3 Keys for the American Petroleum Institute’s New Climate Task Force

The climate change discussion is percolating even in surprising places. The latest sign: the American Petroleum Institute’s recent formation of an internal task force on climate change. Reportedly the new task force’s mandate is to revisit API’s approach to this crucial issue, going into an election year and with ever greater scrutiny on fossil fuels.

AdobeStock_56840116It is too soon to know whether the task force will rubber stamp a business-as-usual approach defined by glossing over climate concerns and attacking policy measures, or chart a new path instead.

But if the task force is serious about a fresh look at the issue, here are three keys for the task force to consider as it ponders the future of API on climate.

Face the Facts

The oil and gas industry must be responsive to growing pressures from its investors, corporate customers, and Americans affected by oil and gas operations – from local pollution to climate change.

The historic global climate agreement reached in Paris, supported by nearly 200 countries including powerhouses like the United States and China, was also supported by a wide cross-section of American businesses – including PG&E, which as a natural gas distribution company and power generator is a user of API members’ products and a face to climate-conscious consumers.

Last April, over 400 investors representing more than $24 trillion in assets under management urged stronger leadership and more ambitious policies to lessen risk to investment and retirement savings of millions of Americans. Since then, the 2016 investor shareholder resolution season yielded a record breaking number of resolutions – 94 – addressing climate change, many levied as challenges to large oil companies.

And American public concern on global warming is reaching an eight year high, with nearly two-thirds of adults saying they worry about global warming a “great deal” or “a fair amount”, according to Gallup.

Facing all the facts, not cherry-picking them, can ground the task force’s work in today’s dynamic environment and enable an effective response in a changing world. Read more

Is Walmart a Leader on Safer Chemicals?

Consumers want to know that the products they buy contain ingredients that are safe for them and their loved ones. EDF has identified five pillars of leadership to help companies meet that demand and in doing so build consumer trust in the products they make and sell. One company that has recently taken major steps to drive safer chemicals and products into the market is Walmart.

In 2013, Walmart published its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, which focuses on ingredient transparency and advancing safer product formulations in household and personal care products. EDF worked with Walmart as it developed its policy and has advised the company during implementation and data analysis. This past April, Walmart announced that the company achieved a 95% reduction in the use of high priority chemicals of concern. Now, Walmart has shared considerable additional information detailing the progress made, including the identities of the high priority chemicals.

In our previous blog, we broke down the wealth of information that Walmart has shared. However, to fully evaluate the significance of the numbers, we now look at how well Walmart has done against EDF’s five pillars: institutional commitment, supply chain transparency, informed consumers, product design, and public commitment.

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Product Ingredients at Walmart Changed for the Better. Really.

It’s whack-a-mole time.

In April, Walmart released their 2016 Global Responsibility Report. In it, they noted a 95% reduction by weight in the approximately ten high priority chemicals in home and personal care products covered by their 2013 Sustainable Chemistry policy. Ninety-five percent is a big number, but the substance – the chemical names, the volumes – was missing.

No longer.

Today, Walmart released the names of those high priority chemicals, with details as to how the reductions were achieved. The chemicals – butylparaben, propylparaben, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, formaldehyde, nonylphenol ethoxylates, triclosan, and toluene – will not come as a surprise to most who work on these issues; these chemicals have been called out for action by many for quite some time.

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If this announcement is met like most environmental stories told by corporations, the mole-whacking will commence shortly. WHACK! Why these chemicals and not those? WHACK! What took so long? WHACK! What about everything else? While companies that do nothing will stay in the shadows, those like Walmart trying to drive needed change usually get whacked for what they haven’t done already.

And of course a lot still remains to be done.

But this story is a good one, and Walmart deserves credit for what they have accomplished. Walmart is the one company in the world that could drive drive over 11,500 tons – 23 million pounds – of chemicals out of so much product in less than 24 months.

Read more

Major Strides: Walmart Details Progress on Chemicals

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In 2013, Walmart published its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, which focuses on ingredient transparency and advancing safer product formulations in household and personal care products. EDF worked with Walmart as it developed its policy and has advised the company during implementation and data analysis.

This past April, Walmart announced that the company achieved a 95% reduction by weight in the use of high priority chemicals of concern. Today, Walmart shared considerable additional information detailing the progress made, including the identities of the initial high priority chemicals. Let’s unpack this.

Revisiting Walmart’s Sustainable Chemistry Policy

Broadly speaking, Walmart made three commitments in its 2013 policy:

  1. to increase transparency of product ingredients,
  2. to advance safer formulations of products, and
  3. to attain U.S. EPA’s Safer Choice certification [formerly Design for the Environment] of Walmart private brand products

The policy, which went into effect in January 2014, focuses on formulated household cleaning, personal care, and beauty products, sold at Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. stores. A few months after releasing the policy, Walmart published a policy implementation guide that gave suppliers greater specificity as to Walmart’s expectations and, importantly, outlined the quantitative metrics Walmart would use to track and report progress.

How Walmart has fared so far

  1. “Transparency”:

Walmart’s policy requires its suppliers to be more transparent about the ingredients in their products in two ways. First, Walmart requires suppliers to submit “full product formulations” – the names and concentrations of all ingredients in a product – to WERCSmart, a 3rd party- managed product ingredient database. WERCSmart provides the retailer with aggregate information about the types and quantities of chemicals in the products on its shelves without divulging specific product formulation data.

Second, the policy requires suppliers to increase ingredient transparency to consumers by calling for disclosure of product ingredients online starting in 2015. Further, any Priority Chemical found in a product must be disclosed on the product’s packaging starting in 2018. Priority Chemicals (PCs) are Walmart’s designated chemicals of concern, drawn from 16 reputable regulatory and authoritative lists.

To track the first requirement, Walmart determined the number of products whose ingredients are fully accounted for in the WERCSmart database. According to the data, 94% of the product formulations are full formulations. This suggests that the other results Walmart presents today are based on real data.

To track ingredient transparency to consumers, Walmart polled suppliers about their online disclosure practices using the Walmart Sustainability Index, its annual environmental issues survey sent to suppliers. In 2015, 78% of respondents reported they disclose ingredients online for all their products. Walmart also breaks down the responses  in more detailed ways, such as by department.

  1. “Advancing safer formulations of products”:

The bulk of Walmart’s policy focuses on providing safer products to customers by calling for the “reduction, restriction, and elimination” of Priority Chemicals (PCs), and for product reformulations to be undertaken using “informed substitution principles.” Because the list of PCs includes hundreds (if not thousands) of chemicals — as evidenced by Walmart’s reference list of regulatory and authoritative lists used to define its PCs — Walmart focused its suppliers’ attention on a shorter list of High Priority Chemicals (HPCs).

Today, Walmart identified the HPCs as propylparaben, butylparaben, nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, triclosan, and toluene. These eight chemicals and chemical classes appear on a number of authoritative lists (e.g. EU REACH Substances of Very High Concern) for their hazardous properties and are worthy of action by Walmart. The revelation of the identities of the chemicals was long-awaited and provides context to the rest of the information Walmart shared today.

To assess the portion of its chemical footprint[1] related to product sales covered by the policy, Walmart has measured progress in two ways: (i) the total weight of HPCs contained in products sold, i.e. pounds of HPCs going out the door, and (ii) frequency of use, i.e. the number of products on store shelves that contain HPCs and the number of suppliers using HPCs in their products. Walmart relied on RetailLink, its internal product inventory database, and WERCSmart, mentioned earlier, to make these calculations. Walmart has also computed and published this data for all Walmart PCs in the covered product categories.

Walmart reports a dramatic reduction in the total weight of PCs and HPCs going out the door. The total weight of HPCs dropped by 95% and PCS by 45%.  The more than doubling of reduction of HPCs suggests that focusing attention on a subset of chemicals accelerated action.

Walmart attributes part of the success to its ability to determine which select set of suppliers used the majority (in pounds) of HPCs. This illustrates the utility of a product ingredient database that can provide aggregate information by supplier while not disclosing proprietary information.

As it relates to progress made in reducing the frequency of use of HPCs, the results were far more modest.  Unfortunately, it appears that suppliers who use HPCs are largely still using them, though the aggregate mass has dropped. Overall, the percent of products containing HPCs dropped by only 3 percentage points (to 16%), while the percent of suppliers using HPCs increased slightly (to 39%). Meanwhile, the percent of products containing any Priority Chemical actually went up one percentage point (to 80%).

So while the weight amount of HPCs, and PCs more broadly, has dropped significantly, there is clearly much more work to be done to achieve complete elimination of these chemicals.

  1. “Safer Choice [formerly Design for the Environment] in private brands”:

Lastly, Walmart committed to increase the number of private brand product offerings bearing Safer Choice certification. As discussed in our recent blog, the Safer Choice Program is a voluntary program implemented by the U.S. EPA that seeks to recognize and bring consumer awareness to products that are leading the way when it comes to safer ingredients. This is the only commitment for which Walmart has not released quantitative data. The company reports that it has hit snags in making progress against this target but is still committed to the program.

Conclusion

Overall, Walmart has made major strides regarding the commitments set forth in its policy. Equally notable, it has set in place effective systems to measure and track progress over time – an ability that can’t be underestimated.

In our next post, we’ll assess where Walmart’s progress rates against EDF’s five pillars of leadership for safer chemicals in the marketplace.


[1] As defined by the Chemical Footprint Project, a chemical footprint is “the total mass of chemicals of high concern in products sold by a company, used in its manufacturing operations and by its suppliers, and contained in packaging.”

Further Reading:

Old Excuses on Policy Advocacy Don’t Work Anymore

I admire corporate sustainability leaders who, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, know how to “skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

I’m optimistic about our future when I see courageous leaders at companies like Unilever, Pepsi, Mars and others lead the way by looking beyond short-term profits for long-term success and publicly advocating for the smart regulatory and policy changes required to preserve the natural systems that people, communities and companies need to thrive.

Yet, there are too many companies that still rely on old excuses when asked to take a public stand on energy and environmental policy.

To be a bold leader in the 21st century requires a strong voice on the most pressing environmental issues of the day. It’s no longer good enough to put a green label on a product or declare in an annual report that your company is making the world a better place. It’s time to take the next leadership step.

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At Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), we like to call the next step of sustainability leadership the business policy nexus. It simply means that your company has aligned your sustainability goals and strategies with your external engagement on policy.

If your company isn’t operating in the business policy nexus, it’s time to retire the following excuses and go public in support of forward-facing environmental policies:

Excuse #1 "We're not political."

Companies can no longer be silent on issues like the environment. Customers expect the brands and companies they love to stand for something and to show leadership on issues that matter to them.

In previous decades, this excuse might have sounded more like, “we want Democrats and Republican to buy our products.” However, this recent working paper by researchers at Duke and Harvard suggests that C.E.O. activism can sway public opinion — and even increase interest in buying a company’s products.

Corporate neutrality on the issues that matter may be outdated. If you don’t believe me, maybe ask Paul Polman of Unilever or Indra Nooyi of Pepsi or Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. Their corporate voices ring loud and clear when it comes time to stand up for the environment.

Excuse #2 "It's not part of our core business."

In a 2015 article the head of government relations for one of the world’s biggest companies told the Guardian: “There’s a reluctance if a regulation doesn’t get into your core competency to get into somebody else’s backyard. It’s an unspoken acknowledgment that you stick to your knitting.”

The earth is everyone’s backyard. And the state of our environment affects every business.

Just take a look at the companies who have backed the Clean Power Plan. “Clean energy” isn’t the core competency of global giants like Amazon, General Mills, Nestle, or Levis, but these companies and many others made their corporate voices heard for the good of business and society.

Excuse #3 “Our government affairs team deals with policy.”

Some corporate leaders have been passing the buck to other departments, other industries and other leaders for too long.

You have a responsibility to inspire everyone in your organization to maximize the triple bottom line: profit, people and planet.

Leaders find it easy to measure profit; measuring social and environmental impact is a little harder. Without good data, no one in a company feels comfortable taking the lead on policy.

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This is where an NGO like EDF can help make a difference. EDF has built a framework for corporate sustainability success that encompasses science, strategy, and systems to create measurable environmental and business benefits. Your organization can use this framework to become a sustainability leader and confidently stand up for smart climate policy that addresses your future business risks.

The old excuses don’t work anymore. So stand up for change and advocate for policies that will help us overcome the most serious environmental challenges we face. The issues are too important; the consequences for little or no action are too serious.

Follow Tom Murray on Twitter: @tpmurray

Further reading:

Clean Trucks: Much Needed and Ready to Deliver

There was some good news from the U.S. Energy Information Agency recently. It found that the Clean Trucks program, which is expected to be jointly finalized this summer by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), will deliver huge carbon emission reductions.

"Kenworth truck" by Lisa M. Macias, U.S. Air Force via Wikipedia

The Clean Trucks program is designed to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas pollution from the freight trucks that transport the products we buy every day, as well as buses, heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, and garbage trucks. The program’s first performance standards went into effect in 2014. The EPA and DOT are currently developing a second phase of performance standards. Strong standards can help keep Americans safe from climate change and from unhealthy air pollution, reduce our country’s reliance on imported oil, and save money for both truckers and consumers. Read more

Why Investments in Agricultural Carbon Markets Make Good Business Sense

sarasnider-287x377Over the past decade, private investment in conservation has more than doubled, with sustainable forestry and agriculture investments as the main drivers of growth. This unprecedented expansion in “impact investing” or “conservation finance” has occurred as investors seek ROI that can also benefit the environment.  According to Credit Suisse, sustainable agriculture is particularly appealing to investors as it offers a wider array of risk mitigation approaches than sectors such as energy and transportation.

Yet despite this boom, there has been very little investment from private capital in emerging ecosystems markets, especially in the agricultural sector.

We’ve blogged before about the benefits growers – and the environment – realize from participating in agricultural carbon markets or habitat exchanges. But here’s why the private sector, food companies and retailers should invest in agricultural carbon markets. Read more

With Chemical Safety Reform Passed, What’s Next for Companies?

michelle_harveyHistory was made this week. Major environmental legislation was signed into law for the first time in nearly 25 years, updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the primary U.S. chemical safety law, and putting in place a new foundation of federal oversight for chemicals being used in the marketplace. It took the right conditions and a lot of hard work – including bold action from the retail and manufacturing sectors to answer consumers’ call for safer products – to get here.

Now, as this new law gets implemented, industry is headed for a new status quo on how chemicals are evaluated and approved for use. What does that mean for those companies already on the safer chemicals journey?

Safer Chemicals in Supply Chains

Fertile Ground for Safer Products

This new piece of legislation –The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – amends for the first time the core provisions of TSCA, originally passed in 1976.  It requires new chemicals to clear a safety bar before entering the market, and mandates safety reviews of all existing chemicals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Many consumers assume this has been occurring all along. If a product has reached a retailer’s shelves, someone must have reviewed its chemical ingredients for safety, right? But this hasn’t been the case. When TSCA was signed into law, it grandfathered in the 64,000 chemicals then in use as “safe.”  The law didn’t mandate review of new chemicals entering the market, either. And it put the entire burden on EPA to find evidence of harm in order to restrict market entry. The updated law will for the first time give EPA the authority and resources to review both new and existing chemicals and make affirmative decisions about their safety, along with new authority to more easily obtain information necessary for conducting these reviews.

Under the Lautenberg Act, EPA will first focus on “high priority” chemicals, such as those classified as known human carcinogens, highly toxic, persistent in the environment or bioaccumlative (able to build up in the bodies of animals). In assessing the safety of chemicals, EPA must consider risks to vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant women. EPA can only consider the health and environmental impacts of the chemical—leaving consideration of costs or availability of alternatives to the next step when EPA is determining how to manage a chemical’s risks. The law also puts strong new limits on what information can qualify as ‘confidential business information,’ striking a balance between the public’s right to know about chemicals to which they may be exposed, and proprietary interests in chemical information important, for example, to innovation. Read more

Consumer Concern About Chemicals in Food Continues to Grow

Behind the Label_FFor the second year in a row, more than a third of consumers participating in the annual food industry survey rated chemicals in food as their most important food safety issue. Every year for the past decade, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) has surveyed more than 1,000 Americans aged 18-80, to gain insight into their attitudes towards food and diet. Although the way they have polled on these topics has changed over the years, the research shows a clear and steady rise in the number of Americans concerned about chemicals in their food.

In 2016, IFIC broke down the ‘chemicals in food’ option from 2015 into more specific concerns: chemicals in food (arsenic, mercury, BPA); carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals in food; and food additives and ingredients (caffeine, MSG, flavors, colors, preservatives, etc.).

food-survey-graphics_block_2_croppedFor 38 percent of the respondents, these three specific sub-categories of chemicals in food combined were the most important food safety issue, a two-point jump since last year. And these concerns are being felt in the market: 40% of consumers who stated that chemicals were of great concern to them reported changing their eating habits.

Growing concern driving food supply chain changes

Consumers’ growing concern about chemicals reflects an increased awareness about the harmful effects they may have on human health and, importantly, a shift in how consumers are defining the issue of “safety” in food. As we reported a few months ago, a report from Deloitte, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association found that consumers are increasingly concerned about the short-term health effects of chemicals in food (e.g., no toxins) as well as the long-term effects (e.g. no carcinogens).

To their credit, the food industry is beginning to respond to these concerns. Read more

Corporate Sustainability Storytelling: The Whack-a-Mole Response Needs to Stop

Why is it that some environmentalists feel the need to play whack-a-mole whenever a leading brand peeks its head above the fray to publicly declare a corporate sustainability achievement?

I’m not going to cite specifics – just look at the comments section of any major news outlet covering a big brand sustainability announcement – but I do want to address the negative impact this has on business stepping up for the environment.

As an environmental NGO with a history of working in the trenches with powerful businesses, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) often gets to play the mole role. We’ve endured our share of slings and arrows since first partnering with McDonald’s over 25 years ago, so I can empathize with companies who are reticent to step up and publicly acknowledge the sustainability work they are doing.

EDF has thick skin and a singular mission to forge solutions that help people and nature thrive. It’s not always the same for major brands that have to balance the needs of shareholders, suppliers, employees, communities, and yes, the planet. It’s difficult to step forward and share sustainability stories when doing so invites backlash. I get it.

While environmentalists push for change in corporate business and policy practices, we must also adjust our attitudes in working with and encouraging those businesses who are trying to make a difference.

Basic behavioral psychology leads me to believe that if we want more major companies innovating, executing and sharing best corporate sustainability practices, the whack-a-mole approach needs to stop. Read more