By Lani Felicitas
Wondering who put the Dr. Bronner’s-brand soaps in Watzek? Since last fall, Lewis & Clark’s Students Engaged in Eco-Defense (SEED) started placing these soaps around the undergraduate campus to raise awareness for environmentally friendly soaps on campus. In Spring 2015, LC student activist Julie Oatfield ’17 started a petition to change the soaps on campus. The petition did not get much attention, and this academic year SEED used their own club budget to purchase the soaps. SEED coordinator Tarun Bishop ’18 shared that they do not know what is in the current soaps, but that skin irritation and animal testing have been issues for some students.
“Other countries have all banned animal testing on cosmetics and other health products,” Bishop said. “Why can’t a liberal arts school like this, that prides itself on sustainability, not take that measure?”
Since placing the soaps in the beginning of the school year, SEED has coordinated with particular departments and academic buildings about putting soaps in their respective buildings. Some Watzek staff and students living in the dorms support the Dr. Bronner’s soaps in the undergraduate campus restrooms. There was even an anonymous post on the LC Missed Connections Facebook page about the soaps: “to the kind soul who put the nice soap in the watzek bathrooms! thanks for your nice soaps:)”
“I thought a person just brought it,” said Lucky Whitburn Thomas ’21. “Sometimes in my dorm, I’ll take them and pour them all over my body and take a sponge bath.”
SEED was not the only student-run organization that placed soaps throughout the undergraduate campus. In early March, the Gender Studies Symposium provided Seventh Generation scent-free soaps throughout the three-day symposium to make the restrooms more accessible for those with chemical sensitivities.
“For people who have sensitivities to scent, I think it’s a way to make our campus more inclusive and accessible,” Nick Hensel ’18, co-chair of this year’s Gender Studies Symposium, said. Hensel also shared that the soaps were received with general positive comments along with the symposium’s other accessibility features.
Within the last year, SEED has reached out to LC Sustainability Director Amy Dvorak about various projects such as discussing ways the college can implement cruelty-free soaps, hosting community discussions for Fossil Fuel Free Week and relaunching the composting program in the undergraduate dorms.
In an interview conducted over email, Rob Lane, the CAS custodial director, explained that the college is already transitioning into another soap that is dye- and fragrance-free, has an EarthCare seal and is Green Seal certified. Anderson Paper, the college’s provider for restroom supplies, provided new toilet paper to all undergraduate buildings except for the Evans Music Building. Anderson also expects they will be done implementing the new soap by the end of spring break, though JR Howard and Holmes already have the new soap installed.
Bishop also shared that there are better soaps than Dr. Bronner’s.
“I did try to use Dr. Bronner’s one time and it was a little harsh on my skin,” Bishop said. “So even for supposedly better soaps, people’s skins respond differently. Bronner’s also contains palm oil farms that have been used to cut down orangutan habitats so there’s that.” According to Dr. Bronner’s website, the company discusses extracting palm oil through fair trade practices. Bishop recommends using soaps with the Leaping Bunny logo, which guarantees that no animal testing has been done with the product.
For the remaining of the semester, SEED will continue to reimburse students who purchase environmentally-friendly and ethically made soaps.
“In the past, we’ve have also worked with the Feminist Student Union to reimburse students for Diva Cups,” Bishop said. SEED is also open to reimbursing students who purchase other environmentally-friendly products such as utensils and plates as long as they email SEED beforehand.