Walmart Makes Progress on Its Sustainable Chemistry Policy

Behind the Label_FIt’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.

casestudy-walmartWhile 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:

Can You Taste That Smell? Maybe You Don’t Want To.

Recently, SC Johnson took the next step in product transparency, becoming the first major player in the consumer goods industry to disclose 100 percent of fragrance ingredients for a product line – in this case, its Glade® Fresh Citrus Blossoms collection. Consumers can now see what chemicals make up these home fragrances by reading product packaging or visiting SCJ’s WhatsInsideSCJohnson.com ingredient website. Over time, the company will expand the disclosure to the rest of its air fresheners and other products.

WhatsInSCJohnsonThis is meaningful. Industry-wide, major consumer goods companies list fragrances in aggregate on an ingredient list, whereas in actuality, those fragrances are composed of many individual chemicals. Consumers deserve greater transparency.

As SCJ Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson noted, “… key to [making thoughtful ingredient choices] is continually challenging the status quo. By sharing the full ingredient list for this fragrance — all the way down to the component level — we’re going beyond the norm of even so-called ‘natural’ products.”

EDF has applauded SCJ’s efforts on fragrance disclosure in the past, and we encourage them to continue increasing transparency throughout its product line. Read more

Why EDF May Decline a Seat at the Consensus Standard Table

Have you ever looked at the tag on your power supply and wondered what all those symbols meant? Many of them represent a voluntary consensus standard designed to protect the safety and health of the user.

Since we believe these types of standards can serve a valuable purpose, we wanted to explain why and how we make the decision to participate – and why we and other NGOs recently withdrew from one such effort by NSF International, funded by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

LabelsConsensus Standards

Put simply, a voluntary consensus standard means a relevant and balanced group of stakeholders got together and reached agreement on how to do something voluntarily and consistently that serves national needs.

For example, NSF/ANSI Standard 61: Drinking Water System Components sets health effects criteria for many water system components such as pipes and faucets. Such standards, overseen by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), can create assurance that might otherwise require regulation.

As you’ll read below, the ANSI due process guidance for consensus standards require balance in the range of viewpoints considered. EDF increasingly finds itself invited to represent the public interest point of view. Read more

Consumers’ Changing Views on Food Safety, and the Opportunity for Action

Behind the Label_FConsumers demand safe food, and they prioritize purchasing from brands that they trust to be safe. The food industry knows this and wisely makes safety a top priority. But consumers’ definition of safety is changing, and the food industry needs to evolve its practices to keep pace with consumer demand.

Customers have traditionally defined safety as “free of harmful elements.” Last year, more than thirty-six percent of consumers said chemicals in their food was their top food safety concern. A new report from Deloitte, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) found that definition of safety has expanded — that consumers consider safety both a short-term (e.g., toxin free) as well as a long-term (e.g., no carcinogens) concern and, as a result, it aligns with their health and wellness concerns.

Deloitte-FMI-GMA-report-coverThis expanded definition of safety includes attributes such as clear and accurate labeling; clear information on ingredients, both label and sourcing; fewer ingredients, processing and no artificial additives; and better nutritional content.

The message is clear: Retailers and food manufacturers need to adapt, or they risk losing market share to competitors who meet evolving customer demands with safer ingredients and improved transparency.

Read more

What’s in Your Product’s Flavor? Here’s Why You Should Find Out.

Behind the Label_FAs we discuss frequently on this blog, maintaining transparency and control of your company’s supply chain can help limit potential risks to your business. With some food additives, however, transparency is not enough and certain chemicals should be removed from your products, or risk having to reformulate quickly at significant cost or having to recall products with those ingredients.

A set of seven carcinogenic flavor chemicals under review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers a good example of these risks. On Jan. 4, 2016, the FDA announced that it is considering whether to rescind its 1964 approval of – effectively banning – seven flavoring chemicals as food additives. Read more

Alternatives Assessment: A Key Tool for Safer Chemicals in Products

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.

Behind the Label - the blueprint for safer products in the marketplaceHowever, 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

Leading On Chemicals: Not Just by Example, But By Commitments

BtlHeadlinesFor a number of years in the environmental world, we’ve been able to talk about the public commitments companies are making – and achieving – with respect to impacts like greenhouse gas emissions and water usage. Lately, companies have begun to publicly discuss goals related to safer products, recognizing that safer chemicals are part of the sustainability conversation.

For example, in the food sector, companies have cracked opened the proverbial “kitchen door” and started to share with consumers what is not in their products. This glimpse into the food-making process comes in the form of public commitments made by more than 10 major food manufacturers and restaurants in 2015 alone to eliminate or reduce artificial colors and flavors. Similar activity is occurring elsewhere, like the electronics sector and personal care sector.

But, what is leadership when it comes to public commitments? Today, we tackle this question as part of our series on the leadership pillars for safer chemicals in the marketplace. In a nutshell, leadership on public commitment goes beyond a one-time publication of goals; it requires a company to make frequent, transparent communication about its safer chemicals journey. Three key actions companies can and should take:

  1. Publish a corporate chemicals policy
  2. Share progress and
  3. Communicate the process

Of course, going public has its challenges, such as opening the door to criticism. But, good things happen as well when a company goes public with its goals and journey.

A company can rally its supporters inside the company and supply chain. It can find new allies in the media, business, and non-profit worlds. It can build consumer confidence in its brand. Finally, being open about goals and the subsequent journey helps a company succeed in its quest to meet those goals.

Today we've updated our Behind the Label website to delve further into the elements of leadership on public commitment and the associated hurdles and opportunities.

In addition to outlining what leadership on public commitment means, we've started tracking the commitments some companies are making, so those newer to the process have a sense of where to get started. We're beginning with the food sector, where grocers, restaurants and food manufacturers have become increasingly vocal about the food additives they are eliminating.

Further reading to help you get Behind the Label:

Product Design: Where the Rubber Hits the Road on Safer Chemicals

Behind the Label_FThe 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:

  1. Establishing specific measurable objectives with timelines (e.g., percentage reduction of a target chemical by a certain time);
  1. 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);
  1. Identifying internal and external stakeholders that are needed to successfully meet objectives; and
  1. 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.

Powerful Business: The Lever for Change Across the Supply Chain

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.
-Archimedes

Sometimes when a problem seems too big, too ugly and too complex to handle, you need a lever to help move things along.  All of the big environmental problems we currently face fall into this category.

When it comes to tackling our planet’s biggest problems, there is a full spectrum of approaches and many different leverage points. For me, the most important lever is business. A thriving planet and a thriving economy don’t have to be at odds. EDF is focusing on helping businesses make their supply chains cleaner, more efficient and more profitable.

Working with powerful business has been a cornerstone of EDF’s approach ever since we launched our 1st partnership with McDonald’s 25 years ago. Since then, we have kick-started market transformations in fast food with McDonalds and Starbucks, shipping with FedEx, retail with Walmart, and private equity with KKR. With each partnership, we’ve worked to create new, sustainable demand signals that extend across the supply chain. When powerful business speaks, suppliers listen. EDF is helping the most impactful companies commit to selling sustainably-produced products, encouraging every supplier and producer contributing to those products to also adopt more sustainable practices. Read more

Securing Safer Chemicals in Food

Behind the Label - the blueprint for safer products in the marketplaceIt seems that almost every week, another major food company announces plans to remove artificial colors and flavors from their products. In the past six months, major food companies such as Nestle, General Mills, Kellogg's, Hershey’s and Campbell’s committed to reformulating many of their iconic brands to be free of artificial colors and  flavors. National restaurant chains such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway and Noodles & Company also made similar commitments. Tens of billions of dollars of products are being reformulated.

What’s driving all this change?

It turns out more and more Americans are concerned about what goes into their food, especially when it comes to the thousands of chemical additives—substances used to color, preserve, flavor, or emulsify food or to process or package food, like phthalates.

According to a May 2015 industry survey, 36% of consumers polled said chemicals in food was their most important safety issue for them and their families today — more than pesticides, animal antibiotics, undeclared allergens and pathogens. This is up from 9% in 2011. What’s more, 45% said they changed food purchases as a result of information they learned about chemicals, pesticide residues, and animal antibiotics.

woman reading labelAnother survey by CivicScience published the same month reported similar numbers with health concerns about preservatives and chemicals rating higher  than added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium. These weren’t urban foodies following the latest trends on social media: those most concerned were generally from rural areas, more likely to be influenced by TV news, and less likely to eat out or use social media. With numbers like these, no wonder the food industry is scrambling to respond.

There is good reason to be concerned about potentially unsafe chemicals in the food supply, and importantly, the problem extends well beyond whether an ingredient might be artificial. So, while these recent efforts to remove artificial ingredients respond to mounting consumer concerns, they won’t sate the consumer’s appetite for healthier and safer foods.

EDF is launching a new initiative to move potentially unsafe chemicals from the food supply by harnessing the transformative power of supply chains. EDF’s Behind the Label: A Blueprint for Safer Food Additives provides a roadmap for corporate leadership that moves companies from a reactionary response to artificial ingredients to a proactive approach to ensure safer, simpler food.  We’re excited to have Tom Neltner leading this new effort on safer chemicals in food.  Tom spent years investigating the safety of chemical food additives at the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be outlining the problem of potentially unsafe chemicals in food, the current state of the market response to rising concerns, and our vision for corporate leadership for safer chemicals in food.