Tens of thousands of chemicals are used to make consumer products, with more entering the marketplace each year. Many chemicals are now detected routinely in indoor air, food, drinking water, house dust – and our bodies. Research has linked certain chemicals to negative health impacts ranging from cancer to abnormal development of our reproductive systems, while most chemicals lack adequate health and safety data entirely. Too often harmful substances like lead, asbestos and toxic flame retardants persist in the market – and environment – for years before action is taken. We need a new marketplace paradigm. We need companies, from chemical makers to consumer product manufacturers to retailers, to be leaders in fostering the healthy, sustainable world we all deserve.
Why companies should lead
Resiliency is the ability to successfully adapt to anything that can disrupt your system or way of life. It’s a concept that applies in the physical world and in the business world. Leading on safer chemicals improves a company’s ability to bear chemical regulations, product liability occurrences, product recalls, and other costly externalities typically not factored into the chemical selection process during product development. Resiliency helps a company mitigate costs and stay competitive.
To maintain market longevity, companies need to keep a pulse on consumer needs and regularly innovate to meet those needs. Today’s consumers want to know what’s in their products, and they want safer ingredients. Increased innovation and uptake of safer ingredients in new products can help companies meet consumer demand, stay relevant, and achieve competitive advantage.
What does leadership look like?
For 25 years, EDF has worked with corporate partners from McDonalds to AT&T to spread practices that are good for business and the environment. In working with companies like Walmart and the multitude of businesses that form its supply chain, we’ve discovered a basic blueprint for advancing safer chemicals in the marketplace. Our blueprint for safer chemicals in the marketplace is defined by five key pillars of leadership.
- Institutional Commitment – As with any business initiative, successful outcomes require strong commitment and support from leaders across the organization – from the C-suite to middle management. Solid commitment from company executives and management in key business divisions is the only way to ensure that staff will be afforded the steady support and resources they need to be successful. This should be manifested in a written corporate chemicals policy. Learn more.
- Supply Chain Transparency – Before a manufacturer or retailer can flesh out its plan to introduce safer products, the company needs to understand the product's starting point. A product manufacturer needs to have a clear picture of the chemicals used to make its products, just as a retailer needs to know the chemicals contained in the products it sells. This information provides much needed clarity into the areas of greatest risk, the scope of future work and a means for measuring and monitoring progress. Learn more.
- Informed Consumers – Sharing ingredient information with consumers is a key aspect of leadership. It shows that a company embraces and executes on the philosophy that consumers have the right to know what’s in the products they buy. Additionally, consumer transparency fosters accountability within the company to make informed decisions about the ingredients and products they buy, sell and design to meet customer demands for increased product safety and sustainability. Learn more.
- Safer Chemicals Plan – To achieve industry leadership, a company must create and implement a Safer Chemicals Plan. This plan is the roadmap for bringing safer chemicals into products or stores and phasing out hazardous chemicals. It provides the structure for evaluating chemical safety with respect to workers, neighboring communities and consumers; prioritizing, managing and eliminating chemicals of concern; and evaluating, determining and introducing safer alternatives. The plan also provides a basis for communication with suppliers, customers and consumers. Learn more.
- Public Commitment – Effective communication of the company's policy, timelines and progress towards goals can garner support from the general public. Telling the story about the journey – and the pitfalls along the way – can be just as powerful as sharing success stories. Going public can make the journey easier: it can reinforce internal alignment on the goals and spur the innovation of safer chemicals needed to create higher quality products. Going public can also lead to useful partnerships or engagements with organizations, which can provide companies with additional expertise or best practices. Learn more.
The companies that adopt these five pillars of leadership for safer chemicals in the marketplace will revolutionize how business is done. And in doing so, they will remain relevant, resilient, and ultimately ahead of the competition.
There is no right way to start building these pillars of leadership. Achieving industry leadership on safer chemicals is an iterative process. Insights gained while tackling one pillar can inform and improve action on another. What is essential is to make a start, to begin building these pillars and striving towards leadership.
Are you ready?