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.
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.
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.
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 by weight in the use of high priority chemicals of concern. Today, Walmart shared considerable additional information detailing the progress made, including the identities of the initial high priority chemicals. Let’s unpack this.
Revisiting Walmart’s Sustainable Chemistry Policy
Broadly speaking, Walmart made three commitments in its 2013 policy:
- to increase transparency of product ingredients,
- to advance safer formulations of products, and
- to attain U.S. EPA’s Safer Choice certification [formerly Design for the Environment] of Walmart private brand products
The policy, which went into effect in January 2014, focuses on formulated household cleaning, personal care, and beauty products, sold at Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. stores. A few months after releasing the policy, Walmart published a policy implementation guide that gave suppliers greater specificity as to Walmart’s expectations and, importantly, outlined the quantitative metrics Walmart would use to track and report progress.
How Walmart has fared so far
Walmart’s policy requires its suppliers to be more transparent about the ingredients in their products in two ways. First, Walmart requires suppliers to submit “full product formulations” – the names and concentrations of all ingredients in a product – to WERCSmart, a 3rd party- managed product ingredient database. WERCSmart provides the retailer with aggregate information about the types and quantities of chemicals in the products on its shelves without divulging specific product formulation data.
Second, the policy requires suppliers to increase ingredient transparency to consumers by calling for disclosure of product ingredients online starting in 2015. Further, any Priority Chemical found in a product must be disclosed on the product’s packaging starting in 2018. Priority Chemicals (PCs) are Walmart’s designated chemicals of concern, drawn from 16 reputable regulatory and authoritative lists.
To track the first requirement, Walmart determined the number of products whose ingredients are fully accounted for in the WERCSmart database. According to the data, 94% of the product formulations are full formulations. This suggests that the other results Walmart presents today are based on real data.
To track ingredient transparency to consumers, Walmart polled suppliers about their online disclosure practices using the Walmart Sustainability Index, its annual environmental issues survey sent to suppliers. In 2015, 78% of respondents reported they disclose ingredients online for all their products. Walmart also breaks down the responses in more detailed ways, such as by department.
- “Advancing safer formulations of products”:
The bulk of Walmart’s policy focuses on providing safer products to customers by calling for the “reduction, restriction, and elimination” of Priority Chemicals (PCs), and for product reformulations to be undertaken using “informed substitution principles.” Because the list of PCs includes hundreds (if not thousands) of chemicals — as evidenced by Walmart’s reference list of regulatory and authoritative lists used to define its PCs — Walmart focused its suppliers’ attention on a shorter list of High Priority Chemicals (HPCs).
Today, Walmart identified the HPCs as propylparaben, butylparaben, nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, triclosan, and toluene. These eight chemicals and chemical classes appear on a number of authoritative lists (e.g. EU REACH Substances of Very High Concern) for their hazardous properties and are worthy of action by Walmart. The revelation of the identities of the chemicals was long-awaited and provides context to the rest of the information Walmart shared today.
To assess the portion of its chemical footprint related to product sales covered by the policy, Walmart has measured progress in two ways: (i) the total weight of HPCs contained in products sold, i.e. pounds of HPCs going out the door, and (ii) frequency of use, i.e. the number of products on store shelves that contain HPCs and the number of suppliers using HPCs in their products. Walmart relied on RetailLink, its internal product inventory database, and WERCSmart, mentioned earlier, to make these calculations. Walmart has also computed and published this data for all Walmart PCs in the covered product categories.
Walmart reports a dramatic reduction in the total weight of PCs and HPCs going out the door. The total weight of HPCs dropped by 95% and PCS by 45%. The more than doubling of reduction of HPCs suggests that focusing attention on a subset of chemicals accelerated action.
Walmart attributes part of the success to its ability to determine which select set of suppliers used the majority (in pounds) of HPCs. This illustrates the utility of a product ingredient database that can provide aggregate information by supplier while not disclosing proprietary information.
As it relates to progress made in reducing the frequency of use of HPCs, the results were far more modest. Unfortunately, it appears that suppliers who use HPCs are largely still using them, though the aggregate mass has dropped. Overall, the percent of products containing HPCs dropped by only 3 percentage points (to 16%), while the percent of suppliers using HPCs increased slightly (to 39%). Meanwhile, the percent of products containing any Priority Chemical actually went up one percentage point (to 80%).
So while the weight amount of HPCs, and PCs more broadly, has dropped significantly, there is clearly much more work to be done to achieve complete elimination of these chemicals.
- “Safer Choice [formerly Design for the Environment] in private brands”:
Lastly, Walmart committed to increase the number of private brand product offerings bearing Safer Choice certification. As discussed in our recent blog, the Safer Choice Program is a voluntary program implemented by the U.S. EPA that seeks to recognize and bring consumer awareness to products that are leading the way when it comes to safer ingredients. This is the only commitment for which Walmart has not released quantitative data. The company reports that it has hit snags in making progress against this target but is still committed to the program.
Overall, Walmart has made major strides regarding the commitments set forth in its policy. Equally notable, it has set in place effective systems to measure and track progress over time – an ability that can’t be underestimated.
 As defined by the Chemical Footprint Project, a chemical footprint is “the total mass of chemicals of high concern in products sold by a company, used in its manufacturing operations and by its suppliers, and contained in packaging.”
It’s been two and a half years since Walmart first committed to adopting a sustainable chemistry policy. Since then, consumers, companies and advocates have been watching the retailer with interest. Today, Walmart released its ninth annual Global Responsibility Report (GRR), which outlines its environmental and social activities for the past year. For the first time, this report includes information about the progress it has made against its Sustainable Chemistry Policy adopted in 2013, which aimed for more transparency of product ingredients and safer formulations of products.
According to Walmart, it has reduced the usage (by weight) of its designated high priority chemicals by 95 percent, a pretty sizeable number. Walmart has said that it will post more specifics in the coming weeks on its Sustainability Hub, including quantitative results on all aspects of the policy’s implementation guide and details about how they achieved the substantial reduction.
While this is a promising step in the right direction, the GRR doesn’t identify the high priority chemicals that have been reduced. It is difficult to fully appreciate Walmart’s accomplishments without knowing the names of these chemical targets. We expect that the names of the high priority chemicals will be revealed on the Sustainability Hub.
Walmart’s announcement marks the first time a major retailer has publicly measured and shared the progress it has made against its commitment on chemicals. This is especially important to EDF because we know through research and experience that shared stories about progress can prompt others to follow, to the benefit of public and environmental health.
We believe there are three key factors that have made Walmart’s progress possible: 1) the existence and use of a 3rd party-managed chemicals database that can generate quantitative, aggregate information about the chemicals on Walmart’s shelves, 2) a policy that prioritizes specific chemical targets, and 3) a time-bound business commitment to track and share progress publicly (in Walmart’s policy they committed to start sharing progress in 2016). We look forward to the day these practices reflect the business norm rather than the exception.
Market leadership will always have an important role to play alongside policy in driving safer chemicals and products into commerce. EDF looks forward to the additional details forthcoming on Walmart’s Sustainability Hub.
Follow Boma Brown-West on Twitter: @Bbrown_west
Also of interest:
Increasing the safety of products calls for a structured, thoughtful approach: knowing which chemicals of concern you want to remove from your supply chain, putting in place a methodology and resources to meet that goal, and evaluating progress as you move forward. That’s at the core of the pillars of leadership for safer chemicals we’ve identified through our collaborations with Walmart and others.
However, figuring out how to move from hazardous chemicals to those that are inherently safer – without increasing risk or compromising performance – takes having a clear, replicable process. Chemicals Alternatives Assessment (CAA), sometimes referred to simply as Alternatives Assessment, is one such process, a powerful methodology that can help you select ingredients in line with your safer product design objectives. CAA helps product designers identify, compare and select safer alternatives to chemicals of concern (including those in materials, processes or technologies) on the basis of key attributes – notably their hazards, exposure potential, performance, and economic viability.
CAA was born out of a need to help companies make smarter choices about the chemicals used in every day products, and ultimately make our world a healthier one. As a methodology, CAA was developed as a practical way of incorporating safer product design into product development and reformulation. Read more
The call for safer chemicals and products has reached a tipping point in the marketplace. A recently released report from the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) and the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3) lays out compelling market trends for safer chemicals across several indicators including demand, capital flow, and job growth. The report notes that the growth rate for safer chemicals is expected to be 24 times higher than that for conventional chemicals over the time period of 2011-2020. In sum, there is tremendous market opportunity for companies able to deliver on demonstrably safer chemicals and products.
Today, EDF is publishing the fourth of five installments on its Pillars of Leadership for Safer Chemicals in the Marketplace: Product Design. The Product Design leadership pillar is about getting specific on how a company will move away from problematic chemicals and ensure the use of safer chemicals. It’s about putting Institutional Commitments to safer products and chemicals into action.
In a nutshell, the Product Design leadership pillar includes four key parts:
- Establishing specific measurable objectives with timelines (e.g., percentage reduction of a target chemical by a certain time);
- Determining a methodology for how a company will meet objectives (i.e., identifying how information on the hazards and risks of chemicals will be developed and subsequently used to make decisions on product development and sale);
- Identifying internal and external stakeholders that are needed to successfully meet objectives; and
- Developing a timeline for tracking progress against objectives, reevaluating and updating objectives, and assessing the overall effectiveness of the Product Design process.
Product Design for safer chemicals is where the rubber hits the road in a company’s journey from Institutional Commitments to impact. It helps companies become leaders in the rapidly expanding marketplace for safer products – and leads to a healthier world.
This installment of our Pillars of Leadership series explores Informed Consumers.
Sharing ingredient information with consumers is key to business leadership on chemicals. It can build consumer confidence, trust, loyalty – and market advantage. Numerous surveys (see here and here) and advocacy campaigns (see here) reveal that people want more ingredient information than is typically available today. The key to success in cultivating an Informed Consumer is providing product ingredient information that is comprehensive, accessible, and importantly, meaningful.
Consumers want to:
- Have easy access to consistent, reliable information
- Feel empowered when making purchasing decisions for themselves and their families
- Understand what they’re bringing into their homes
- Avoid adverse health and environmental impacts
- Trust that brands and retailers respect their interest in knowing product composition
How does a company cultivate an Informed Consumer? For starters, by sharing ingredient information on product packaging and online for products it makes or sells, with content that extends well beyond regulatory requirements. While packaging physically limits the amount of information that can be shared with consumers, online ingredient disclosure allows greater flexibility in terms of the extent and type of ingredient information, as well as how that information is accessed and presented. Read more
This installment of our Pillars of Leadership series explores Supply Chain Transparency.
You can’t act on what you don’t know. And if you can’t take informed action, you can’t innovate in smart and sustainable ways. A key step toward achieving industry leadership on chemicals is to gain a full understanding of the chemical supply chain.
Supply Chain Transparency informs a company’s decisions to effectively mitigate risk of current or pending chemical regulations (see here) and to efficiently allocate resources towards product innovation (see here). It also improves the data-set for product life cycle assessments, thereby yielding more firm-specific results. Above all, Supply Chain Transparency helps a company define and understand its starting point and its goals.
What does Supply Chain Transparency mean explicitly? EDF defines true transparency leadership as knowing the What, How Much, Why, and Who of the chemicals in one’s products. Read more