There’s no doubt that consumers are looking for safer, cleaner and more environmentally-friendly products. However, demonstrating leadership among the competition can be tricky, particularly because terms like “clean” are unregulated and lack a standard definition. One way to lead on consumer trust and gain a competitive advantage? Champion meaningful transparency – this means sharing greater ingredient information as well as how these ingredients and products are assessed. Credo Beauty, the largest clean beauty retailer in the country, is doing just that – last week they launched their leading-edge Fragrance Transparency Policy.
We recently reported that Sephora became the first major specialty beauty retailer to release a public-facing chemicals policy. As a complement to their policy, Sephora also promotes their Clean at Sephora labeling program, an avenue for showcasing brands with an embedded safer ingredient philosophy. Sephora recently updated this program: going forward, a product bearing Sephora’s Clean label must avoid a list of more than fifty ingredients (in some cases, ingredients are allowed in restricted concentrations).
With Clean at Sephora, the retailer extends its strategy to capture the growing “naturals” market segment, especially among millennial shoppers. While Clean at Sephora may receive most of the media attention, Sephora’s chemicals policy is an essential addition to the retailer’s sustainability efforts. The Clean program recognizes products pursuing leadership, but the new chemicals policy will impact all of the products sold in Sephora’s stores.
How does the policy stack up against EDF’s 5 Pillars of Leadership for Safer Products?
Environmentally-conscious shoppers are expected to spend up to $150 billion on sustainable products by 2021, an increase of almost 15% since 2018. Skepticism about conventional products is, in part, fueling this market growth.
The key to engaging eco-conscious shoppers is to make cleaner, more sustainable products easier to find in stores and online. For example, this spring Target launched a “Clean” icon to identify products free from dozens of “unwanted chemicals.” Target’s entire suite of “Wellness Icons”, which include labels like “paraben free” and “dye free”, now span eight product categories. Meanwhile Sephora allows shoppers to easily filter for “Clean at Sephora” products online, find them in store, and to understand what the label means.
The Mind the Store campaign recently released their third annual Who’s Minding the Store? report, which ranks retailer action on the removal of toxic chemicals from products. Many of this year’s top performing retailers are familiar. Apple, Walmart, Target, and CVS, all in the top 10, are companies that EDF considers to be safer chemicals leaders. Importantly, several retailers received much improved scores – Amazon, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid are the most improved retailers compared to 2016. We’ve previously blogged on Amazon and Rite-Aid’s new chemicals policies (see here and here, respectively). Walgreens is the newest face in this crowd, releasing its chemicals policy earlier this month. With more and more retailers making commitments, the market demand for safer chemistry in products is now undeniable.
Retail demand for safer products is not only here to stay – it’s now a source of competition in the evolving marketplace. Amazon is the latest retailer to join Walmart, Target, CVS Health, Home Depot, and Rite-Aid by publishing a chemicals policy and a public Restricted Substances List. Amazon and several of the above-mentioned retailers represent half of the top ten retailers in the US. Amazon’s new policy is a big deal: not only is Amazon the third largest retailer by sales in the US, it is the first primarily ecommerce retailer to create a chemicals policy. Ecommerce represents a challenge in terms of implementing such a policy, but as shoppers increasingly turn to online retailers for many of their purchasing needs, this also presents a major opportunity to increase the availability of safer products.
Earlier this month, the national drugstore chain Rite Aid released a new Chemical Policy and Restricted Substances List (RSL). Rite Aid joined a growing list of retailers taking action to ensure safer products for their customers. This public, written corporate chemicals policy communicates to Rite Aid’s suppliers, consumers, and other stakeholders that increasing Rite Aid’s assortment of safer products is important to the company’s mission.
How does Rite-Aid’s policy measure up?
Last week The Home Depot published an update to their Chemical Strategy that expands their commitments to now cover household cleaning chemical products. They are asking suppliers to remove and exclude nine chemicals from these products by 2022. This commitment builds on their strategy first published in October 2017, which targeted chemicals of concern in flooring, carpet, insulation, and paints. Adding cleaning products to that portfolio builds on The Home Depot’s commitment to tackle products that impact the quality of indoor air. This commitment is important considering we spend 80% of our time indoors and many of the chemicals we are exposed to inside are linked to the development of asthma, among other health issues.
The Home Depot’s updated strategy is a move in the right direction for cleaning products. While they previously highlighted environmentally preferred products through the Eco Options® certification program, this commitment will impact all cleaning products sold in stores and online. This means more consumers will be able to bring safer products into their homes.
Retailers are increasingly aligning to eliminate or reduce these 9 harmful chemicals
As a consumer health expert, I was glued to Nicholas Kristof’s recent New York Times op-ed, “What poisons are in your body?” Kristof has covered the dangers of toxic chemicals for years and instituted lifestyle changes to limit exposure to chemicals that worry him most. Among his top concerns are endocrine disruptors – which alter hormones and are associated with lower sperm counts in men, for example. Despite his knowledge and intentional lifestyle changes, his recent blood test results still came back with high levels of a variety of chemicals. Wow.
Kristof invites readers to take a survey identifying the common products they have used in the last month. The survey results tell you what chemicals you have been exposed to through these products as well as the health hazards associated with each chemical. It’s important that Kristof continues to shine a light on the issues of hazardous chemicals in products we use every day and the lack of oversight on the safety of these chemicals.
In 2017, we saw a surge of commitments and action to disclose product ingredients to the public. Notably, more companies disclosed ingredients in cleaning products and fragrances — a major step towards greater transparency in a sector with little disclosure.
Retailer and brand commitments on safer ingredients are driven by a variety of factors, namely new state regulations and growing consumer demand for improved transparency and safer products. As more companies join the movement to set public commitments, we are encouraged that the trend will continue.
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.