Beyond Keeping House: 3 New Developments at The Good Housekeeping Research Institute

GHKInstit-100206, Good Housekeeping Institute, FrankeI recently caught up with Sharon Franke, the Kitchen Appliances & Technology Director at The Good Housekeeping Research Institute (GHRI).  As the product-evaluation arm of Good Houskeeping, GHRI operates state-of-the-art laboratories and tests everything from moisturizers to bed sheets to cell phones. Staffed by scientists, engineers, nutritionists and researchers, GHRI is unique in the publishing world. While readers look to Good Housekeeping’s magazine and website for inspiration and trusted shopping advice, they turn to GHRI for product recommendations based upon exhaustive, unbiased testing. They also rely on GHRI for never-fail recipes. The Institute operates the magazine’s test kitchen. They create, taste and triple-test (at least) the thousands of recipes appearing annually in the magazine. So what is new with this 100-year-old trusted voice?

1) Testing Smart Home Appliances. According to the January 2014 survey by Pew Research Center, 87% of American adults use the Internet, up from 14% in 1995. It is no surprise that our home’s appliances are colliding with emerging digital capabilities like sensors, internet-enabled appliances and remote monitoring. From food thermometers to slow cookers, today there’s an app for that. “The nature of what the Institute is evaluating is changing,” Franke noted. “For years the Institute conducted tests that were chemical in nature. They were either drug items or food items.  There weren’t as many consumer goods in the marketplace. All through the 20th Century we just expanded as more products were created. What’s happening now is that we are living in a digital age. We are seeing a lot of smart appliances, internet-connected appliances. We take a good hard look at these new appliances and see what their relevance is to our consumers. We are exploring a number of new categories that we had never looked at before. “  For example, in the current issue there’s a feature called “Smartify” Your Home that tells which wireless devices that control lights, garage doors, and thermostats are worth investing in. “While home automation is still in an early adapter stage, we are seeing more and more smart hubs that let you control your entire home and even internet connectivity for thermometers, slow cookers, ranges and refrigerators. It is our job to ensure that the products actually work and to provide consumer insights into why the purchase would be worth the cost, and what the benefit is to them.”

Good Housekeeping Institute2) Acting as a Consumer Advocate. Before there was an FDA, a Consumer Products Safety Commission or regulatory laws, there was the GHRI. Back in 1902, the Institute warned readers about formaldehyde. At the time it was used as a preservative in milk, cream, and even baby food.  Thirty years before the U.S. Surgeon General officially linked smoking to heart disease; the Institute warned that smoking could lead to heart disease and cancer of the mouth, tongue and throat. In 2002 GHRI played a pivotal role in getting the lumber industry to stop making lumber treated with the arsenic-laden preservative CCA. In 2009 GHRI alerted consumers that, despite claims, bamboo fabrics are rarely eco-friendly. The FTC took action in early 2010 asking 78 retailers to stop labeling products “bamboo” as a way to insinuate “greenness.” Consumer advocacy has always been an important part of the Institute’s DNA.

3) Offering the Green Good Housekeeping Seal. Nielson’s 2014 Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility released earlier this year showed that 55 percent of online consumers across 60 countries are willing to pay more for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact. The Green Good Housekeeping Seal was introduced in 2009 by Good Housekeeping magazine and the Good Housekeeping Research Institute to help consumers sift through the confusing clutter of “green” claims on hundreds of products on store shelves today. To earn the Green Good Housekeeping Seal, a product must first be evaluated by the scientists and engineers at GHRI and earn the Good Housekeeping Seal, an emblem that reflects Good Housekeeping‘s satisfaction with its performance and Good Housekeeping‘s limited warranty.  Next, the Institute’s scientists and engineers assess the product’s entire lifecycle through detailed questions in 12 different categories ranging from manufacturing and product distribution to how a product can be disassembled or recycled when it is no longer being used. If a product meets these environmental performance requirements, then it can earn the Green Good Housekeeping Seal.

Beyond smart appliances, apps and eco-friendly products, how else can the Good Housekeeping Research Institute be an advocate for today’s consumers? We would love to hear from you.

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