AT on... Disclosure, Full and Otherwise

AT on... Disclosure, Full and Otherwise

Jonathan B.
May 27, 2008

We've started a painting project using Home Depot's new Freshaire Choice paint. We'll post a review after applying the second coat. In the meantime, a snippet of text alongside the Greenguard certification seal got us wondering: "CONTENTS PARTIALLY UNKNOWN."

How can we be sure it's green if some of the contents are "unknown"? The New York Times article we looked at last week wasn't much help.

This situation isn't unique to Freshaire—product formulations in most industries, from soft drinks to medicine, are a closely guarded secret. But this is another situation where conventional ideas about competition and proprietary information run up against the market demand for green solutions.

One thinker, MIT's Eric Von Hippel, calls for companies to throw open their doors and literally give their secrets away for free. Doing business this way, he shows in several case studies, results in more innovation and more profit all the way around. (He also practices what he preaches: you can download his entire book for free online.) We're thinking this open source approach could also result in greener products. Not only might we, say, improve on the formula of Freshaire Choice paint to make it less prone to drips, but we could also avoid purchasing it if it happened to contain an ingredient that is acceptable to a certification agency, but unacceptable to us.

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