The Truth Behind the Cushion

On Thursday October 1st, after a day of classes and right before a soccer game, Steve Kautz and I sat across from Jan Robinson, the owner of EcoHome. Her visit came about as a part of the independent study I am doing with Steve on Socially Responsible Investing (description at the end).  EcoHome is “a design resource that believes in sustainability related to home decor” (“EcoHome”).  The conversation began, and slowly I became horrified by the cushion I was sitting on and the fabrics that stretched across it. Jan explained that her business budded from her Asthma, which is triggered by the abundance of chemicals in everyday furniture. Her awareness led to research which shocked her, just the way it shocked me.  

Flame retardants such as Penta, Octa, and Deca otherwise known as PBDE’s “build up rapidly in breast milk and human blood…”, can lead to higher risk of cancer, disrupt hormones, cause development problems, neurological problems, and are a “potential carcinogen”. These PBDE’s were outlawed in 2003, but are still abundant in foam products, recycled carpet padding, and old furniture (“Researchers and Firefighters Say Flame”). We took a stride in the right direction, but again still, created a damaging flame retardant known as Chlorinated tris, or TDCCP which is still in use, and is a “probable carcinogen” and causes “neurological damage” (“Researchers and Firefighters Say Flame”). After researching some of the chemicals ridden in everyday clothing, furniture, etc. it’s hard not to be worried about it. After thoroughly discussing these chemicals and where they reside, Jan noted that there is a direct connection between the oil company and the chemical company.

As an advocate for sustainability, I am quite often disgusted by oil companies and their practices; but that day I realized that it transcends far beyond the gas that goes into your car based on $45.19/barrell oil (Oct. 22). Exxon, on it’s website states; “We are one of the largest petrochemical companies worldwide. Our chemical company provides the building blocks for a wide range of products, from packaging materials and plastic bottles to automobile bumpers, synthetic rubber, solvents and countless consumer goods.” (“Chemical”).

However, there are some budding companies, such as EcoHome in Portland, ME, that have a main goal of avoiding these chemicals, among many other things, such as products imported from China or irresponsibly harvested wood. Jan’s idea responsibility goes beyond the ordinary environmental sustainability, and extends towards supporting local economies. She buys products from local businesses and sells them in her store.

The market today may seem overpowered by companies such as Exxon and Apple, whose practices lean on the irresponsible side, and whose shadow seems to stretch over the economy, politics, and government. But there are people out there with big dreams to change the minds of consumers, such as Jan Robinson.

Interested? Check out EcoHome from 10am-5pm Tues-Fri, or 10am-7pm on Saturday. It is located on 334 Forest Ave Portland, Maine 04101. Or at


My independent study, Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), is an opportunity to explore how our society is supporting (or not) through our dollars business models that could benefit society.  SRI takes on many forms and is not limited to environmental/sustainability concerns.  Some companies are considered socially responsible based on their human resource practices or employee satisfaction.  In this course we have looked at investing in general, SRI through mutual funds, classical economic ideas ranging from Karl Marx to Adam Smith, the origins of SRI, and SRI criteria, and local examples of SRI or sustainable business practices.



“EcoHome.” N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.


“Researchers and Firefighters Say Flame Retardants Linked to Serious Health Risks and don’t work as N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015      


“Chemical.” ExxonMobile. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.                    


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