5 Things Companies Can Do to Ensure Safer Products in the Marketplace

Tens of thousands of chemicals are used to make consumer products, with more entering the marketplace each year. Many chemicals are now detected routinely in indoor air, food, drinking water, house dust – and our bodies. Research has linked certain chemicals to negative health impacts ranging from cancer to abnormal development of our reproductive systems, while most chemicals lack adequate health and safety data entirely. Too often harmful substances like lead, asbestos and toxic flame retardants persist in the market – and environment – for years before action is taken. We need a new marketplace paradigm. We need companies, from chemical makers to consumer product manufacturers to retailers, to be leaders in fostering the healthy, sustainable world we all deserve.

Why companies should lead

Resiliency is the ability to successfully adapt to anything that can disrupt your system or way of life. It’s a concept that applies in the physical world and in the business world. Leading on safer chemicals improves a company’s ability to bear chemical regulations, product liability occurrences, product recalls, and other costly externalities typically not factored into the chemical selection process during product development. Resiliency helps a company mitigate costs and stay competitive.

To maintain market longevity, companies need to keep a pulse on consumer needs and regularly innovate to meet those needs. Today’s consumers want to know what’s in their products, and they want safer ingredients. Increased innovation and uptake of safer ingredients in new products can help companies meet consumer demand, stay relevant, and achieve competitive advantage.

What does leadership look like?

For 25 years, EDF has worked with corporate partners from McDonalds to AT&T to spread practices that are good for business and the environment. In working with companies like Walmart and the multitude of businesses that form its supply chain, we’ve discovered a basic blueprint for advancing safer chemicals in the marketplace. Our blueprint for safer chemicals in the marketplace is defined by five key pillars of leadership.

Pillars of Leadership for Safer Chemicals in the Marketplace

  1. Institutional Commitment – As with any business initiative, successful outcomes require strong commitment and support from leaders across the organization – from the C-suite to middle management. Solid commitment from company executives and management in key business divisions is the only way to ensure that staff will be afforded the steady support and resources they need to be successful. This should be manifested in a written corporate chemicals policy.  Learn more.
  1. Supply Chain Transparency – Before a manufacturer or retailer can flesh out its plan to introduce safer products, the company needs to understand the product's starting point. A product manufacturer needs to have a clear picture of the chemicals used to make its products, just as a retailer needs to know the chemicals contained in the products it sells. This information provides much needed clarity into the areas of greatest risk, the scope of future work and a means for measuring and monitoring progress. Learn more.
  1. Informed Consumers – Sharing ingredient information with consumers is a key aspect of leadership. It shows that a company embraces and executes on the philosophy that consumers have the right to know what’s in the products they buy. Additionally, consumer transparency fosters accountability within the company to make informed decisions about the ingredients and products they buy, sell and design to meet customer demands for increased product safety and sustainability. Learn more.
  1. Safer Chemicals Plan – To achieve industry leadership, a company must create and implement a Safer Chemicals Plan. This plan is the roadmap for bringing safer chemicals into products or stores and phasing out hazardous chemicals. It provides the structure for evaluating chemical safety with respect to workers, neighboring communities and consumers; prioritizing, managing and eliminating chemicals of concern; and evaluating, determining and introducing safer alternatives. The plan also provides a basis for communication with suppliers, customers and consumers. Learn more.
  1. Public Commitment – Effective communication of the company's policy, timelines and progress towards goals can garner support from the general public. Telling the story about the journey – and the pitfalls along the way – can be just as powerful as sharing success stories. Going public can make the journey easier: it can reinforce internal alignment on the goals and spur the innovation of safer chemicals needed to create higher quality products. Going public can also lead to useful partnerships or engagements with organizations, which can provide companies with additional expertise or best practices. Learn more.

Behind the Label: The Blueprint for Safer Chemicals in the Marketplace

The companies that adopt these five pillars of leadership for safer chemicals in the marketplace will revolutionize how business is done.  And in doing so, they will remain relevant, resilient, and ultimately ahead of the competition.

There is no right way to start building these pillars of leadership.  Achieving industry leadership on safer chemicals is an iterative process.  Insights gained while tackling one pillar can inform and improve action on another.  What is essential is to make a start, to begin building these pillars and striving towards leadership.

Are you ready?

Behind the Label: the Blueprint for Safer Chemicals in the Marketplace

Behind the Label - the blueprint for safer chemicals in the marketplaceIf you’re in the business of using chemicals to make consumer products – things like shampoo or baby lotions, spray cleaners or laundry soap – the last few years have likely been anything but dull. State legislatures have been passing laws restricting certain chemicals from products; consumers are demanding more transparency about product ingredients; and some of the nation’s biggest retailers, including Walmart and Target, have issued chemical policies of their own.

Having worked for years to reduce the public’s exposures to hazardous chemicals and drive incentives for safer innovations in chemistry, Environmental Defense Fund is encouraged to see the growing demand for ingredient transparency and chemical safety. But for companies impacted by these new policies, adjusting to new demands may be challenging. As a business strategy, waiting to respond to the next chemical of concern or the next regulatory action, as opposed to taking proactive steps to improve transparency and chemical safety, is an unsustainable means for addressing risk.

What if your company didn’t have to worry about the next retailer’s list of priority chemicals, the next set of state or federal policy changes or regulations, or the next chemical of concern du jour to light up social media outlets?

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.