Walmart makes bold new commitments around safer products

Credit: Flickr user Mike Mozart

Today, Walmart updated their ambitious Sustainable Chemistry Policy on Consumables, which to-date has resulted in a 96% reduction in the weight of High Priority Chemicals. The new commitments set a bold goal of reducing Walmart’s chemicals footprint by 10% – over 55 million pounds of priority chemicals – a historic move.

Reducing chemicals of concern from products is a major interest for consumers. Modern science increasingly shows that certain chemicals prevalent in products can impact our health. Walmart’s renewed commitment to drive safer products onto store shelves is a laudable effort.

Walmart’s policy expands on the three original commitments of the Sustainable Chemistry Policy: “Transparency,” “Advancing Safer Formulations,” and product leadership in a section now titled, “Advancing Our Assortment.” Walmart has set clear, measureable goals and commits to reporting publicly on its progress to implement these new commitments. So what does Walmart champion in its policy refresh? Let’s take a look.

ESTABLISHMENT OF STRONG PRINCIPLES:

For the first time, Walmart publicly states its own sustainable chemistry principles. It is a strong list, including commitments to the 12 principles of green chemistry (the foundation of the green chemistry movement), transparency about approach and progress, and the belief that leadership means much more than legal and regulatory compliance.

ON TRANSPARENCY:

Walmart recognizes that it still has work to do with suppliers to improve ingredient disclosure, so existing commitments still stand, including a 2018 deadline for better ingredient disclosure on product labels.

However, there are also some notable new features of Walmart’s commitment to “Transparency.”

  • NEW GLOBAL COMPONENT: Walmart is a global company, so it’s important to see it begin expanding its sustainable chemistry efforts worldwide. Walmart is starting with ingredient disclosure, both online and on-pack, for private label and national brands. This commitment reflects the demands of over 80% of global consumers for greater ingredient transparency when shopping for personal care and household cleaning products. .
  • TRANSPARENCY MAKES BUSINESS SENSE: Walmart has committed to participate annually in the Chemical Footprint Project. The Chemical Footprint Project is a benchmark tool that enables investors to compare companies’ management of chemical risks. Signatories represent over $2.3 trillion in assets under management and purchasing power, including BNP Paribas Investment. This new commitment reflects Walmart CEO Doug McMillon’s historic move last year to declare to investors that the company’s sustainability initiatives would help the company win in the 21st  century.

 ON ADVANCING SAFER FORMULATIONS:

The biggest changes in Walmart’s new policy appear in its “Advancing Safer Formulations” section. These changes include:

  • SCALING ACTION: Walmart sets a strong new commitment to reduce the chemical footprint of its consumables product portfolio by 10% by 2022. Walmart learned a lot about how to implement a safer chemicals initiative in a practical, meaningful, and measurable way through its original policy, which successfully focused efforts on a select few High Priority Chemicals (HPCs). As Walmart nears full elimination of its existing HPCs, the retailer is taking those learnings and expanding its safer formulation target to a larger pool of priority chemicals (PCs). The new goal is notable for a large retailer like Walmart: based on their 2016 chemical footprint, a 10% reduction translates to over 55 million pounds.
  • TAKING STEPS TO TACKLE FRAGRANCES: Walmart has expanded its reference list for Walmart Priority Chemicals by adding two new authoritative lists that identify fragrance chemicals of concern. These lists, the EU Fragrance Allergens and the EU Cosmetics Regulation (Annex II), reflect an understanding that allergens are important to address when talking about cosmetics, personal care products, and cleaning products.
  • IT TAKES A VILLAGE: Similar to their approach with their new historic Project Gigaton, Walmart recognizes that success demands a collaborative effort between the company and its suppliers. In addition to the High Priority Chemicals it will continue to target for reduction, Walmart calls on suppliers to help them tackle other priority chemicals (PCs). Since PCs are not equally represented across products and suppliers, this approach allows its suppliers to focus on those chemicals of concern that are most relevant and impactful to their particular product lines. We recommend several steps to ensure that this approach is successful: (1) ask suppliers to give their time-bound reduction plans including which chemicals they will target in what products, (2) hold check-ins along the way to keep them accountable, and (3) give recognition to suppliers who already have small chemical footprints and those that go above and beyond on their reduction targets.
  • CONTAMINANTS MATTER TOO: Walmart’s policy now includes contaminants of concern as an area of focus in recognition that problematic chemicals in products can be intentionally added or come along the way through manufacturing processes (e.g. sourcing, chemical synthesis, product formulation). For example, benzene and 1,4 dioxane are known contaminants of concern that sometimes appear in formulated products and are carcinogens. Walmart recognizes that consumers can be exposed to chemicals of concern regardless of how they enter a final product—intentionally or unintentionally—and is taking action to be more holistic in their approach to safer chemistry.

ON ADVANCING THEIR ASSORTMENT:

  • CERTIFICATIONS ACCELERATE PROGRESS: In keeping with its strategy of phasing out priority chemicals and encouraging the use of safer chemistries, Walmart recommends its suppliers utilize product certifications that emphasize material health and are applicable to their specific product categories. These certifications – U.S. EPA’s Safer Choice, EWG Verified, and Cradle to Cradle – credibly evaluate ingredient safety, are transparent about their approach, and reward products for continuous improvement.

When EDF opened an office in Bentonville ten years ago, we believed Walmart was a company that could scale environmental progress. Over the past several years, we have worked with Walmart in its iterative pursuit of safer chemicals leadership. Walmart has learned a lot in implementing its original policy and has used those lessons to inform its new, ambitious steps towards advancing safer, effective and affordable products. We expect them to continue learning and evolving their commitments in the future – with a firm eye on driving safer products into the marketplace.


Boma Brown-West, Senior Manager, Consumer Health, EDF+Business