EPA Relaunches SaferChoice Product Labeling Program

by Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., Health Scientist

SaferChoiceToday, the EPA Design for the Environment Program (DfE) Safer Choice program (formerly, the safer product labeling program) unveiled its newly redesigned family of three product labels. The voluntary Safer Choice program seeks to recognize and bring consumer awareness to those products whose chemical ingredients represent the safest among those within a particular chemical functional class (e.g., solvents).

Today’s milestone is the result of a public process led by the EPA DfE program to solicit feedback on a new label that better communicates the goals and purpose of the program. After more than a year, and 1,700 comments and six consumer focus groups later, the new labels will be arriving soon to a store shelf near you.  Read more

Leadership on Sustainability Must Include Helping Shape Smart Policy

This past year, we’ve seen some bold action by companies in what we’ve dubbed the business-policy nexus, and it’s taking several different forms. Some have been calling for state or federal action on environmental impacts, while others are taking far-reaching voluntary efforts that could help support policy advocacy in the future.

Whether you view engagement on public policy as risk mitigation, providing market certainty, supporting corporate sustainability goals or securing competitive advantage, leading businesses are increasingly stepping up their efforts to support smart policy reform that will benefit the environment and economy.

Keeping toxic chemicals out of supply chains

Walmart shopper

Walmart and Target are moving to proactively get harmful chemicals out of their supply chains, even though the nation’s main chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is outdated and hasn’t been reformed in nearly two decades.

Earlier this year, our long-term partner in this area, Walmart, took a big step forward by announcing a new sustainable chemicals policy focused on cutting 10 chemicals of concern from home and personal care products it sells. Chemicals of concern – for example, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen – have been found in about 40% of the formulated products on Walmart shelves, including things like household cleaners, lotions and cosmetics. Read more

Transparency Makes for Good Neighbors in Port Communities

Green Marine logo

Source: green-marine.org

Day-to-day operations at ports are often associated with negative impacts on public health. For example, heavy-duty equipment and on road trucks play a critical role in the movement of cargo around the globe, but they also emit diesel exhaust, a known carcinogen. There is certainly room for improvement, and some ports are making efforts to be good neighbors by increasing transparency with respect to their environmental performance.

I had an opportunity to learn about these leading ports at the Green Marine GreenTech 2014 conference, held in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. The purpose of Green Marine’s conference is to share both environmental successes and challenges, as well as to recognize participants (ship owners, ports, terminals, and shipyards in the US and Canada) for their leadership in the voluntary Green Marine environmental program. This program provides a framework for participants to identify specific environmental goals, establish baseline environmental metric values, self-report progress that is verified by a third-party, and earn recognition for their efforts. I wanted to share two notable examples of how some ports are opening their lines of communication and sharing their environmental performance.

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Walmart Puts Consumer Product Suppliers on Notice: The Chemical Phase-out Starts Now

By: Michelle Mauthe Harvey and Sarah Vogel

Today dozens of consumer product makers will get a letter from Walmart detailing new requirements on phasing out a list of toxic chemicals found in goods sold by the world’s largest retailer. The comprehensive initiative is by far the largest and most ambitious of its kind. It reflects a growing trend in which consumer and wholesale purchasing power are combining to change the chemical makeup of the products we see on store shelves and bring into our homes.


The policy and its implementation guide can be found here.

Walmart worked closely with vendors and non-profit advisors including Environmental Defense Fund. Together they spent several years developing the policy, and figuring out how to implement the unprecedented measures across a sprawling global supply chain with hundreds of suppliers. The solution had to be robust, credible and transparent. It also had to set an ambitious goal for suppliers without creating impossible hurdles. Read more

Guardian US Live Chat Recap: EDF, Walmart and Marc Gunther Evaluate the Sustainability Index

Last week, EDF Managing Director Elizabeth Sturcken joined Jeff Rice, Walmart’s director of sustainability, and Marc Gunther for a live chat broadcast on the Guardian US Sustainable Business Blog.

The discussion focused on Walmart’s Sustainability Index, which aims to set a sustainability standard for products by evaluating the company’s suppliers. With over 100,000 suppliers across the globe, this is quite the massive undertaking for the world’s largest retailer.

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Addressing Chemicals of Concern to Human Health and the Environment

Regrettable substitution. Informed substitution.

The first sounds like a problem – and it is. The second is the way you avoid the first.

In the world of consumer products made from mixtures of chemicals – baby lotion, shampoo, cleaners, laundry soap – chemists seek ingredients that are effective and feasible. What they too often don’t also consider are the hazardous properties of the chemical and its risk to people.  This is in part because most chemists are not trained in toxicology.  Further, many of the biological interactions between us and the ingredients in everyday products we use on our bodies and in our homes are only now being understood.  As our understanding has grown, groups such as EDF have called for the removal of some of the more concerning chemical ingredients from store shelves.

Working Toward Sustainability with Walmart

By: Michelle Harvey

For the last six years, I’ve lived in Bentonville, AR, working with Walmart,  whose global headquarters is located here. My job, in part, is to help the world’s largest retailer find ways to bring healthier products to market, by shining a light on the ingredients in products that EDF believes need to be replaced.Can a quality product contain a cancer-causing substance? I don’t think so. I’ve worked hard to convince Walmart of that, and together with my NGO colleagues offered alternatives that will result in an effective product, affordably priced, made with benign ingredients. The average Walmart supercenter carries hundreds of thousands of everyday products, from shampoo to eye shadow to baby lotion to spray cleaners. Change these products for the better – remove an unnecessary endocrine-disrupting fragrance enhancer, for example – and the health and environmental benefits can be huge.

How huge? We’re about to find out. On Sept. 12, Walmart announced a new chemicals policy intended to bring better ingredients into its home and personal care products, targeting an initial set of roughly ten common chemicals of concern for “continuous reduction, restriction and elimination.” More importantly, Walmart’s policy calls for suppliers to use informed substitution, meaning what goes into the redesigned product has to be better than what came out. It’s a first for any retailer.

The Road to Sustainability

My colleagues and I also work with Walmart  to make the company more sustainable – from the kinds of products it sells, to the ways that they transport those products, to recycling the materials its uses every day. But do sustainable products and sustainable operations bring us closer as a society to sustainable consumption? That is, can we continue to buy and use what we want, when we want it, and still guarantee that our great great grandchildren will be able to do the same?

Walmart is  a good place to start on the road toward true sustainability. After all, the world’s largest retailer – with some 220 million customers every week– is also the world’s largest customer, with more  than 100,000 suppliers that are eager to meet its needs and wants. So EDF began by helping Walmart develop a better list of wants, such as energy-efficient factories and food production using less water and fertilizer.

A related part of my job is to help Walmart move toward a corporate goal of zero waste – that is 100% beneficial reuse of everything Walmart uses in its daily operations. That means no dumping of stuff into landfills and no incineration.

What we’ve learned together is that there’s the easy stuff – give unused food to food banks, recycle shrink wrap and cardboard. And there’s dozens of other things that can be disassembled or recaptured or repurposed. But not everything is easy. The same things you can’t recycle at home – bathroom trash, broken items, food-contaminated packaging – are even tougher at Walmart scale. Finding ways to reuse things like that takes creativity and innovation.

My conclusion, as EDF and Walmart travel down this road toward sustainability, is that we have to get better and better at keeping materials in play. The longer we can use what’s already been extracted, grown or created, the less quickly we need to extract, grow or create more.

So that’s my goal. To get healthier, more sustainable products on store shelves in the short term, and, long term, to figure out how to use and reuse and recycle the stuff a consumer society produces in such abundance.

Thought for the day: Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.


Photo credit: Walmart Corporate via photopin cc 

What's In Your Home? New Walmart Policy Promises Safer Ingredients In Household And Personal Care Products

By: Sarah Vogel

This content was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

Ever worry about what's in that cleaner you just sprayed all over the house? What about the shampoo your kids use each night? Today, an overwhelming number of products on store shelves and in our homes contain chemicals known to pose health risks to humans. Thanks to a new chemicals policy just announced by Walmart, American consumers are a step closer to having safer, healthier items in their homes.

It may surprise you that Walmart is leading the retail industry in eliminating hazardous chemicals from household products. Under the guidance of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Walmart has committed to taking steps that will move the entire industry — from manufacturers to retailers — towards producing and stocking safer products on shelves across America.

At Walmart's Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting, the company unveiled a new policy on chemicals, calling for expanded ingredient disclosure and targeting about ten key chemicals of concern for substitution with safer ingredients. It also plans to take its private brand consumables products through a rigorous screening process for these chemicals.

The commitments made today will impact some 20 percent of the consumables sold at Walmart stores nationwide — the non-food products that you can pour, squeeze, dab or otherwise apply to your body or use in and around your home or car. This includes everyday products like shampoo, baby lotion, cosmetics, paint, spray cleaners and air fresheners.

Regardless of your views on the company, Walmart's ability to transform how business does business is unprecedented. EDF has been working with Walmart since 2006 to protect people and the environment. Harnessing the massive scale of Walmart's business to move hazardous chemicals out of the supply chain and off store shelves will have ripple effects across the entire industry.

Consumers today demand safer products; scientific research points to serious risks of chemical exposures to our health, including cancer, diabetes and infertility. Several years ago, EDF challenged Walmart to remove toxic chemicals from thousands of products on its shelves. Walmart's announcement marks an important step toward doing just that.

Since 2006, Walmart suppliers have submitted chemical ingredients for consumables to The Wercs, which allows Walmart to see exactly what chemicals are in suppliers' products. Using a screening tool called GreenWERCS, developed by a working group of industry, government and NGO representatives and co-chaired by EDF, Walmart will now be able to measure the progress it makes towards these commitments over time.

In our view, taking action on chemicals is a timely and practical response to growing public concern about toxic chemicals and public interest campaigns directed at many retailers and product manufacturers to remove hazardous ingredients from their products.

Over the past several years, major companies like SC Johnson, Johnson and Johnson, and most recently, Procter & Gamble — some of Walmart's biggest suppliers — have all taken steps to phase out hazardous chemicals.

This commitment promises to make thousands of healthier and safer products available to the 80 percent of Americans that shop at Walmart. It is a first and important step that must be followed through with meaningful implementation. At EDF, we will be closely monitoring and verifying the reduction of hazardous chemicals and shift to safer ingredients, ensuring the promise for healthier products becomes a reality.

This will not be achieved overnight or by one single retailer. Industry and government are both responsible for continuously improving the safety of chemicals in the products we bring into our homes every day. But Walmart's initiative marks a major step forward, and we hope to see other retailers follow suit.

EDF and Walmart: Changing the Retail Industry to Protect People and the Planet

Today, Walmart broadcast its Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting across the Web, giving audiences everywhere a peek into its journey to achieve its goal of selling “products that sustain people and the environment.”

Why wouldn’t a retailer sell products that sustain its customers (so they can continue shopping there) and its resources (so it can continue operating)?  In a perfect world, all companies would operate like this. That’s not the case though.

Aspirational goals like this are hard for any company, much less the world’s largest retailer.  Environmental Defense Fund has spent 25 years proving that good environmental strategy and profitability go hand in hand.

For Walmart—with up to half a million products in every store from more than 100,000 suppliers—product sustainability is a massive undertaking.

My colleagues and I have spent seven years on the ground with Walmart, driving sustainability initiatives from within. We even opened an office down the street from Walmart’s Headquarters in Arkansas.

As we commend Walmart on today’s Milestone announcements. What’s most exciting is the proof we are chipping away at this behemoth goal together and impacting the retail industry as a whole.

At today’s meeting, Walmart highlighted its progress on product sustainability and credited the newly launched Sustainability Index for delivering results.

We recently published a blog post reiterating the power of The Sustainability Index “to move entire industries to go beyond what is required by law, benefiting consumers, workers and the planet.”  Today, Walmart showed how The Sustainability Index is doing just that, especially in regards to the work we’ve done together on chemicals in consumer products and fertilizer use in agriculture.

Offering products to customers with safer chemicals

Walmart announced a new policy today that promises to bring safer, healthier products to the 80 percent of Americans that shop there. The policy focuses on chemical ingredients in consumables –household cleaners, personal care products and cosmetics. Walmart is calling for expanded ingredient disclosure, targeting about ten key chemicals of concern for substitution with better ingredients and looking to take its private brand products through a rigorous screening process.

EDF pushed hard for this policy, which sets a new standard for the retail industry and sends a strong signal to suppliers that it’s time to get serious about phasing out hazardous chemicals in products. Just last week, P&G announced that it has already begun doing this.

The potential impact of this commitment to get hazardous chemicals off the shelves of American stores is monumental, and American consumers will be safer for it.

Helping to optimize fertilizer use in agriculture

Groceries account for half of Walmart’s US sales. It’s no wonder that agriculture presents massive opportunity for the company to advance sustainability. In fact, fertilizer use is responsible for nearly half of Walmart’s carbon footprint in its supply chain. That’s why EDF has spent years working with farmers to optimize fertilizer use on farms, saving the farmer money and reducing environmental impacts. And it’s working! Walmart announced commitments from 15 suppliers to encourage better fertilizer use in their supply chain.  These changes will touch more than 30 percent of food and beverage sales in North America. That’s huge.

We can all celebrate the seven million metric tons of greenhouse gases that can be avoided by the agriculture initiatives discussed today, in addition to improving waterways and soil health.

The entire retail industry has a long way to go to truly sustainable products. Walmart has been steadily moving forward on this journey, and today’s announcements exemplify its leadership. EDF will continue to push these initiatives forward and track progress along the way.

Whether you shop at Walmart or not, these changes are bound to impact your shopping cart and improve the products in your family’s home.

Adventures in the Shipping Industry

Finally! There’s someone out there who is just as excited about shipping as I am.

Today, Rose George, a British journalist and author, releases what I think will be the blockbuster of the summer – Ninety Percent of Everythingzeroing in on the overlooked world of freight shipping. Or, what Ms. George refers to as “the foundation of our civilization.” I couldn’t agree more. Photo Credit: Amazon

Besides the fact that this book looks at the world of freight as a grand adventure full of perils and twists, I’m excited because now the mainstream can look at shipping and freight in terms of environmental effects.

Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how the clothes we wear, the food we eat and the TV’s we watch get from wherever they were created into our lives. I, however, do.  And now so does Ms. George.

Our growing demand for products at competitive prices has put a ton of pressure on the freight industry. This demand has in turn driven up global freight emissions – to the tune of nearly three billion metric tons of heat-trapping carbon emissions each year. That’s equal to over 700 coal plants.

Looking at just the shipping industry, according to this book, if you added shipping to the list of the world's most carbon polluting countries, shipping would come in sixth place. This is despite the fact that shipping is the most carbon-efficient way to move products long distances.

The shipping industry often points to this last fact, but the kicker of the environmental impact of these ships is their direct impact on human health. These vessels run on low grade “residual fuel” or “bunker fuel.” This fuel contains sulfur levels 1,800 times greater than U.S. law allows for other diesel engines. These ships are also a significant source of smog-forming oxides of nitrogen.

Dr. Elena Craft, a health scientist with EDF, has noted that “the dangerous air pollution from these floating smokestacks is a threat to tens of millions of Americans who live and work along our coastlines.”

It is because of this impact that the U.S. established an Emission Control Area (ECA) within 200 nautical miles of U.S. coastlines. Within the ECA, large ocean-going ships must now use cleaner fuel and — starting in 2016 — achieve an 80 percent reduction in smog-forming oxides of nitrogen (NOx).

This ECA provides the strongest clean air standards available under international law for ships, slashing ozone-forming and particulate pollution from oceangoing vessels and saving up to 14,000 lives a year by 2020 and 30,000 lives by 2030.

I agree with Elena’s sentiment that “America has the ingenuity to meet these vitally important clean air standards and protect human health and the environment from the serious impacts associated with shipping pollution.”

The shipping industry is a true marvel of modern society. It enables all of us to obtain a higher standard of living because it fosters international trade. It also has a significant environmental footprint.

Our demand for global goods isn’t going to diminish. So, we need to find a way to address the freight industry’s environmental impact.  At EDF we’re doing what we do best. We’re actively supporting the development and enforcement of the emission control areas; piloting innovative programs to clean-up our nation’s ports; and we are working with some of the largest companies relying on freight to find ways to reduce emissions throughout their operations.

I’m excited to buy Rose George’s new book today and get a peek inside the fascinating system.  And, it’s the freight system, of course, that I’m relying on to get the book to my local bookstore.

For more cocktail party tidbits from Ninety Percent of Everything, check out these 10 fascinating facts.