New retailer ranking on safer chemicals reveals major gaps between leaders and laggards

On Monday, the Mind the Store campaign released their second annual review of retailer action on toxic chemicals: Who’s Minding the Store? – A Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals. The report card evaluates 30 retailers across a variety of product sectors, including cosmetics, electronics, baby products, and grocery. How are retailers doing? Let’s take a closer look.

The Process

The retailer report card evaluates retailers across 14 categories of action, including transparency, accountability, and safer alternatives. These scores are then rolled up into an overall final letter grade. Mind the Store starts with publicly available information (e.g., websites and corporate sustainability policies), shares the preliminary score and report with retailers, allowing them to provide additional information, and then updates the scores as needed. The full methodology is shared online.  Mind the Store graded 30 retailers this year, which includes 19 retailers that have been graded for the first time. Apple, Walmart, and CVS (tied with Ikea) took the top spots, scoring B+ or higher. While some retailers scored well, and even improved their scores from last year, the majority of retailers received a D or F grade. In fact, the average grade across all retailers evaluated was a D+. This is particularly disappointing for retailers that focus on products for infants and young children, who are more vulnerable to the health impacts of toxic chemicals in products.

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What sets the leaders apart?

The top retailers publish public chemicals policies and goals and allocate dedicated staff to ensure success. Notably, these retailers also go beyond regulatory requirements when restricting or eliminating chemicals of concern from products on their shelves. For example, Ikea has a “Beyond Restricted Substances List” of chemicals that are prohibited from their products that goes well beyond any legal requirements. Transparency is also important to the leading retailers. For instance, Apple and Walmart publicly share their progress in eliminating chemicals of concern on an annual basis. Furthermore, these top retailers continue to raise the bar on safer chemicals policies, regularly expanding the commitments within their policies. It’s promising to see extensive chemical policies across a variety of retail sectors and real action behind these policies.

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

How can other retailers improve?

Institutional Commitment is the first of our 5 Pillars of Leadership for safer chemicals in the marketplace for a reason: it sets the foundation on which all other action is based. Among the top-performing retailers, we see commitments cemented in written chemicals policies.  Without this written (and publicly-available) policy it is hard to make any substantial progress in making and selling safer products. For those retailers that need help getting started on this step, EDF has outlined the key features of strong chemicals policies and developed two easy to follow templates for particular retailer segments: a Model Chemicals Policy for Retailers of Formulated Products and a Model Food Additives Policy for Grocers.

Consumers deserve to feel like they can trust the chemicals and ingredients in their products, whether food, electronics, or toys. We applaud the retailers that have stepped up to the plate, and hope that efforts like the Mind the Store report make it clear where more action is needed.

Follow Boma Brown-West on Twitter.

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