Why businesses and state governments aren’t waiting for federal action on chemicals transparency

As a Trump Administration appointee tries to dismantle EPA’s credibility as a guardian of public health and the environment, other actors have been stepping up. We recently examined retailers leading the way on removing chemicals of concern from the marketplace – but there has also been significant activity from state governments and companies to increase transparency about the chemicals we are exposed to every day and to empower consumers to make informed decisions about their product purchases.

Regulatory steps in the right direction

Government activity has recently focused on cleaning products, for good reason as the contents of these products are typically the biggest mystery for consumers.

Recent developments include:

  • In April, Governor Cuomo of New York State announced the Household Cleaning Product Information Program; the guidance is expected to be finalized soon and will require cleaning product manufacturers to disclose ingredients on their websites.
  • And, on October 15th, Governor Brown of California signed a first of its kind act into law: SB-258-The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act, which was crafted through a successful NGO-industry negotiation.

Alissa Sasso, Project Manager, Supply Chain, EDF + Business

SB-258 stipulates requirements for disclosing cleaning product ingredients online and on the product label, including for designated chemicals of concern and certain fragrances and contaminants. There are threshold limits for the reporting of designated fragrances and contaminants, as well as some exemption provisions for ingredients claimed to be trade secret, but all in all the bill is a noteworthy step forward. The law goes into effect in 2020 for online disclosure and 2021 for on pack disclosure, giving companies the opportunity to prepare for these requirements and to consider removing chemicals of concern before updating their labels.

Why did industry come to the table on what has historically been a combative issue? Consumer demand for transparency has grown greatly, and several major retailers and product manufacturers have gained a competitive advantage by enhancing their own ingredient disclosure.

Companies seeing ingredient disclosure as a competitive benefit

For a long time, consumers could rely only on “green” companies like Seventh Generation and Method to demonstrate ingredient transparency as a core value. For example, Seventh Generation has listed all cleaning product ingredients on pack since 2008; they’ve listed this information and ingredient function online for even longer. Meanwhile, Method started listing ingredient information (names, function, and safety information) online in 2009 and followed this with on pack disclosure in 2012. But recently, larger companies have realized the competitive advantages of gaining consumer trust through transparency.

SC Johnson originally launched the “What’s Inside?” website in 2009; currently for individual products the site lists non-fragrance ingredients and the function in the product. They also disclose fragrance ingredients at or above 0.09% in a product formula, or the top 10 fragrance ingredients by volume, whichever method discloses more information. Last year, SC Johnson launched an air freshener collection with complete fragrance transparency. In May, SC Johnson published a list of over 368 potential skin allergens – well beyond the European Union (EU) fragrance allergen list – on its website. SC Johnson is already working to identify these allergens at the product level and plans to complete this by 2018.

Unilever announced plans in July to provide fragrance ingredient information online for all products across its portfolio. Fragrance components present in products above 0.01% will be disclosed through SmartLabel™ by the end of 2018. Smartlabel™ allows access to ingredient information for products and food through an app, computer, or telephone. Unilever will also label EU fragrance allergens on pack in the US for their full personal care portfolio. Unilever developed a US version of their ingredient website to provide product information including product ingredients, ingredient selection process and ingredient functions.

[Tweet “Transparency is the new black when it comes to chemical ingredients via @EDFBiz”]

Walmart’s 2013 Sustainable Chemistry policy called for suppliers of formulated products to disclose ingredients online by 2015, and all priority chemicals on product packaging by 2018. Walmart updated their policy in September, expanding their full transparency commitment globally and adding the EU fragrance allergens to the ingredients that will be disclosed on pack. It’s important to note that since the policy covers cleaning products its deadline occurs before that of the new California law.

Procter & Gamble (P&G) P&G launched a site earlier this year that discloses preservatives in their products. In August, P&G announced that they have started to reveal all fragrance ingredients used above 0.01% across their product portfolio online and will complete this work by the end of 2019. Clorox shares ingredient name and function for non-fragrances online at the product level and provides a fragrance palette for its entire portfolio. Clorox also labels any EU fragrance allergens if its concentration in a product is greater than 0.01%.

Encouraging developments, but there’s still room for improvement

The new law in California will certainly impact how companies provide ingredient information everywhere in the U.S. But federal action in the US is still lagging. In the meantime, we look to companies to lead on meaningful disclosure practices.

Being ahead of the curve on transparency is good for business. Strong disclosure builds consumer trust in your products and processes and makes regulatory compliance an easier venture.

[Check out EDF’s Rules of Online Disclosure]

Follow Alissa on Twitter, @Alissa_Sasso 

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