Women We’re Watching: Amy Ziff
We’re thrilled to introduce “Women We’re Watching,” a new series that highlights changemakers in the ever-expanding wellness industry. Unique vision, tireless passion and true grit make these women worth watching…and celebrating.
Amy Ziff is the founder and executive director of MADE SAFE®, the only nonprofit organization in the United States that certifies nontoxic everyday products to be safe for human health and all organisms in our ecosystem. Her commitment to education, empowerment and to making the world safe for each of us—and future generations—makes her a woman we’re watching.
For those who are unfamiliar with your personal journey, can you tell us where your passion stems from and how you became and activist for health?
When I was little, in 1979, I became sick. After many tests, doctors told my mother I had a progressive neurological disease that would result in an early death; without a cure I would end up on morphine and die. My mother rejected this and began searching for alternatives. I landed in an allergist’s office, and he had me keep a food diary. After undergoing tests, I learned I was highly allergic to my surroundings—grasses, mold, dander, dust mites, trees—but that I also needed to steer clear of gluten, corn and sugar. Within two weeks, it was like I was cured. He continued to treat me over the course of several years, and I became more tolerant to many of my allergens. I learned from an early age that environment impacts wellness, and that you don’t have to accept what conventional doctors tell you.
When I had my twins, I discovered they, too, were highly sensitive, but it seemed different than my situation. They were allergic to everything: creams, lotions, diapers, etc. Armed with a master’s degree in journalism and my own life experience, I began researching. I learned that of the hundreds of products we use each and every day—from baby balm to beauty creams, fashion to furniture—things can contain toxic chemicals that leave a mark on our health. But there is no real way to discern what might be irritating or downright harmful in those products. I thought, “This is crazy!” That was my wake-up call and the moment I became an activist. That was the beginning of the idea behind the MADE SAFE® certification.
We’re so excited to see how many brands are becoming MADE SAFE® certified! How have you measured success since the launch of MADE SAFE®?
We celebrated our three-year anniversary on March 9. We’ve grown from 12 brands to 100 brands; that’s hundreds of products and thousands of ingredients screened through our scientific process and determined to be safe. For the first time, products are clearly labeled and vetted by an independent third party and found to have been made from safe ingredients, from laundry detergent and baby bottles to mattresses, cosmetics and feminine care. That feels like success to me!
As a nonprofit, our growth is fueled organically. We urge people who support what we’re doing to show their support with a donation to our work to making products safe and keeping families healthy.
With 80,000 chemicals currently in use in everyday products and 700 new chemicals introduced each year, does your work ever feel like a Sisyphean undertaking? What motivates you when your business feels like an uphill battle?
There are moments the work that I—and others who go against the grain in support of a healthier, safer and more sustainable future—do, when it feels like you’re holding up the sky. But then there are moments I see the change happening! It’s hard to earn the MADE SAFE® seal. But brands are coming to us now from all along the spectrum, who want to do better and may need some guidance on how to do it. That’s tremendously exciting! I know this work must include mass-market brands, because if it doesn’t, they’ll spend their massive budgets resisting us. We must engage brands, educate them and help them change. I see these changes every day and I know we can do this. That is what keeps me going.
Under Scott Pruitt, we’ve seen rollbacks of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations and most recently, the shuttering of the National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) which was tasked with funding research for the effects of chemicals on human health. How do you foresee MADE SAFE® stepping in to further fill the void?
When I established MADE SAFE®, I could never have foreseen the decimation of the EPA and so many regulations that are important to safeguard human health. However, I never saw MADE SAFE® as a government entity. I didn’t want to risk compromising our standards, as we see now with agencies like the EPA ending up like a political football. Instead I wanted to show businesses that free market demand will drive the standard for making products that won’t harm humans or the ecosystem. I want all the great minds thinking about chemistry and formulation to include a MADE SAFE® approach that won’t disappear with the next administration change.
What advice would you give to a woman looking to create worldwide change with her ideas?
Make sure you know what you’re setting out to do! You may have enormous ambition, but what are the small steps you can take every day to enact your vision? Write out the steps as your execution strategy. And remember: Failure is an opportunity! Examine why something failed. Then refine, retool and come back to start again.
If you could wave a magic wand and make an immediate change in the world right now, what would it be?
We are at a crisis point with the rise of chronic disease in this country, but people seem to accept their life circumstances—even being sick—as the norm. There are more children in the classroom with Epi-Pens, ADHD, asthma and autism than ever before. It’s time we evaluate why this is happening. We must start to do something different than merely prescribing a pill for an ill.
So, if I could wave a magic wand, it would be to give everyone an understanding that the way we live is making us sick—and it doesn’t have to be this way. It means escaping the grip of Big Pharma, Big Ag[riculture] and mass production, but it can happen. We can change the world with the types of decisions we make as consumers. I’d love to fast forward to a future where people take action to heal themselves.
You deal with very serious subject matter every day. How do you incorporate joy into your daily life?
I have three little people who help me laugh. I also have a meditative practice that brings clarity and keeps me grounded. I have a garden and a puppy and they bring me outside and into nature, which I love. The natural world has always been my temple and feeds my soul. Food is also a form of joy and love; there is joy in connecting over food with my family so that we get nourishment on many levels.
Lastly, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give our readers to empower them to use safe products?
If you’re using a product that’s not yet MADE SAFE® certified, think about where it comes from, just as you might with food. In short, get curious! Just because it’s sold on store shelves doesn’t mean it’s safe. That can be overwhelming– but that’s why MADE SAFE® exists! It shouldn’t be your responsibility to research every single ingredient and product you use. So look for our seal on certified products, and look for safer solutions and tips by product category on our website. We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for you to live a healthy life—because ultimately, it should be easy.
Want to learn more about Amy and MADE SAFE®? Read our deep dive into what the certification means and how you can use it in your daily life.