Walmart’s 2025 Sustainability Goals: My Three Takeaways

Amidst the noise in the run-up to the election, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon will map out the company’s sustainability goals for the year 2025 later today. As a keynote speaker at this year’s Net Impact Conference, he'll be delivering a fairly lengthy, aspiration list; here are a few highlights of what the world’s largest retailer has planned:ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377

  • 50% renewable Energy
  • 18% absolute emissions reduction Scopes 1+2
  • 1 Gigaton emissions reduction Scope 3
  • Zero waste to landfill by 2025
  • Zero net deforestation in key commodities
  • 100% recyclable packaging in private brands

As a director of the NGO that has worked closely* with Walmart on their sustainability journey over the last ten years, here are my initial, big takeaways:

Walmart can’t accomplish such ambitious goals alone. Which is good.

Getting to 50% renewables, reducing absolute emissions from their stores and trucks, and removing a gigaton of GHG emissions from their supply chain are exactly the kinds of leadership goals Walmart should be putting forth to help meet the challenge of climate change.

But, actually delivering on these goals will be no joke. Luckily, our 25 years of working with companies has consistently revealed two, important guideposts:

  • specific, ambitious goals are vital for driving innovation and progress;
  • achieving real, science-based results truly takes a village of collaborators.

To give just one example, three years ago Walmart set a policy to eliminate eight of the most prevalent and concerning chemicals in their home and personal care products. With no clear path forward, Walmart engaged thousands of suppliers, requiring them to submit full product formulations to a 3rd-party database, then replace those eight ingredients with safer substitutes.

The result? A 95% reduction in chemicals of concern, adding up to 23 million pounds.  This affects 90,000 products that are sold everywhere, not just on the shelves at Walmart. At the same time, this work also helped to set the stage for this year’s passage of The Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, the first piece of environmental legislation in a generation aimed at fixing our broken system of regulating toxic chemicals.

By aiming big and bringing on strategic partners, Walmart was able to go further, faster than they’d ever dreamed. The same holds true now.

Corporate sustainability is officially a trend.

Walmart’s announcement is just the latest in a string of other companies—PepsiCo, Kellogg, General Mills—who have also put forth ambitious sustainability goals. What this tells us is that companies are proving, over and over again, that this is not about “doing the right thing,” it’s about doing what creates business value and environmental progress.

As if to prove this point, last month Doug McMillon talked publicly about how sustainability is a core part of their business strategy during an investor call. In this first-time-event-for-a-Walmart-CEO, he emphasized to Wall Street that one of the four ways that Walmart will win in the 21st century: lead on sustainability by being “the most trusted retailer” and call out progress on making products like shampoo and lotion safer, healthier and better for the planet**, increasing renewables and reducing waste.

Sustainability is finally being seen for what it is: a smart business strategy. In a world of decreasing resources and consumers that want better products, there’s no other path forward in the long term.  And, looking around at what’s happening, the long term is here!

The election is finally (almost) over. Now let’s get back to work.

This election has shown that people want change.  It’s been scary and unsettling but it’s a challenge we can’t shrink from. We have healing to do as a country, which can only begin if we engage with each other. Climate change and its effects are going to get worse before they get better.  Just look at this summer’s fires in California, the hurricane in Haiti, the floods in Louisiana and North Carolina…

I know there’s another path forward.

Having worked with companies over the last 25 years doing what many thought was impossible, I have hope.  These corporate leaders aren’t waiting for regulation to force them to act, but are choosing to consciously, aggressively become more sustainable. And, I’m inspired by companies doing the hard work to think beyond their corporate walls and take ownership for the impact of the products they make and sell in the world.

The scary truth is,  business won’t know exactly how to achieve the aspirational goals we need for our planet and for long-term business viability mean that.  That forces an openness to innovation and requires bringing suppliers and customers in as partners to achieve those goals.

So congratulations, Walmart, on setting aggressive yet achievable goals for 2025—and doing what the science tells us needs to get done for a stable and healthy planet. You have a proven track record of meeting and exceeding big sustainability goals. We expect the same here.

* EDF takes no money from our corporate partners—we are funded solely through grants, donations and membership.  We like to say we get paid in environmental results.

** I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that while Walmart is committing to healthy products in their 2025 goals, we are disappointed to not see further goals on the path to becoming a “toxic free” store.

 

Panera Bread tackles “clean” food – and means it

Panera BreadLast June, fast-casual restaurant chain Panera Bread announced that it would do away with the remaining artificial preservatives, flavors, sweeteners and colors from artificial sources in its Panera at Home products. The company expects to make its entire portfolio of nearly 50 grocery items “clean,” meaning free of its “No No List” additives, by the end of 2016.

"Cleaning" up its Panera at Home product line comes in addition Panera’s 2014 commitment  to remove the “No No list” ingredients from all restaurant food offerings within the same time frame and adhere to other criteria of its “Food Policy”.

Panera has consistently run far ahead of their competitors, and they’ve done it in five key areas where companies can lead on chemicals: institutional commitment, supply chain transparency, informing consumers, public commitment, and product design. Panera set such a good example of leadership in making safer food available to their customers that we’ve developed a case study to showcase Panera’s approach and results to date.

EDF worked with Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy, to develop the case study, who offered many insights into their process. For example, on Panera’s decision to expand its commitment to include retail food, Burnett shared that, “Much of the work that we’ve done to simplify recipes in our bakery-cafes has set a standard for Panera at Home products. However, the challenges in the consumer packaged goods space are unique, where artificial additives have long been used to preserve taste and appearance. For us, the answer was often simple. For instance, we decided early on to use refrigeration to help extend shelf life for products like our soups and salad dressings. Where necessary, we’ve relied on natural preservatives – such as rosemary extract – to do the job.”

Panera started that process by looking at every ingredient used in their food and deciding what was essential. Once that determination was made, Panera identified more than 150 food additives to be prohibited in their food after 2016. Of approximately 450 ingredients they manage, roughly one-third needed reformulation.

Out of several hundred suppliers, only one walked away as a result of the new guidelines. In addition, the deep dive into Panera’s sources and potential replacement options also surfaced opportunities for improvement. As a result, many of the suppliers found that they not only strengthened their relationship with Panera, but developed better business offerings for their other customers.

While a limited number of categories still require change – sweets and fountain sodas among them – Panera has overcome many of its toughest challenges. For example, broccoli cheddar soup took 60 revisions to meet customer expectations in taste tests. Many items, from candy pieces to mozzarella cheese, are now differently colored from their predecessors but meet Panera’s clean criteria and customer preferences. Two products – pepperoncini and white pastry cream – have been unable to meet both Panera’s and customers’ expectations, and will likely be removed from the menu come 2017.

Sales numbers would indicate that customers are also pleased. In July 2016, Panera Chairman and CEO Ron Shaich said “Our strong Q2 results reinforce the fact that our strategy is working and our initiatives are performing. Panera is becoming a better competitive alternative with expanded runways for growth. At a time when other restaurant companies are feeling the impact of a slowing consumer environment, we are maintaining our momentum.”

Or as Burnett puts it, “When we meet customer needs and expectations, sales follow.”

Panera is not alone in their efforts, but they are definitely among the leaders. Since Panera announced its comprehensive food policy in June of 2014, more than a dozen major food manufacturers and restaurants have also made public commitments to reduce or eliminate artificial flavors and colors from their brands.

Learn more about how food companies can lead on safer chemicals management with our blueprint for safer food additives, part of EDF’s Behind the Label initiative.

Follow Michelle Harvey at @MMHarvey

 

For FDA reviews of “generally recognized as safe” ingredients, time is not an issue­­

Behind the Label_FIn our work with retailers and food manufacturers, EDF strongly recommends submitting all ingredients for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety review, especially those additives deemed ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS). This includes things such as flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and the like. If an unreviewed ingredient is identified in a recipe, we also recommend that the grocer or manufacturer require the supplier to send the ingredient through an FDA GRAS review.

One question we often get is, “Doesn’t that take a long time?” Quite simply, the answer is no. But some players in the food industry try to perpetuate that myth so they can continue to self-certify safety and bypass FDA’s scrutiny.

GRASIn the 2014 report, “Generally Recognized as Secret: Chemicals Added to Food in the United States,” more than fifty companies were shown to be deliberately avoiding FDA reviews of 275 chemical additives marketed for food uses. On their own, the companies determined that the substances’ uses were GRAS, without making the safety assessment of the chemical publicly available or submitting it for review by FDA. It’s tough to imagine how it could be “generally recognized” if the safety studies are kept secret.

One reason these companies gave for avoiding the agency’s review: FDA is too slow, resulting in delays in product marketing and sales.

So, are FDA reviews so long as to justify bypassing the agency? Read more

Is Walmart a Leader on Safer Chemicals?

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.

Read more

Product Ingredients at Walmart Changed for the Better. Really.

It’s whack-a-mole time.

In April, Walmart released their 2016 Global Responsibility Report. In it, they noted a 95% reduction by weight in the approximately ten high priority chemicals in home and personal care products covered by their 2013 Sustainable Chemistry policy. Ninety-five percent is a big number, but the substance – the chemical names, the volumes – was missing.

No longer.

Today, Walmart released the names of those high priority chemicals, with details as to how the reductions were achieved. The chemicals – butylparaben, propylparaben, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, formaldehyde, nonylphenol ethoxylates, triclosan, and toluene – will not come as a surprise to most who work on these issues; these chemicals have been called out for action by many for quite some time.

Scale_Blog-Graphic

If this announcement is met like most environmental stories told by corporations, the mole-whacking will commence shortly. WHACK! Why these chemicals and not those? WHACK! What took so long? WHACK! What about everything else? While companies that do nothing will stay in the shadows, those like Walmart trying to drive needed change usually get whacked for what they haven’t done already.

And of course a lot still remains to be done.

But this story is a good one, and Walmart deserves credit for what they have accomplished. Walmart is the one company in the world that could drive drive over 11,500 tons – 23 million pounds – of chemicals out of so much product in less than 24 months.

Read more

Major Strides: Walmart Details Progress on Chemicals

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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:

  1. to increase transparency of product ingredients,
  2. to advance safer formulations of products, and
  3. 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

  1. “Transparency”:

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.

  1. “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[1] 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.

  1. “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.

Conclusion

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.

In our next post, we’ll assess where Walmart’s progress rates against EDF’s five pillars of leadership for safer chemicals in the marketplace.


[1] 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.”

Further Reading:

With Chemical Safety Reform Passed, What’s Next for Companies?

michelle_harveyHistory was made this week. Major environmental legislation was signed into law for the first time in nearly 25 years, updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the primary U.S. chemical safety law, and putting in place a new foundation of federal oversight for chemicals being used in the marketplace. It took the right conditions and a lot of hard work – including bold action from the retail and manufacturing sectors to answer consumers’ call for safer products – to get here.

Now, as this new law gets implemented, industry is headed for a new status quo on how chemicals are evaluated and approved for use. What does that mean for those companies already on the safer chemicals journey?

Safer Chemicals in Supply Chains

Fertile Ground for Safer Products

This new piece of legislation –The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – amends for the first time the core provisions of TSCA, originally passed in 1976.  It requires new chemicals to clear a safety bar before entering the market, and mandates safety reviews of all existing chemicals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Many consumers assume this has been occurring all along. If a product has reached a retailer’s shelves, someone must have reviewed its chemical ingredients for safety, right? But this hasn’t been the case. When TSCA was signed into law, it grandfathered in the 64,000 chemicals then in use as “safe.”  The law didn’t mandate review of new chemicals entering the market, either. And it put the entire burden on EPA to find evidence of harm in order to restrict market entry. The updated law will for the first time give EPA the authority and resources to review both new and existing chemicals and make affirmative decisions about their safety, along with new authority to more easily obtain information necessary for conducting these reviews.

Under the Lautenberg Act, EPA will first focus on “high priority” chemicals, such as those classified as known human carcinogens, highly toxic, persistent in the environment or bioaccumlative (able to build up in the bodies of animals). In assessing the safety of chemicals, EPA must consider risks to vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant women. EPA can only consider the health and environmental impacts of the chemical—leaving consideration of costs or availability of alternatives to the next step when EPA is determining how to manage a chemical’s risks. The law also puts strong new limits on what information can qualify as ‘confidential business information,’ striking a balance between the public’s right to know about chemicals to which they may be exposed, and proprietary interests in chemical information important, for example, to innovation. Read more

Consumer Concern About Chemicals in Food Continues to Grow

Behind the Label_FFor 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.).

food-survey-graphics_block_2_croppedFor 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

Making Strides on Companies’ Chemical Footprints

Behind the Label_FAs 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

Chemical Footprint Project logoThe 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:

  1. Chemicals management strategy (i.e. corporate chemicals policies),
  2. Chemical inventory (i.e. knowing the chemicals used in products, manufacturing processes and supply chains),
  3. 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
  4. 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

Making Informed Choices about Chemical Substitutes: The Path Less Traveled

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.

Behind the Label_FBuyer 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