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.
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.
Yesterday Target announced a new chemicals policy that applies to all products sold in its stores and to its operations. Does this policy have the capability to transform the marketplace by ushering in safer affordable products? Let’s take a look.
In the new policy, Target announces aspirations and time-bounded goals framed in three major areas: transparency, chemical management, and innovation.
On transparency, Target has surpassed its competitors by committing to gain not only full visibility into the chemicals in final products but also into chemicals used in manufacturing operations. Target also takes a leadership stance by aspiring for this full material disclosure across all product categories. This goal is significant and noteworthy, considering the number and variety of products (and associated manufacturing processes) at the average retail store. Target will first implement this transparency goal in “beauty, baby care, personal care and household cleaning formulated products by 2020”. In one drawback, Target is quiet regarding if and how this enhanced supply chain transparency will translate into greater ingredient transparency to consumers.
In the second area, chemical management, Target vows to implement a hazard-based approach to prioritize chemicals. It announces the use of hazard profiles – which characterize the inherent health and environmental hazards of chemicals – in judging which chemicals get added to Target’s new Restricted Substances Lists (RSLs) and Manufacturing Restricted Substances Lists (MRSLs), for future reduction and/or removal. This approach is critical to fostering safer product design and is in line with the philosophy of the Commons Principles for Alternatives Assessment, guiding principles EDF helped develop. To kick off this work, Target outlines chemical and product specific goals: removal of PFCs and flame retardants from textiles by 2022 and removal of formaldehyde and formaldehyde donors, phthalates, butyl paraben, propyl paraben, and NPEs from the formulated product categories mentioned above by 2020.
Finally, Target commits to directly support safer chemicals innovation. In doing so, Target has shown its understanding that eliminating hazardous chemicals from the consumer product value chain is half the battle; promoting the development or discovery of safer alternatives and enabling their usability in products is as important. Specifically, Target pledges an investment of up to $5 million in green chemistry innovation by 2022.
Target also pledges to publicly share progress against its new policy on an annual basis. We look forward to this regular engagement of the public and hope it will include quantitative measures of progress.
EDF commends Target for establishing a corporate chemicals policy, making it ambitious, and stipulating time-bound goals in specific product categories. Target continues the emphasis on beauty, home and personal care, and baby products that it initiated in 2013 with its Sustainable Product Index. New to the fold is action on safer textiles. In another welcome development, Target has publicly released a key set of chemicals of concern that it plans to remove from these product categories. Interestingly for formulated products, Target’s starting list of chemicals for removal is very similar to the initial set of high priority chemicals Walmart disclosed in 2016. With the two largest retailers in the U.S. not slowing down on safer chemicals leadership, the future of the marketplace looks healthier. Will other retailers finally follow suit?
Becoming a leader on safer chemicals is a meaningful way to address increasing consumer demand for ingredient transparency and safer products. The good news: taking the first step is easy to do.
In these uncertain times, corporate leadership is more important than ever in maintaining momentum to address our most serious environmental challenges – from climate change to water depletion to exposure to hazardous chemicals. Recently, I participated in the 11th annual BizNGO Conference titled “Measuring Progress to Safer Chemicals.” The event was full of solutions-oriented dialogue among NGOs, investment firms, and leading consumer product companies – in textiles, personal care, health care, electronics, cleaning, and more – about topics from meaningful transparency to measuring the ubiquity of chemicals of concern. Overall, the conference renewed my belief that companies are ready and willing to accelerate the adoption of safer chemicals in the marketplace. For example, now over 60 organizations, including Staples and CVS Health, have signed on to the Chemical Footprint Project, which recognizes companies that have effectively demonstrated public commitment to improved chemicals management. Elsewhere, some companies are publicly showing success at reducing the use of chemicals of concern.
Although leading companies are paving the way, it is clear that we need more companies, especially more retailers, to achieve full marketplace transformation. Companies that are interested – but uncertain of where to start – should explore building a chemicals policy.
A written corporate chemicals policy is the most effective tool in jump-starting and sustaining Institutional Commitment for safer chemicals. It helps a company articulate its chemical management goals and set a course for success. A strong chemicals policy begins with an overarching aspirational vision that conveys the company’s desire to take a leadership stance. The company’s specific objectives for attaining leadership on safer chemicals are the meat of a chemicals policy. At a minimum, these objectives should focus on:
- Improving Supply Chain Transparency
- Cultivating Informed Consumers
- Embedding safer Product Design, and
- Showing Public Commitment
What are the benefits of writing all of this down? Goal embedment and alignment, employee empowerment, and sparking accountability internally and within the company’s supply chain – to name a few.
But what does all of this really look like on paper? EDF has created templates retailers can use when fleshing out their own chemicals policy. Our templates provide starting text as well as tips and resources for customization.
Consumers are looking to companies to lead the way — publicly and credibly. Use our templates to help you build a chemicals policy that gives you a competitive edge and builds consumer trust.
Consumers want to know that the products they buy contain ingredients that are safe for them and their loved ones. EDF has identified five pillars of leadership to help companies meet that demand and in doing so build consumer trust in the products they make and sell. One company that has recently taken major steps to drive safer chemicals and products into the market is Walmart.
In 2013, Walmart published its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, which focuses on ingredient transparency and advancing safer product formulations in household and personal care products. EDF worked with Walmart as it developed its policy and has advised the company during implementation and data analysis. This past April, Walmart announced that the company achieved a 95% reduction in the use of high priority chemicals of concern. Now, Walmart has shared considerable additional information detailing the progress made, including the identities of the high priority chemicals.
In our previous blog, we broke down the wealth of information that Walmart has shared. However, to fully evaluate the significance of the numbers, we now look at how well Walmart has done against EDF’s five pillars: institutional commitment, supply chain transparency, informed consumers, product design, and public commitment.