Tens of thousands of chemicals are used to make the numerous products we use every day, yet regulatory oversight of the health and safety of these chemicals is severely lacking. Research has detected a number of these chemicals in our environment, homes, and bodies. At the same time, research has also linked a number of chemicals to disorders and disease such as asthma and cancer. Consumer concern is growing. With major retailers like Walmart, Target and CVS making public commitments to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals, chemical manufacturers and consumer product companies are hearing loud and clear the need for stronger policy solutions and market demand for safer chemical innovation.
EDF developed these case studies to highlight examples of innovative chemistries developed in response to demands for safer chemical ingredients in consumer products. The efforts of a leading brand and a chemical manufacturer – two ends of the consumer product value chain – are provided here. We explore the motivation behind their product innovations and reformulations, what the innovations allowed the companies to achieve, and the impact of these innovations on their business and sector. These are not endorsements but rather an exploration of how companies are approaching safer chemistry innovation.
What We Discovered
A number of interesting results emerge from these case studies:
- Products designed to better protect human health can be economically successful.
- There is more than one way to resolve the same problem.
- Getting innovations to the market requires cooperation across the supply chain. Sometimes it requires external forces to set the right marketplace conditions.
- Reformulations can be cost-neutral despite changing suppliers and/or processing facilities.
A Snapshot of Each Case Study
In this case study we look at chemical manufacturer AkzoNobel’s work to create ingredients that have improved human health and environmental profiles. We learn how regulatory developments aided in the commercialization of AkzoNobel’s Dissolvine as a phosphate-free chelate in automatic dishwashing detergent. AkzoNobel collaborated with its customers and sought input from regulators to develop testing methods to examine Dissolvine’s biodegradability and human health profile. For the full case study, click here.
In this case study, we learn about Seventh Generation’s work to replace a common surfactant used in cleaning products, Sodium Laurel Ether Sulfate (SLES). Production of SLES generates the contaminant 1,4 dioxane, a probable human carcinogen, that is then transferred to products. Seventh Generation succeeded in replacing SLES with the non-ethoxylated surfactant Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS), which is not accompanied by the 1,4 dioxane contaminant. Seventh Generation’s efforts resulted in a better-performing product and maintained sales. After launch and continued public concern about 1,4 dioxane, competitors of Seventh Generation announced their own plans to reduce 1,4 dioxane in their products. For the full case study, click here.
We will be updating our Behind the Label series of blogs and case studies in the coming months and we invite you to join in the conversation.
Bornehag CG et al. 2004. The association between asthma and allergic symptoms in children and phthalates in house dust: a nested case–control study. Environ Health Perspect 112:1393–1397.
Huff J (2007). "Benzene-induced cancers: abridged history and occupational health impact". Int J Occup Environ Health 13 (2): 213–21.
 See National Toxicology Program, International Agency for Research on Cancer, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency