic science, like having a control group. Understanding the source of information is really important. And then understanding who reviewed the study.
Pure scientists don’t care about the outcome. They may be excited to see the results of an experiment, but they don’t push the experiments in any direction. Where as when junk scientists do this, they are always exposed. This largely happens when other scientists try to replicate results. Most very specific areas of study have multiple parties around the globe doing their own experiments. A great example of this is that there were about 120 studies on the harmful effects of BPA in 2006. There were about 12 studies that said that BPA was not an issue. It was later shown that the 12 studies were funded by industry.
We are largely focused on a class of chemicals called Endocrine Disruptors. The best way to think about this issue is to imagine that your body has millions of little red buttons. The buttons can be pushed on or blocked from being pushed for simplicity. These buttons initiate the orchestra that we call life, where functions are timed at very specific moments, which ultimately have a beautiful outcome.
Now add foreign chemicals into your body that have the ability to push or block these buttons at random. The result is that functions of the body are activated or deactivated, where largely specific hormones in your body are normally controlling these processes. So now every instrument in the orchestra is playing randomly. The end result is an increase in ADHD, neural disorders, diabetes, cancer, obesity, infertility; just to name a few of the adverse outcomes.
Your body doesn’t have any mechanisms to deal with these chemicals. And when they do finally leave your body, they’re now out in the environment wreaking similar problems for wildlife. On average, US citizens have at least 278 chemicals that have been identified as harmful. So, the sad part of this story is that we not only don’t know how a specific chemical works in the body, but we absolutely don’t know how combinations of these chemicals can harm systems. It’s only when there is some large accident, like a chemical spill, that we really see the effects of these chemicals.
Scientists also through mouse studies create these effects at very lose doses. We are all unfortunately guinea pigs in a really bad science project. We are certainly learning more and more about how these chemicals work, but there is very little to no regulation.
Q – What advice do you have for parents when it comes to buying baby products?
Don’t get too overwhelmed. Baby steps. We understand that it is easy to throw your hands up in the air and just say, “everything is bad”. It’s not. Every day there are more and more safe solutions entering the market. The growth of stores like Whole Foods is a great example. There is a very real momentum around safe solutions. And every time that someone purchases a safer product, it is a vote that adds to the growth of the safe products world.
There are some great non-profits out there that are also helpful guides including Healthy Child Health World and the Environmental Working Group. Talk with your pediatrician. Don’t be shy in asking them questions about materials or ingredients. And take a moment to learn about the companies that you are purchasing from, and the ingredients in the products that you are purchasing. There is also a lot of waste created with baby products, so please recycle and consider moving away from one-use style items.
Q – How do you see consumer products shifting in the future?
We fully believe that the momentum around “better for you” products is here to stay. Millennials and baby boomers are both becoming more and more interested in solutions that are healthier. It is driving shelf space decisions at major retailers around the globe. We also expect products to become more sustainable with less acceptance of things that easily make their way into landfills or our oceans.
With growth comes another nice result, safe solutions pricing will continue to drop. When the BPA free baby bottle movement first started, baby bottles doubled in price. Now they are actually less expensive than they were before it was removed. So safe does not need to equate to “expensive”.
Nowhere is this more apparent than cosmetic products. It’s so silly what people are paying for body care products. The claims being made are largely unsubstantiated or wildly inflated. And when you look at the ingredient deck, you realize that it full of questionable ingredients. We have been trained to think that higher price means better. We have been challenging that concept across our entire product line for the last 11 years.
For more on this topic, check out the full Summer Safety & Activities collection
Featured Business & Contributor: Kevin Brodwick of Thinkbaby
Thinkbaby and Thinksport’s founder, Kevin Brodwick brought his interest in health and preventative medicine and his background in biotechnology together to form a company whose sole purpose is to create alternative products for little ones to adults.