There was some good news from the U.S. Energy Information Agency recently. It found that the Clean Trucks program, which is expected to be jointly finalized this summer by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), will deliver huge carbon emission reductions.
The Clean Trucks program is designed to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas pollution from the freight trucks that transport the products we buy every day, as well as buses, heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, and garbage trucks. The program’s first performance standards went into effect in 2014. The EPA and DOT are currently developing a second phase of performance standards. Strong standards can help keep Americans safe from climate change and from unhealthy air pollution, reduce our country’s reliance on imported oil, and save money for both truckers and consumers. Read more
For the second year in a row, more than a third of consumers participating in the annual food industry survey rated chemicals in food as their most important food safety issue. Every year for the past decade, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) has surveyed more than 1,000 Americans aged 18-80, to gain insight into their attitudes towards food and diet. Although the way they have polled on these topics has changed over the years, the research shows a clear and steady rise in the number of Americans concerned about chemicals in their food.
In 2016, IFIC broke down the ‘chemicals in food’ option from 2015 into more specific concerns: chemicals in food (arsenic, mercury, BPA); carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals in food; and food additives and ingredients (caffeine, MSG, flavors, colors, preservatives, etc.).
For 38 percent of the respondents, these three specific sub-categories of chemicals in food combined were the most important food safety issue, a two-point jump since last year. And these concerns are being felt in the market: 40% of consumers who stated that chemicals were of great concern to them reported changing their eating habits.
Growing concern driving food supply chain changes
Consumers’ growing concern about chemicals reflects an increased awareness about the harmful effects they may have on human health and, importantly, a shift in how consumers are defining the issue of “safety” in food. As we reported a few months ago, a report from Deloitte, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association found that consumers are increasingly concerned about the short-term health effects of chemicals in food (e.g., no toxins) as well as the long-term effects (e.g. no carcinogens).
To their credit, the food industry is beginning to respond to these concerns. Read more
Why is it that some environmentalists feel the need to play whack-a-mole whenever a leading brand peeks its head above the fray to publicly declare a corporate sustainability achievement?
I’m not going to cite specifics – just look at the comments section of any major news outlet covering a big brand sustainability announcement – but I do want to address the negative impact this has on business stepping up for the environment.
As an environmental NGO with a history of working in the trenches with powerful businesses, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) often gets to play the mole role. We’ve endured our share of slings and arrows since first partnering with McDonald’s over 25 years ago, so I can empathize with companies who are reticent to step up and publicly acknowledge the sustainability work they are doing.
EDF has thick skin and a singular mission to forge solutions that help people and nature thrive. It’s not always the same for major brands that have to balance the needs of shareholders, suppliers, employees, communities, and yes, the planet. It’s difficult to step forward and share sustainability stories when doing so invites backlash. I get it.
While environmentalists push for change in corporate business and policy practices, we must also adjust our attitudes in working with and encouraging those businesses who are trying to make a difference.
Basic behavioral psychology leads me to believe that if we want more major companies innovating, executing and sharing best corporate sustainability practices, the whack-a-mole approach needs to stop. Read more
As we’ve written here before, public commitment is one of the essential pillars of leadership on safer chemicals. When a company leads on public commitment, that means communicating not just its initial goal-setting, but its full safer chemicals journey, publicly and honestly.
That’s no small task. The rise of shareholder resolutions across a wide range of sectors shows that investors and purchaser communities are becoming increasingly interested in how companies manage chemicals and mitigate risk. With the release of its inaugural report, one organization is throwing a spotlight on companies that are not just making, but following through on, those commitments.
Ingredients for measuring your (chemical) footprint
The Chemical Footprint Project (CFP) recognizes companies that have effectively demonstrated public commitment to improved chemicals management. A joint effort launched in June 2015 by Clean Production Action, Pure Strategies and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the CFP was created as a simple way for investors and purchasers to assess these critical aspects of corporate value.
The CFP’s evaluation system was designed to be flexible and can be used for any business sector, from personal care products to toys. Using a twenty question survey, the CFP assesses companies’ performance in four areas:
- Chemicals management strategy (i.e. corporate chemicals policies),
- Chemical inventory (i.e. knowing the chemicals used in products, manufacturing processes and supply chains),
- Chemical footprint measurement (i.e. knowing the mass of chemicals of high concern in a company’s products and packaging, processes, and supply chain and tracking progress toward safer alternatives), and
- Public disclosure and verification.
A company’s performance is scored on a 100-point scale, with a bonus for verification – respondents receive up to 4 points for independent validation of reported data.
Breaking down CFP’s findings
Last week, the CFP released its inaugural report, with 24 companies from seven sectors participating. Though individual company scores are presented without identification, CFP’s initial report reveals many interesting themes: Read more
Finding substitute chemicals for ingredients either known to be harmful or with unknown safety information can be a case of swapping the devil you know for the devil you don't, a recent report found.
“Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA and Regrettable Substitutes Found in the Linings of Canned Foods,” an extensive report by five public interest groups, documents the persistent use of bisphenol-A, or BPA, as a base ingredient for lining metal cans. Because of its endocrine-disrupting properties and other associated health risks, BPA has been the focus of a major federal research project and public campaigns to eliminate its uses in contact with food. Despite those efforts, 67% of tested cans still contain the chemical.
Equally troubling is that the report found four chemical types used in alternative can coatings – acrylic resins, oleoresin, polyester resins and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) copolymers. These chemicals not only were approved for uses decades ago with little to no data, but some have less-than-perfect safety profiles. This lack of innovation raises questions about the food industry’s use of informed substitutions.
Gauging alternative chemicals
In 2013, a group of more than 100 representatives of business, universities and NGOs published The Commons Principles for Alternatives Assessment, a broad consensus around simple, solutions-based guidance to move hazardous chemicals out of the supply chain and drive in safer innovations.
Key elements of informed decision-making that companies should use in choosing alternative product ingredients include reducing hazard, minimizing exposure, using the best available information, requiring disclosure and transparency, resolving trade-offs and taking action. While they were developed for chemicals in consumer products, these same principles apply to chemicals in food—or food additives— as well. In 2014, the National Academy of Sciences expanded these principles into its framework for chemical alternatives selection.
What’s in a can (liner)?
How do the food packaging industry’s choices and decision-making in replacing BPA measure up against the alternatives assessment principles listed above? According to the Buyer Beware report, not very well. Read more
EDF Vice President, Health Sarah Vogel accepts EDF's Safer Choice Partner of the Year award
With so many vague claims and misleading labels on products in the marketplace, it’s no surprise that consumers are increasingly calling for safer products and greater transparency with regard to product ingredients. That’s why we at EDF were proud to share the stage at the EPA’s 2016 Safer Choice Partner of the Year awards ceremony yesterday with companies, trade groups, and other NGOs working to do just that.
EDF was recognized alongside other Safer Choice Partner of the Year awardees for “demonstrated leadership in furthering safer chemistry and products.” Among the 17 corporate winners were chemical makers, product manufacturers and retailers like BISSELL Homecare, The Clorox Company, Seventh Generation, BASF Corporation, Ecolab and Wegmans Food Markets, all of whom have submitted products or chemicals for certification under the Safer Choice label.
Consumer health is one of the most pressing – and frequently, less recognized – areas of corporate sustainability, and one where driving adoption of safer practices takes both ambition and leadership. We are gratified to see such a diverse range of corporations take significant steps to introduce safer chemicals into the marketplace and for organizations like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Healthy Schools Campaign to lend their support and encouragement.
Every product labeled under the Safer Choice certification program makes the marketplace a little safer and our jobs as advocates for consumer safety a little easier. Read more
A question for forward-thinking business executives: if you could do something that would directly reduce more than 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of water usage, and two-thirds of tropical forest loss globally… wouldn’t you do it?
The answer: yes, of course you would! That’s why you’re forward-thinking!
That’s also why Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been working in supply chains (for years) to improve the impacts of the global production and use of consumer goods.
Those impacts are huge. Really getting at them, unfortunately, has not been so easy. The excuse that we’ve heard over and over again boils down to “you can’t manage what you can’t see.” Basically, while most companies’ impacts are in their supply chain, most businesses have very little knowledge of how those supply chains actually function. And, the further up in the chains you go, the less visibility there is.
EDF has a lot of first-hand experience with this: after years of on-the-ground work with farmers, our Ecosystems team knows precisely how difficult it is to capture impacts at the farm level. Despite the on-farm benefits of optimizing fertilizer use in cost savings, reduced greenhouse gases and increased water quality, fewer than 20 % of companies collect this data.
How do I know that statistic? Because The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) has just released Greening Global Supply Chains: From Blind Spots to Hot Spots to Action, their first-ever impact report. It’s full of stunning data about the huge weight that consumer goods place on people and the planet. Since it covers more than 80% of consumer goods product categories, it is the comprehensive way to understand environmental hot spots in global supply chains.
Which means the “no visibility” excuse is now officially over. Read more
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:
The Clean Power Plan (CPP) is topping the news as major coalitions of supporters have filed amicus briefs with the D.C. Circuit Court. With leading brands like Google, Apple, Adobe, Amazon, IKEA, Mars and Microsoft all stepping up and voicing support, you might wonder – what’s in it for them?
The plan, which will lower the carbon emissions from existing power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, is a practical, flexible way for the U.S. to cut climate pollution and protect public health. President Obama has called it "the single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change.”
It’s encouraging to see many states, cities, power companies, public health and medical associations, and environmental organizations continue to push for smart environmental policy. The full list of Clean Power Plan supporters is here.
We are particularly excited about the range of private sector support for the Clean Power Plan.
When it’s fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan will create $155 billion in consumer savings—putting more money back into the pockets of customers. And, a successful Clean Power Plan will help companies meet their renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction targets.
What’s in it for Companies? Here's what the Clean Power Plan will provide: Read more
As the legal briefings pile up over the Clean Power Plan (CPP), I’m inspired by the growing number of companies and business organizations standing up for the most significant step in U.S. history toward reducing climate pollution.
The bar continues to rise for companies that want to lead on sustainability, and it’s great to see companies aligning their corporate sustainability strategy and policy advocacy. Today’s corporate-led amicus briefs in support of the Clean Power Plan and smart climate policy are the latest example.
IKEA, Mars, Blue Cross Blue Shield MA and Adobe (collectively called Amici Companies) praised the EPA’s Clean Power Plan as a viable solution that will create market certainty and directly benefit their organizations. “It is important to the Amici Companies that they reduce their carbon footprints by procuring their electricity from zero- and low-emitting greenhouse gas (GHG) sources, not only to be good stewards of the environment, but to also because it preserves their economic interests.”
Tech industry leaders Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft (collectively called Tech Amici) also threw their weight behind the plan, saying, “delaying action on climate change will be costly in economic and human terms, while accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy will produce multiple benefits with regard to sustainable economic growth, public health, resilience to natural disasters, and the health of the global environment.”
These leading companies represent half a trillion dollars in revenue, demonstrating robust business sector support for the Clean Power Plan. Their filings continue the important momentum started in July 2015 by 365 companies and investors that sent letters to governors across the U.S. stating their support as being “firmly grounded in economic reality.” Read more