Even if you haven’t heard of perchlorate, chances are that you probably have eaten it. Perchlorate is a chemical used in plastic packaging and food handling equipment for dry food like cereal, flour, and spices to reduce the buildup of static charges.
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.
Today, Walmart announced that it will stop selling paint strippers containing methylene chloride or N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) by February 2019 – making it the first general merchandise retailer to take such action. Walmart’s announcement follows the strong leadership demonstrated by Lowes, Home Depot, and Sherwin Williams, all of which have committed not to sell methylene chloride- and NMP-based paint stripping products by the end of the year. Importantly, Walmart’s action goes beyond its U.S. stores, including those in Mexico, Canada, and Central America, as well as its online store.
Consumer products are a source of our exposure to toxic chemicals. Pressed by consumer demand and regulatory scrutiny around the globe, companies have increasingly committed to removing toxic ingredients from everyday products. One of the most difficult barriers to designing safer, more sustainable products is ensuring that the replacement ingredients are both effective and safe.
In a rare move by two fierce competitors, Walmart and Target brought together stakeholders from across the U.S. beauty and personal care (BPC) industry in 2014 to drive safer, more sustainable products. This was bold considering that there was no consensus on the basic definition of product sustainability in an industry estimated at over $80 billion. After three years, a core group of eighteen organizations across the BPC value chain, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), released the first science-based scorecard of 32 key performance indicators (KPIs), marking the most sweeping market demand signal for safer and more sustainable beauty and personal care products yet.
Why does this matter?
Beauty and personal care consumers increasingly care about the health and environmental impacts of the products they buy. A vast majority of 87 percent of consumers globally prefer products with “no harsh chemicals or toxins.” Millennial women are also driving demand for more sustainable products. To address this gap, Forum for the Future worked together with The Sustainability Consortium to facilitate the three year mission to “shift the beauty and personal care product sector into a more sustainable, thriving and resilient industry that serves the needs of people and planet both now and in the future.”
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.
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. Read more
Walmart made two big moves last week to reinforce its commitment to leadership on safer chemicals. In 2013 Walmart sent a major demand signal for safer chemicals through the supply chain – issuing its Sustainable Chemistry Policy that covered 700 suppliers and over 90,000 cleaning, personal care, and cosmetics products on its shelves. The policy called for greater ingredient transparency and the reduction and elimination of chemicals harmful to human and environmental health, starting with eight prevalent chemicals of concern. Last week, Walmart released its latest results following up on these commitments and became the first retailer to participate in the Chemical Footprint Project annual survey (and the second major retailer to become a CFP signatory).
Walmart’s participation in the Chemical Footprint Project is a new indicator of its continued commitment to safer products
The Chemical Footprint Project is an initiative to benchmark how effectively companies are managing the chemicals in their products and supply chains. As I mentioned in a previous blog, it’s a way for investors and large purchasers to assess which firms are carrying heavy chemical risk and which ones are demonstrating competitive leadership in response to growing demand for safer products. So far, 24 companies, including Walmart, participate in this program – sending a clear signal to their suppliers, investors, and consumers that chemicals management is material to business success. Leaders identified in the CFP survey show that adopting and enforcing policies and measuring progress are key to reducing chemicals of concern.
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Progress on its ground-breaking policy
Also last week, Walmart quietly released its second annual Sustainable Chemistry Policy report, showing progress on its policy to eliminate priority chemicals. The chemicals of concern were drawn from 16 reputable regulatory and other authoritative lists – starting with eight High Priority Chemicals.
A chemical inventory is the first step in meeting a commitment to reduce your chemical footprint
Before jumping into the results, let’s review why this public disclosure of results is important. If you can’t measure something, you can’t improve it effectively. Walmart’s public reporting of quantitative data shows that it is serious about measuring its chemical footprint and being transparent about it. Walmart uses aggregate chemical inventory information across and within the departments under the policy to track progress.
Clear, meaningful metrics to track progress are the next step
Walmart tracks progress by looking at both weight volume – pounds of chemicals going out the door – and ubiquity – number of suppliers using these chemicals and the number of products in which they are using them. Both are important indicators of the prevalence of these chemicals in our world. Last year, Walmart achieved a 95% reduction in its High Priority Chemicals (HPCs) at Walmart US stores, equivalent to 23 million lbs. Since then, another 372,230 lbs have been removed – a 30% drop compared to the 2015 weight volume and a 96% drop since the policy began in 2014. Similar reductions continue to happen at Walmart’s Sam’s Club stores: another 75,629 lbs have been eliminated, a 53% drop compared to the 2015 weight volume and a 68% drop compared to 2014. The second year results also reaffirm that a concerted effort to reduce a select set of priority chemicals, i.e. HPCs, drives results faster. Overall usage of Walmart Priority Chemicals continues to decrease (at Walmart US stores), but not nearly at the rate of that of Walmart HPCs.
Walmart’s public disclosure also shows that the company isn’t afraid to share where performance is lagging
Though overall weight volume of the HPCs continues to drop, their ubiquity continues to be a challenge. Both the number of products (i.e. UPCs) containing the HPCs and the number of suppliers using them continues to drop, at both Walmart US and Sam’s Club stores, but at a rate slower than the weight volume reduction.
The tools for success
In the end, Walmart continues to make progress against its policy as demonstrated through real data. Beyond data, what else contributes to Walmart‘s success?
- Clear targets
- Driving action through the business (where relationships between buyers and suppliers stress the importance of the commitments)
- Public accountability
With new notable commitments popping up from other major retailers like Target and CVS, we hope to see similar tracking and reporting of meaningful results both directly and through the Chemical Footprint Project survey.
Boma Brown-West is Senior Manager of Consumer Health at EDF + Business. You can follow her on Twitter for insights and analysis on safer chemicals leadership in the supply chain and subscribe to her Behind the Label newsletter here.
Today EDF released a new report, Smart Innovation: The Opportunity for Safer Preservatives, which offers a framework for safer chemical and product development. The report details baseline toxicological information on a select set of preservative chemicals used in personal care products, and makes the case for why and how access to uniformly developed sets of chemical health and safety information can help drive safer chemical and product innovation.
Consumers are demanding safer products for their homes, schools, and places of work. Growing awareness about the health and environmental impacts of chemicals is driving this demand. The entire consumer goods supply chain, from chemical manufacturers to retailers, plays a significant role in ensuring products on the market are healthful—i.e. made up of ingredients or materials that are as safe as possible and support healthy living.
How can we use data to strengthen the marketplace and ensure better innovation and competition for safer chemicals? Companies introduce new products into the marketplace all the time, but too few strive towards innovation that is safer for people and the planet. We need innovation that generates ingredients and materials that not only perform, but are also safer than their predecessors. Smart innovation is data-driven, deliberate, and delivers solutions that support health.
Unfortunately, the lack of availability and access to comprehensive and transparent toxicological information on chemicals across the supply chain continues to be a major obstacle to smart innovation. Such baseline information is invaluable for setting safer chemical design criteria that chemical and product developers can integrate into their R&D efforts.
In EDF’s new report, we demonstrate how this type of information can be useful in the pursuit of safer preservatives – an ingredient class that has garnered much regulatory and market scrutiny. For example, major retailers like Walmart, Target, and CVS have published chemicals policies that aim to drive chemicals of concern off their shelves while ensuring consumer access to safer chemicals and products. Preservatives are present on each of these retailer’s lists of chemicals targeted for removal.
Ultimately, delivering products to the marketplace that use the safest possible ingredients requires concerted effort and informed, smart innovation. Our report discusses how this can be achieved via the creation of a collective Chemicals Assessment Clearinghouse that is leveraged across the supply chain. Such a Clearinghouse would provide a strategic intervention to unlock safer chemicals innovation to benefit companies, consumers and the environment.
American businesses benefit tremendously from the robust voluntary and regulatory programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These programs are now under threat of massive budget cuts and regulatory roll backs. This blog, focusing on chemical safety, is the latest in a series from EDF + Business highlighting how industry stands to lose from a weakened agency. To prevent these negative consequences, the business community needs to be at the forefront and demand policymakers support the U.S. EPA and its critical mission.
Recent attacks against EPA for purported regulatory overreach and an anti-business agenda ignore EPA’s crucial work on safer chemicals in the marketplace. EDF + Business works closely with leading companies to address public health and consumer concerns regarding exposure to chemicals. Leading companies rely on smart, science-backed regulations to provide market certainty and protect their industries from bad actors. Threats to underfund and deregulate EPA could jeopardize its continued leadership, which is desperately needed on chemical safety.
In June 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Act was signed into law. The Lautenberg Act was the result of a strong bipartisan effort to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and finally give EPA the means to protect Americans from exposure to toxic chemicals. The Lautenberg Act not only had strong support from both sides of the aisle in Congress, it also had strong support from business: including trade groups like the American Chemistry Council, the Chamber of Commerce and individual companies like BASF and SC Johnson. Why? Because they agreed that empowering EPA to review both new and existing chemicals and make affirmative decisions about their safety – thereby providing a consistent foundation for the safety of chemicals in the marketplace – would not only be good for improving public health, it would be good for business. The EPA’s job is to ensure a clean, healthy environment for all Americans. After years of input and strong bipartisan support, the reformed TSCA gave EPA the necessary tools to protect the public from toxic chemicals.
Business stands to benefit from greater market certainty and consumer confidence under the reformed TSCA. For example, product manufacturers should worry less about investing in the commercialization and usage of a chemical that years later could be found to imperil human health. And if the law meets its expectation, companies may in the long-term have less to fear about the state activity that had picked up when the federal government was not equipped to do its job. This action had been filling the void but led to a patchwork of requirements and regulations that bedeviled companies and left consumers confused about which chemicals in products were safe. The promise of greater market certainty and greater consumer confidence was critical to the Lautenberg Act’s support in Congress. Republican Senate sponsor David Vitter said, “Republicans agree to give EPA a whole lot [of] new additional authority. . . In exchange, that leads to … a common rulebook.”
However, fulfilling the promise of market certainty for industry and greater protection of consumer health depends on a funded and staffed EPA. If some in industry and their allies in Congress seek to undermine EPA at every turn – whether through budget cuts, anti-regulatory legislation, or stall tactics – they will stymie the promise of the Lautenberg Act and find themselves back at square one. If on the other hand, business, environmentalists, Democrats and Republicans cooperate as they did to get the Lautenberg Act passed – but this time to ensure that EPA is enabled to implement the Lautenberg Act successfully, putting public health first – we could see a new era of chemical safety and innovation in the industry. And finally achieve what business and everyday Americans need.
Effective enforcement of bipartisan legislation is not the only place that the EPA can and must continue to lead. Creating opportunities for business leadership is also important. The innovative Energy Star program, a joint EPA-DOE voluntary energy efficiency program, is a great example of successful collaboration between business and federal agencies. The EPA is also the architect of another, perhaps lesser known, voluntary corporate leadership program called Safer Choice.
The Safer Choice program is widely used by companies, celebrated by consumer advocacy groups, and helps to reduce the level of exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals. Touted by Consumer Reports as a meaningful tool for shoppers, the Safer Choice program recognizes products whose chemical ingredients are the safest within their function (e.g. solvents). Each product bearing the Safer Choice label – over 2000 today – has been evaluated by EPA scientists to ensure that the product’s ingredients meet the program’s rigorous human health and environmental safety criteria. BASF, Levi Strauss, Clorox, Staples, AkzoNobel, Sun Products are just a few of the 500 companies in the retail supply chain that have made the offering of Safer Choice ingredients or products a key part of their business. Likewise, influential trade associations such as The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association (ISSA), with over 7000 members, and the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), with over 250 companies representing $100 billion in sales annually, have recognized and promoted Safer Choice as a program that can give companies a competitive edge in the marketplace. In a recent op-ed, CSPA called for the new EPA Administrator to support Safer Choice because it “has provided tangible, bottom-line results for consumers, businesses and environmental advocates.”
EPA regulatory enforcement to protect health, and voluntary programs that recognize leading companies, benefit all Americans.