You might have seen Jessica Alba kill a bad guy with a stiletto heel in the gory action flick Machete. You might also have spotted her on the cover of Maxim (twice). But fewer people probably caught her on C-SPAN lecturing Congress about the urgency of passing laws to regulate the chemicals in the products we buy. A staunch environmental advocate, the 31-year-old star recently launched the Honest Company, which makes nontoxic, ecofriendly baby gear. She took some time to answer our questions about her commitment to safe chemistry.
Q: Why did you go to D.C. to lobby for the Safe Chemicals Act last year?
A: Basically, it’s legislation that hasn’t been reformed in more than 30 years. It’s about regulating chemicals in everyday products. There are more than 80,000 chemicals in the U.S. marketplace right now — only five have been banned. In Europe, 1,100 are banned because they’re not safe for humans. When they’re creating and selling new chemicals, companies aren’t thinking about how they affect people’s health — it’s about their bottom line.
Q: You had asthma as a kid, right? Does that make you worry more about air pollution?
A: I grew up with asthma and allergies, among other health issues. That forced me from a very early age to look at my environment in a different way. I don’t take things at face value. I don’t automatically trust the conglomerates. I question processes, I question ingredients, I look for a better way. I always try to find a more natural and holistic approach before just slapping on a Band-Aid. Better to prevent something bad from happening in the first place.
Q: We assume that you’re the only woman who’s topped Maxim’s “Hot 100” list and also testified before Congress about environmental legislation. How do you walk that balance?
A: [Laughs] I don’t know. I don’t even really think about it in those terms. The marketing I’ve done to promote TV and film has been wonderful because it’s given me a platform to be able to speak about things that are important to me.
Q: What’s the main message you try to deliver about the environment?
A: That there’s a cause and effect to every action you take. So all of your purchasing and consuming choices are going to affect the planet and the people around you in some way, be it positive or negative. Just being a thoughtful, conscientious consumer is the first step.
Q: Do you get overwhelmed thinking about how many chemicals kids are exposed to?
A: I felt overwhelmed as a parent at first. But now I know that there are steps we can take. You can really change the health of your environment by doing anything from buying fresh, organic food to choosing the paint and carpeting in your home. Just understanding the quality of those products and what the potential hazards are. I’ve taken steps to eliminate as much that’s hazardous as I could from my home. So I feel great about the environment now that I’ve been able to create for my family. I know it’s possible.
Q: What else do you do to go green in your personal life?
A: I spend time outdoors with my kids. I have a nontoxic turf lawn instead of grass so we don’t have to water it. We have all energy-efficient appliances in our house, and most of the materials that we used to build it — probably 70% of them — are upcycled. I bought them off Craigslist or at flea markets or vintage stores. With the rest, I made an effort to buy sustainable materials, bamboo flooring, recycled glass tiles, things like that.
Q: Are people surprised to see a Hollywood actress buying things from them off Craigslist?
A: I don’t go and pick them up [laughs]. I don’t even think that’s safe for a girl by herself to go to a random address and go pick something up. No, I have a family member — a guy, obviously, my husband or someone — go and pick up a piece here and there.
Q: You’ve said that your favorite place in the outdoors is Franklin Canyon Park in Los Angeles. Why that spot?
A: I like any piece of nature in urban environments because it feels like you can get a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. You can just escape and quickly be surrounded by nature. One of my favorite places in New York is Central Park, for that same reason. In L.A., Topanga Canyon is another really great place, and so is Malibu Canyon.
Q: What made you want to start the Honest Company?
A: Frankly, I needed a company like it. As a parent, I think there’s a lot of confusion in the marketplace around what’s eco, what isn’t, toxic chemicals and how they affect the health of your family. There’s just so much information out there that there needed to be one company that’s done all the research and finds the formulations that perform best.
Q: How does the Honest Company work?
A: It delivers nontoxic products straight to your door, everything from laundry detergent to bubble bath to diapers and wipes. We also have what we call an “essentials kit”: Out of 16 items, you get to choose five, and that’s what you get delivered every month. Ninety-nine percent of our products are made here in the U.S. Our diapers are really the best on the market — they’re made from plant-based materials, are completely nontoxic, and have the cutest designs. We really wanted to innovate the diapering space. It was important for me as a parent to make sure that everyone could get these products delivered straight to their door.
Q: Do you have Hollywood mom friends who’ve signed up to use the service?
A: Yeah, quite a few!
—interview by Orli Cote / SierraClub