Earlier this summer, Boston residents began cashing in new coupons at local auto shops and beauty salons that go the extra mile to reduce dangerous chemical exposures in the workplace.
The discount is thanks to the Boston Public Health Commission’s (BPHC) Green & Clean Program, which recognizes auto shops, nail salons and hair salons that go beyond the regulatory requirements to protect workers and the environment from hazardous chemicals. Since the program began five years ago, nearly three-dozen shops and salons have earned official Green & Clean recognition. The coupons are part of the program’s latest campaign to promote Green & Clean businesses and, hopefully, encourage more businesses to join the voluntary effort.
“The workplace is the perfect locus to address a number of health-related factors that can have immediate benefits for individual health and longer-term impacts for community health,” Paul Shoemaker, associate director of the commission’s Environmental and Occupational Health Division, told me.
The new year-long campaign, “We Are Green & Clean,” launched in June to drive up consumer demand for Green & Clean-recognized businesses and boost financial incentives associated with joining the program. With grant support from the Aetna Foundation, the campaign is distributing coupons for Green & Clean businesses and promoting the auto shops and beauty salons on billboards, in print, on public transportation and at community gathering spots.
The coupons, which residents can pick up at locations such as community centers and health clinics, save customers up to $10 at Green & Clean businesses. To get the discount, customers answer four quick questions on the back of the coupon — such as how they heard about Green & Clean and whether they’ll make a point to shop at Green & Clean stores in the future — and turn it into the participating auto shop or beauty salon. Businesses send the redeemed coupons and customer responses to BPHC for reimbursement and to help evaluate whether the campaign is having an impact.
“Our hope is that the campaign will make other business owners want to join too,” Shoemaker said.
Green & Clean is part of BPHC’s Safe Shops Program, which started 13 years ago and is focused on helping small, often immigrant-owned businesses come into compliance with occupational and environmental health standards. Safe Shops uses a variety of tools to help employers come into compliance, including enforcement inspection findings, worker trainings and technical assistance. Green & Clean, which Shoemaker said is loosely based on the LEED green building standards, was created to formally recognize and promote businesses that went beyond compliance. Today, Boston is home to 34 Green & Clean businesses — two hair salons, 21 nail salons and 11 auto shops, many of which are featured in the new ad campaign.
To be recognized as Green & Clean, employers follow a BPHC checklist, with specific lists for auto shops, nail salons and hair salons. For example, the auto shop checklist includes using water-based paints and brake-cleaning systems and reducing worker exposures to harmful chemical solvents; while the nail salon checklist includes using proper protective face masks, switching to nail polish thinners that don’t contain harmful chemicals, and using unscented lotions and oils. Many of the chemicals included in the checklists are known carcinogens and endocrine disrupters and linked to respiratory, reproductive and neurological problems.
Green & Clean businesses agree to an annual walk-through with an outreach worker, and employers and their staffs have to take a Green & Clean refresher training every three years. Businesses earn a rating of one to four leaves based on how many of the checklist items they’ve implemented. The recognition comes with a window placard and certificate they can display and use in their marketing, as well as a listing on the BPHC website. To get a full four-leaf rating, businesses have to check off every item on the list, which no business has done quite yet, Shoemaker reported.
“It’s a triple win — it’s good for the community, the workers and the environment,” he said.
Shoemaker noted that Green & Clean also helps advance BPHC’s health equity goals with its focus on building partnerships in the community and impacting the social determinants of poor health and well-being.
“These businesses do present exposure risks, but at the same time, they can be a great source of well-paying, skilled employment,” he said. “People can make a good living in these jobs — and a good paycheck is key to equity — but we want to make sure that’s happening in a safe environment.”
Shoemaker encouraged fellow public health departments to use BPHC’s Safe Shops and Green & Clean materials in their own worker safety efforts. “Please,” he said, “take everything we’ve done, use it and replicate it.”
“This is a single intervention that can benefit workers in so many different ways,” Shoemaker said about Green & Clean. “Partnering with people in their workplaces is so energizing and valuable from a public health standpoint.”
To learn more about Green & Clean and Safe Shops, visit the Boston Public Health Commission.