Consumers Deserve To Know What's In Their Products

This installment of our Pillars of Leadership series explores Informed Consumers.

Sharing ingredient information with consumers is key to business leadership on chemicals. It can build consumer confidence, trust, loyalty – and market advantage. Numerous surveys (see here and here) and advocacy campaigns (see here) reveal that people want more ingredient information than is typically available today. The key to success in cultivating an Informed Consumer is providing product ingredient information that is comprehensive, accessible, and importantly, meaningful.

Woman label blog image

Consumers want to:

  • Have easy access to consistent, reliable information
  • Feel empowered when making purchasing decisions for themselves and their families
  • Understand what they’re bringing into their homes
  • Avoid adverse health and environmental impacts
  • Trust that brands and retailers respect their interest in knowing product composition

How does a company cultivate an Informed Consumer? For starters, by sharing ingredient information on product packaging and online for products it makes or sells, with content that extends well beyond regulatory requirements. While packaging physically limits the amount of information that can be shared with consumers, online ingredient disclosure allows greater flexibility in terms of the extent and type of ingredient information, as well as how that information is accessed and presented. Read more

Behind the Label: How Business Sees Opportunity in Safer Chemistry

Behind the Label_FTens 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[1] and cancer[2]. 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:

  1. Products designed to better protect human health can be economically successful.
  2. There is more than one way to resolve the same problem.
  3. Getting innovations to the market requires cooperation across the supply chain. Sometimes it requires external forces to set the right marketplace conditions.
  4. Reformulations can be cost-neutral despite changing suppliers and/or processing facilities.

A Snapshot of Each Case Study

 

akzonobel

AkzoNobel

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.

7th genSeventh Generation

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[3], 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.

 

[1]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.
[2]Huff J (2007). "Benzene-induced cancers: abridged history and occupational health impact". Int J Occup Environ Health 13 (2): 213–21.
[3] See National Toxicology Program, International Agency for Research on Cancer, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Carlyle Sheds Light on How Sustainability Creates Value in 2015

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.


On the eve of The Carlyle Group releasing its 2015 Corporate Citizenship Report, I had the chance to catch up with Jackie Roberts, Chief Sustainability Officer at Carlyle and former EDF colleague who was one of the founders of EDF’s Corporate Partnership Program. Here are highlights from our conversation:

Jackie RobertsWhat attracted you to your current role at Carlyle?

Rather than being in an arm’s-length advisory role, I now get into more of the details of implementation. I work directly to support sustainability leads in a broad range of companies, helping them prioritize among business goals, crystallize sustainability strategies and, most importantly, execute on a lot of different ideas. Also, as Carlyle is an owner of companies in many countries and industries, I have the opportunity to understand how aspects of sustainability play out differently across the globe. In short, it is a tremendous platform for influencing corporate sustainability.

What are you and Carlyle particularly proud of in this year’s report?

This is the first year that we have designed the report to align with the types of value creation we typically see, such as customer satisfaction, brand equity, operational efficiency and workplace strength. This year’s report moves beyond operational efficiencies into these other key drivers for companies.

What does Carlyle see as the value of ESG management for its business? How do you quantify that value? What form is that taking, both for Carlyle and its portfolio companies?

We have examples across these four ways that ESG management connects to value creation (customer satisfaction, brand equity, operational efficiency and workplace strength). A great example related to both customer satisfaction and brand equity comes from a portfolio company that quantified its sales increase for greener products. Their primary customers, mainly hotels, were requesting green products, so the company invested in this area, which paid off in increased sales – a clear win-win. Read more

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. Read more

McDonald’s New Super-Sized Deforestation Commitment: 4 Things You Should Know

logo-mcdonalds

Just in time for Earth Day, McDonald’s has released a new global deforestation commitment. While this policy is new, the company is no stranger to the issue. In fact, McDonald’s was one of the first companies to be confronted in the 1980s as consumers began to recognize the “Hamburger Connection” between beef production and tropical forests. In response, the company established its Amazon Policy, which prohibited the sourcing of beef from the Amazon. Seventeen years later, McDonald’s was instrumental in creating the Soy Moratorium, an industry-wide effort which has effectively halted soy expansion on native vegetation in the Amazon Biome. (Soy is a major source of feed for chickens and other livestock).

Now, following a wave of commitments from agricultural giants such as Cargill and ADM, the new global policy is a first-of-its-kind in the fast food sector and, if executed correctly, could stand as a shining example for other companies in the food business to follow. As one of the world’s most recognized brands, McDonald’s knows any commitment with such a large impact on the planet – tropical forests are one of the largest contributors to, and buffers against, climate change – will be heavily scrutinized. So, what do we need to know as we watch this journey unfold? To radically simplify, four things come to mind:

Read more

Let There Be No Doubt: We Can Cut Truck Emissions & Fuel Use Today

The can-do spirit of American automotive engineers has been on full display over the past few weeks, as truck manufacturers unveil innovation after innovation to boost the efficiency of heavy trucks that move companies' freight cross-country.

It is crystal clear that we possess— today— the know-how to dramatically cut fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from heavy trucks. Moreover, we can do this while saving consumers hundreds of dollars annually and giving trucking companies the high-quality, affordable equipment they require.

DTNA Super Truck HighSome of the recently-announced advances include:

All of these fuel-saving solutions are available today thanks to the acumen of engineers at these leading manufacturers. The first round of well-designed federal fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards are also driving innovations like these to the market.

Even so, the strides we are making today should only be the beginning.

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Stick It To Carbon, Not The Man.

Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from Climate Shock (2015) by Gernot Wagner, Lead Senior Economist, Environmental Defense Fund, and Martin L. Weitzman, Professor of Economics, Harvard University. Published here with permission from Princeton University Press.

Gernot & MartinTwo quick questions:

Do you think climate change is an urgent problem?

Do you think getting the world off fossil fuels is difficult?

If you answered “Yes” to both of these questions, welcome. You’ll nod along, occasionally even cheer, while reading on. You’ll feel reaffirmed.

You are also in the minority. The vast majority of people answer “Yes” to one or the other question, but not both.

If you answered “Yes” only to the first question, you probably think of yourself as a committed environmentalist. You may think climate change is the issue facing society. It’s bad. It’s worse than most of us think. It’s hitting home already, and it will strike us with full force. We should be pulling out all the stops: solar panels, bike lanes, the whole lot.

You’re right, in part. Climate change is an urgent problem. But you’re fooling yourself if you think getting off fossil fuels will be simple. It will be one of the most difficult challenges modern civilization has ever faced, and it will require the most sustained, well-managed, globally cooperative effort the human species has ever mounted.

If you answered “Yes” only to the second question, chances are you don’t think climate change is the defining problem of our generation. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a “skeptic” or “denier” of the underlying scientific evidence; you may still think global warming is worthy of our attention. But realism dictates that we can’t stop life as we know it to mitigate a problem that’ll take decades or centuries to show its full force. Look, some people are suffering right now because of lack of energy. And whatever the United States, Europe or other high emitters do to rein in their energy consumption will be nullified by China, India and the rest catching up with the rich world’s standard of living. You know there are trade-offs. You also know that solar panels and bike lanes alone won’t do.

You, too, are right, but none of that makes climate change any less of a problem. The long lead time for solutions and the complex global web of players are precisely why we must act decisively, today. Read more

It Can(‘t) Be Done

I recently read the inspiring story of how Farmers Electric Cooperative, one of the smallest utilities in the country, overcame some formidable financing challenges to develop the biggest commercial solar project in Iowa.

Rock-uphillThe example called to mind a comment made by Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environmental Initiatives at Apple and former Administrator of the U.S. EPA, during the closing plenary of GreenBiz’s VERGE conference earlier this fall. She told the audience that, at Apple, the best way to get something done was to say “it can’t be done.”

This idea, of conquering seemingly impossible obstacles, is one I’ve seen reflected in a number of new advances in corporate sustainability, including many discussed at the conference and others from our own work. Each demonstrates how entrepreneurs (and intrapreneurs) are harnessing major environmental and social challenges to create real solutions: Read more

SXSWEco Day One Epiphanies, Head-scratchers, and Bravery Awards

SXSWEcoThere is so much going on at SXSWEco this week that it would be impossible for one person to do a comprehensive wrap-up, so please take this commentary as a slice of a very big pie. And, note that my particular slice is viewed through a very marketing- and business-oriented lens. Still, as an EDF’er working with the private sector, I’m always looking to share new, pragmatic ideas and business cases for saving the environment. I think the most pleasant surprise of SXSWEco Day One was that so many others feel the same.

But first a head-scratcher. Why is it that the regions that are the most climate and socially vulnerable (Southern U.S.), are also home to some of the biggest climate science-denying politicians? Many thanks to Dr. Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University for so eloquently tying environmental justice to social justice; for me this was a necessary epiphany for how we think of building resilience in the face of climate challenges.

At EDF we believe that the corporate sector can thrive by valuing, protecting, and improving the environment, so the session on Creating Climate Wealth held a ton of appeal. Ann Davlin and Jigar Shah threw out business scenarios for environmental impact like candy from a parade float. I managed to grab a few choice nuggets: Read more

The Business-Policy Nexus: The Next Frontier for Corporate Sustainability Leadership

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFAs we approach the 25-year anniversary of EDF’s work with the corporate sector, it’s an opportune time to reflect on our successes and plan for the work ahead.

Over the years we have worked with McDonalds, Walmart, FedEx, KKR and many others to integrate sustainability into their operations, strategy, and supply chain management.  Together, we have kick-started market transformations in sectors including fast food, shipping, retail, private equity and commercial building energy efficiency.  While we’ve made great strides, there remains a huge distance to go in order to fully protect our natural resources, clean up our dirty energy system, and turn the corner on global greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Looking ahead, the opportunity and need for more aggressive private sector leadership has never been greater.  Moving from environmental progress today to full scale solutions tomorrow will require a new type of corporate leadership. This next step will require a willingness to align corporate sustainability operations, strategy AND policy.

Voluntary corporate efforts have made a difference and will continue to be a critical pathway for innovation. But this is not sufficient to meet the size and scale of the challenges we face.  Businesses must take the next leadership step – helping to shape and support the smart regulatory and policy changes required to preserve the natural systems that people, communities and companies need to thrive.

Simply put, the bar is now higher for companies that want to lead on sustainability.

 Corporate Leadership and Sustainability over time

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