If you’ve ever gone camping or backpacking before, you’ve probably used OFF! bug spray. Being one of the leading brands in bug sprays, many people swear by OFF! to ensure a bug bite free outdoor experience. A 6oz bottle of OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent V retails for around $5-$15 dollars depending which store you decided to get it from. This is a very standard price for bug sprays. This line of spray repels bugs such as ticks, mosquitos, black flies, and flies, chiggers, gnats, fleas, and no-see-ums for up to 8 hours. I personally have used OFF! many times, as I get eaten alive by mosquitoes every summer, and can speak to OFF!’s ability to deter unwanted pests. However, after looking into the sustainability of OFF!, it appears that there are much more environmentally friendly bug sprays out there. Given their unsustainable practices and lack of transparency regarding social responsibility, OFF! only scores a 0.25/3 planets overall.
OFF! is made of 25% DEET and 75% other ingredients, including ethanol, water, butane, propane, isobutane, aminomethyl propanol, fragrances, and sodium benzoate. DEET, which is the short name for the chemical diethyltoluamide, is the main insect repellent ingredient, and works by creating a vapor barrier that interferes with insects mouth and antenna neurons and receptors to prevent them from landing on you. DEET has been found to be “slightly toxic” to birds, aquatic invertebrates, and fish by the EPA. This is concerning, given that bug spray is frequently used in ecosystems inhabited by these animals. To minimize the environmental impact of DEET, it is recommended to use products with under 10% DEET, which is much lower than OFF’s 25%. The aerosol can that OFF! comes in contains compressed gasses used as a propellant for the DEET. Use of ozone depleting aerosols such as chlorofluorocarbons have been banned by the US, and instead OFF! uses propane and butane. This means the propellants OFF! uses won't deplete ozone, however they are still natural gasses, which require being mined. Natural gas mining is known to disrupt habitats and pollute sensitive ecosystems. In terms of the materials the container itself is made of, OFF! comes in a metal can with a plastic lid. I was very pleased to see that OFF! includes information on what to do with their product after the consumer is done using it. Their website mentions that the cans are recyclable in areas with aerosol can recycling, and recommend making sure the product is empty before recycling. They note that if your community does not have aerosol can recycling, the only other option is sadly the trash. OFF! also includes a phone number for disposal instruction, as well as suggests calling your local waste disposal agency if you wish to dispose of the can while it still contains the product. Despite scoring higher for including end of life cycle instructions, the materials themselves that OFF! uses are not very environmentally friendly or recycled, resulting in them scoring low overall in this section.
I could not find where OFF! products are manufactured, meaning they could be produced in a country with little to no protections for workers or the environment. This also means OFF! could be produced in a country abroad and would require being shipped to the US and then distributed to retail stores, creating many transportation emissions. It is reasonable to assume their factory runs on fossil fuels and creates many emissions, as OFF! is a large brand, and is created by a larger parent brand, SC Johnson. SC Johnson does have some renewable energy initiatives in various production areas around the globe, including utilizing wind power and burning biomass. However, they do not include what percent of their energy comes from renewables, making me skeptical that it would be a small ammount. In terms of what ingredients they use in production, SC Johnson has a Greenlist ingredient selection program, which helps ensure the protection of human health and the environment. They also are very transparent about the ingredients included in their products. However, as mentioned above, they use DEET and natural gasses that have been proven to have negative environmental impacts. Unfortunately, SC Johnson also still tests some of their products, including OFF!, on animals. Regarding ethics and social responsibility, SC Johnson has a page on their website dedicated to “a world with more opportunity,’ including their diversity and inclusion standards and awards they have won regarding representation. They also have programs dedicated to helping future generations with STEM education programs, yet this is not directly tied to their own factory employees. Additionally, SC Johnson has a page on their website dedicated to “strengthening the communities in which we operate,” yet it only contains broad statements of their goals and little information on how they are achieving these goals. Given they do not include where their products are manufactured, or any transparency regarding actually ensuring their employees rights, I am skeptical if these initiatives are being followed through fully at level level of production.
SC Johnson is the parent brand of OFF!, and is a huge corporation that owns many other brands in addition to OFF!, such as Windex, Raid, Glade, and Ziploc. On SC Johnson’s website they include a lot of information about sustainability and their ethical practices, however when it comes to large corporations it's important to take this information with a grain of salt, as large companies are inherently unsustainable and rely on exploiting workers to gain larger profits. It is promising however to see that they are attempting to be more sustainable and ethically responsible. Some of the sustainable initiatives SC Johnson is participating in includes redesigning 62% of their plastic packaging to be recyclable or reusable, tripling the amount of post consumer recycled materials used by 2025, and being partnered with Conservation International to help preserve natural resources and forests. It was nice to see some statistical evidence of this included on their website, for example they removed 1.7 million kilograms of plastic from their packaging in 2018-2019. Yet I am still skeptical that they may be attempting to greenwash themselves, as we do not know how many million kilograms they used before, or are still using. Most of their sustainable initiatives are goals for the future or broad statements such as using “less” plastic, which in my opinion is not enough. On the social and ethical responsibility side, SC Johnson has a few different initiatives they’re participating in. SC Johnson gives 5% of pretax profits to charities, including environmental, educational, economic development, and social service organizations. They also have initiatives to help end malaria, including establishing 55 health clinics in Rwanda and working with NGOs to educate communities on malaria prevention. In 2016 they donated $15 million worth of products such as OFF! to help combat the Zika outbreak. In addition to this, OFF!s website features an article on the importance of mosquitos in natural ecosystems. It appears that SC Johnson is attempting to be a more responsible brand, however with the sheer size of the company it is hard for me to rate them well as sustainable and ethical initiatives from large corporations are frequently just performative.