Is Walmart a Leader on Safer Chemicals?

Consumers want to know that the products they buy contain ingredients that are safe for them and their loved ones. EDF has identified five pillars of leadership to help companies meet that demand and in doing so build consumer trust in the products they make and sell. One company that has recently taken major steps to drive safer chemicals and products into the market is Walmart.

In 2013, Walmart published its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, which focuses on ingredient transparency and advancing safer product formulations in household and personal care products. EDF worked with Walmart as it developed its policy and has advised the company during implementation and data analysis. This past April, Walmart announced that the company achieved a 95% reduction in the use of high priority chemicals of concern. Now, Walmart has shared considerable additional information detailing the progress made, including the identities of the high priority chemicals.

In our previous blog, we broke down the wealth of information that Walmart has shared. However, to fully evaluate the significance of the numbers, we now look at how well Walmart has done against EDF’s five pillars: institutional commitment, supply chain transparency, informed consumers, product design, and public commitment.

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Product Ingredients at Walmart Changed for the Better. Really.

It’s whack-a-mole time.

In April, Walmart released their 2016 Global Responsibility Report. In it, they noted a 95% reduction by weight in the approximately ten high priority chemicals in home and personal care products covered by their 2013 Sustainable Chemistry policy. Ninety-five percent is a big number, but the substance – the chemical names, the volumes – was missing.

No longer.

Today, Walmart released the names of those high priority chemicals, with details as to how the reductions were achieved. The chemicals – butylparaben, propylparaben, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, formaldehyde, nonylphenol ethoxylates, triclosan, and toluene – will not come as a surprise to most who work on these issues; these chemicals have been called out for action by many for quite some time.

Scale_Blog-Graphic

If this announcement is met like most environmental stories told by corporations, the mole-whacking will commence shortly. WHACK! Why these chemicals and not those? WHACK! What took so long? WHACK! What about everything else? While companies that do nothing will stay in the shadows, those like Walmart trying to drive needed change usually get whacked for what they haven’t done already.

And of course a lot still remains to be done.

But this story is a good one, and Walmart deserves credit for what they have accomplished. Walmart is the one company in the world that could drive drive over 11,500 tons – 23 million pounds – of chemicals out of so much product in less than 24 months.

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Major Strides: Walmart Details Progress on Chemicals

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In 2013, Walmart published its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, which focuses on ingredient transparency and advancing safer product formulations in household and personal care products. EDF worked with Walmart as it developed its policy and has advised the company during implementation and data analysis.

This past April, Walmart announced that the company achieved a 95% reduction by weight in the use of high priority chemicals of concern. Today, Walmart shared considerable additional information detailing the progress made, including the identities of the initial high priority chemicals. Let’s unpack this.

Revisiting Walmart’s Sustainable Chemistry Policy

Broadly speaking, Walmart made three commitments in its 2013 policy:

  1. to increase transparency of product ingredients,
  2. to advance safer formulations of products, and
  3. to attain U.S. EPA’s Safer Choice certification [formerly Design for the Environment] of Walmart private brand products

The policy, which went into effect in January 2014, focuses on formulated household cleaning, personal care, and beauty products, sold at Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. stores. A few months after releasing the policy, Walmart published a policy implementation guide that gave suppliers greater specificity as to Walmart’s expectations and, importantly, outlined the quantitative metrics Walmart would use to track and report progress.

How Walmart has fared so far

  1. “Transparency”:

Walmart’s policy requires its suppliers to be more transparent about the ingredients in their products in two ways. First, Walmart requires suppliers to submit “full product formulations” – the names and concentrations of all ingredients in a product – to WERCSmart, a 3rd party- managed product ingredient database. WERCSmart provides the retailer with aggregate information about the types and quantities of chemicals in the products on its shelves without divulging specific product formulation data.

Second, the policy requires suppliers to increase ingredient transparency to consumers by calling for disclosure of product ingredients online starting in 2015. Further, any Priority Chemical found in a product must be disclosed on the product’s packaging starting in 2018. Priority Chemicals (PCs) are Walmart’s designated chemicals of concern, drawn from 16 reputable regulatory and authoritative lists.

To track the first requirement, Walmart determined the number of products whose ingredients are fully accounted for in the WERCSmart database. According to the data, 94% of the product formulations are full formulations. This suggests that the other results Walmart presents today are based on real data.

To track ingredient transparency to consumers, Walmart polled suppliers about their online disclosure practices using the Walmart Sustainability Index, its annual environmental issues survey sent to suppliers. In 2015, 78% of respondents reported they disclose ingredients online for all their products. Walmart also breaks down the responses  in more detailed ways, such as by department.

  1. “Advancing safer formulations of products”:

The bulk of Walmart’s policy focuses on providing safer products to customers by calling for the “reduction, restriction, and elimination” of Priority Chemicals (PCs), and for product reformulations to be undertaken using “informed substitution principles.” Because the list of PCs includes hundreds (if not thousands) of chemicals — as evidenced by Walmart’s reference list of regulatory and authoritative lists used to define its PCs — Walmart focused its suppliers’ attention on a shorter list of High Priority Chemicals (HPCs).

Today, Walmart identified the HPCs as propylparaben, butylparaben, nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, triclosan, and toluene. These eight chemicals and chemical classes appear on a number of authoritative lists (e.g. EU REACH Substances of Very High Concern) for their hazardous properties and are worthy of action by Walmart. The revelation of the identities of the chemicals was long-awaited and provides context to the rest of the information Walmart shared today.

To assess the portion of its chemical footprint[1] related to product sales covered by the policy, Walmart has measured progress in two ways: (i) the total weight of HPCs contained in products sold, i.e. pounds of HPCs going out the door, and (ii) frequency of use, i.e. the number of products on store shelves that contain HPCs and the number of suppliers using HPCs in their products. Walmart relied on RetailLink, its internal product inventory database, and WERCSmart, mentioned earlier, to make these calculations. Walmart has also computed and published this data for all Walmart PCs in the covered product categories.

Walmart reports a dramatic reduction in the total weight of PCs and HPCs going out the door. The total weight of HPCs dropped by 95% and PCS by 45%.  The more than doubling of reduction of HPCs suggests that focusing attention on a subset of chemicals accelerated action.

Walmart attributes part of the success to its ability to determine which select set of suppliers used the majority (in pounds) of HPCs. This illustrates the utility of a product ingredient database that can provide aggregate information by supplier while not disclosing proprietary information.

As it relates to progress made in reducing the frequency of use of HPCs, the results were far more modest.  Unfortunately, it appears that suppliers who use HPCs are largely still using them, though the aggregate mass has dropped. Overall, the percent of products containing HPCs dropped by only 3 percentage points (to 16%), while the percent of suppliers using HPCs increased slightly (to 39%). Meanwhile, the percent of products containing any Priority Chemical actually went up one percentage point (to 80%).

So while the weight amount of HPCs, and PCs more broadly, has dropped significantly, there is clearly much more work to be done to achieve complete elimination of these chemicals.

  1. “Safer Choice [formerly Design for the Environment] in private brands”:

Lastly, Walmart committed to increase the number of private brand product offerings bearing Safer Choice certification. As discussed in our recent blog, the Safer Choice Program is a voluntary program implemented by the U.S. EPA that seeks to recognize and bring consumer awareness to products that are leading the way when it comes to safer ingredients. This is the only commitment for which Walmart has not released quantitative data. The company reports that it has hit snags in making progress against this target but is still committed to the program.

Conclusion

Overall, Walmart has made major strides regarding the commitments set forth in its policy. Equally notable, it has set in place effective systems to measure and track progress over time – an ability that can’t be underestimated.

In our next post, we’ll assess where Walmart’s progress rates against EDF’s five pillars of leadership for safer chemicals in the marketplace.


[1] As defined by the Chemical Footprint Project, a chemical footprint is “the total mass of chemicals of high concern in products sold by a company, used in its manufacturing operations and by its suppliers, and contained in packaging.”

Further Reading:

Clean Trucks: Much Needed and Ready to Deliver

There was some good news from the U.S. Energy Information Agency recently. It found that the Clean Trucks program, which is expected to be jointly finalized this summer by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), will deliver huge carbon emission reductions.

"Kenworth truck" by Lisa M. Macias, U.S. Air Force via Wikipedia

The Clean Trucks program is designed to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas pollution from the freight trucks that transport the products we buy every day, as well as buses, heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, and garbage trucks. The program’s first performance standards went into effect in 2014. The EPA and DOT are currently developing a second phase of performance standards. Strong standards can help keep Americans safe from climate change and from unhealthy air pollution, reduce our country’s reliance on imported oil, and save money for both truckers and consumers. Read more

With Chemical Safety Reform Passed, What’s Next for Companies?

michelle_harveyHistory was made this week. Major environmental legislation was signed into law for the first time in nearly 25 years, updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the primary U.S. chemical safety law, and putting in place a new foundation of federal oversight for chemicals being used in the marketplace. It took the right conditions and a lot of hard work – including bold action from the retail and manufacturing sectors to answer consumers’ call for safer products – to get here.

Now, as this new law gets implemented, industry is headed for a new status quo on how chemicals are evaluated and approved for use. What does that mean for those companies already on the safer chemicals journey?

Safer Chemicals in Supply Chains

Fertile Ground for Safer Products

This new piece of legislation –The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – amends for the first time the core provisions of TSCA, originally passed in 1976.  It requires new chemicals to clear a safety bar before entering the market, and mandates safety reviews of all existing chemicals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Many consumers assume this has been occurring all along. If a product has reached a retailer’s shelves, someone must have reviewed its chemical ingredients for safety, right? But this hasn’t been the case. When TSCA was signed into law, it grandfathered in the 64,000 chemicals then in use as “safe.”  The law didn’t mandate review of new chemicals entering the market, either. And it put the entire burden on EPA to find evidence of harm in order to restrict market entry. The updated law will for the first time give EPA the authority and resources to review both new and existing chemicals and make affirmative decisions about their safety, along with new authority to more easily obtain information necessary for conducting these reviews.

Under the Lautenberg Act, EPA will first focus on “high priority” chemicals, such as those classified as known human carcinogens, highly toxic, persistent in the environment or bioaccumlative (able to build up in the bodies of animals). In assessing the safety of chemicals, EPA must consider risks to vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant women. EPA can only consider the health and environmental impacts of the chemical—leaving consideration of costs or availability of alternatives to the next step when EPA is determining how to manage a chemical’s risks. The law also puts strong new limits on what information can qualify as ‘confidential business information,’ striking a balance between the public’s right to know about chemicals to which they may be exposed, and proprietary interests in chemical information important, for example, to innovation. Read more

Making Strides on Companies’ Chemical Footprints

Behind the Label_FAs we’ve written here before, public commitment is one of the essential pillars of leadership on safer chemicals. When a company leads on public commitment, that means communicating not just its initial goal-setting, but its full safer chemicals journey, publicly and honestly.

That’s no small task. The rise of shareholder resolutions across a wide range of sectors shows that investors and purchaser communities are becoming increasingly interested in how companies manage chemicals and mitigate risk. With the release of its inaugural report, one organization is throwing a spotlight on companies that are not just making, but following through on, those commitments.

Ingredients for measuring your (chemical) footprint

Chemical Footprint Project logoThe Chemical Footprint Project (CFP) recognizes companies that have effectively demonstrated public commitment to improved chemicals management. A joint effort launched in June 2015 by Clean Production Action, Pure Strategies and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the CFP was created as a simple way for investors and purchasers to assess these critical aspects of corporate value.

The CFP’s evaluation system was designed to be flexible and can be used for any business sector, from personal care products to toys. Using a twenty question survey, the CFP assesses companies’ performance in four areas:

  1. Chemicals management strategy (i.e. corporate chemicals policies),
  2. Chemical inventory (i.e. knowing the chemicals used in products, manufacturing processes and supply chains),
  3. Chemical footprint measurement (i.e. knowing the mass of chemicals of high concern in a company’s products and packaging, processes, and supply chain and tracking progress toward safer alternatives), and
  4. Public disclosure and verification.

A company’s performance is scored on a 100-point scale, with a bonus for verification – respondents receive up to 4 points for independent validation of reported data.

Breaking down CFP’s findings

Last week, the CFP released its inaugural report, with 24 companies from seven sectors participating. Though individual company scores are presented without identification, CFP’s initial report reveals many interesting themes: Read more

Offering a Safer Choice is a Good Choice for Business

Sarah-Vogel-Safer-Choice

EDF Vice President, Health Sarah Vogel accepts EDF's Safer Choice Partner of the Year award

With so many vague claims and misleading labels on products in the marketplace, it’s no surprise that consumers are increasingly calling for safer products and greater transparency with regard to product ingredients. That’s why we at EDF were proud to share the stage at the EPA’s 2016 Safer Choice Partner of the Year awards ceremony yesterday with companies, trade groups, and other NGOs working to do just that.

EDF was recognized alongside other Safer Choice Partner of the Year awardees for “demonstrated leadership in furthering safer chemistry and products.” Among the 17 corporate winners were chemical makers, product manufacturers and retailers like BISSELL Homecare, The Clorox Company, Seventh Generation, BASF Corporation, Ecolab and Wegmans Food Markets, all of whom have submitted products or chemicals for certification under the Safer Choice label.

Safer Choice 2016 award winnersConsumer health is one of the most pressing – and frequently, less recognized – areas of corporate sustainability, and one where driving adoption of safer practices takes both ambition and leadership. We are gratified to see such a diverse range of corporations take significant steps to introduce safer chemicals into the marketplace and for organizations like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Healthy Schools Campaign to lend their support and encouragement.

Every product labeled under the Safer Choice certification program makes the marketplace a little safer and our jobs as advocates for consumer safety a little easier. Read more

3 Ways NGOs Can Help Sustainable Supply Chains Grow

Maggie headshotEarlier this week, a former sustainability executive with McDonald’s delivered a wake-up call for environmental groups, listing “5 ways that NGOs stunt sustainability.” In this article, Bob Langert explains the ways that nonprofits are failing to help companies turn sustainability commitments into on-the-ground results. In the context of sustainable palm oil, he notes:

“You can’t just go after big brands and expect them to manage a supply chain that has them seven stages removed, starting with the smallholders, to mills, then plantations, to storage facilities, refineries, ingredient manufacturers and then product manufacturers, then into a final product a retailer sells, such as ice cream, a granola bar or shampoo — with palm as a minute ingredient.”

He’s right – sustainability in supply chains, especially in agriculture, is incredibly complex.

So how can environmental groups effectively champion sustainability progress throughout global supply chains, from the C-suite to crop fields?  Here are three ideas EDF has learned from deep, on-the-ground partnerships with leading brands. Read more

Sustainable Supply Chains: No More Excuses

ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377A question for forward-thinking business executives: if you could do something that would directly reduce more than 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of water usage, and two-thirds of tropical forest loss globally… wouldn’t you do it?

The answer: yes, of course you would!  That’s why you’re forward-thinking!

That’s also why Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been working in supply chains (for years) to improve the impacts of the global production and use of consumer goods.

Those impacts are huge. Really getting at them, unfortunately, has not been so easy. The excuse that we’ve heard over and over again boils down to “you can’t manage what you can’t see.”  Basically, while most companies’ impacts are in their supply chain, most businesses have very little knowledge of how those supply chains actually function.  And, the further up in the chains you go, the less visibility there is.

EDF has a lot of first-hand experience with this: after years of on-the-ground work with farmers, our Ecosystems team knows precisely how difficult it is to capture impacts at the farm level.  Despite the on-farm benefits of optimizing fertilizer use in cost savings, reduced greenhouse gases and increased water quality, fewer than 20 % of companies collect this data.

TSC2011lgHow do I know that statistic? Because The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) has just released Greening Global Supply Chains: From Blind Spots to Hot Spots to Action, their first-ever impact report.  It’s full of stunning data about the huge weight that consumer goods place on people and the planet. Since it covers more than 80% of consumer goods product categories, it is the comprehensive way to understand environmental hot spots in global supply chains.

Which means the “no visibility” excuse is now officially over. Read more

Mothers and CEOs: Why Corporate Sustainability Reports Matter

Walmart has just released its report on Corporate Sustainability—the “Global Responsibility Report”.

Nicknamed the GRR, the joke around my office is that “GRR” sounds like a growl—GRRRR. But while its seventy-three dense pages might seem daunting, the GRR is anything but scary. In fact, from my perspective as both a mother and someone with unique access to the day-to-day workings of Walmart, I have to say that it’s a must-read.

Why? Because like all corporate sustainability reports, the GRR tells the story of how big business is—or is not—adjusting their operations to help the planet and its inhabitants.

And by inhabitants I mean you. And me. All of us.

Meet Super-Eco-Business-Mom When new mom JENNY AHLEN feeds her daughter, she may also be pondering this question: how do we feed a global population expected to reach nine billion people by 2050? That’s because Jenny is also EDF’s team lead for their partnership with Walmart, which gives her both a unique perspective and a unique power. She knows the stakes are high for the world her daughter will grow up in. But Jenny is in a position to do something about it. Thus, she spends her days working with the world’s largest retailer trying to figure out the best approach to “fertilizer optimization”: the science behind increasing yields while reducing the environmental impacts of crop production. How did Jenny arrive at this nexus of the nursery and contemporary eco-business?

To all the mothers of the world: like you, I want the best for my child. While there are many things we can’t control about our kids’ world, we do have power over things like what goes in and on their bodies, which toys can help them learn, and how to create a safe and loving environment for them to grow. Knowing what’s in these sustainability reports means knowing whether the stores and brands we choose every day are working with us, or making our job harder.

To all the C-suite executives: See above. Mothers everywhere are starting to demand both transparency and action around creating a healthier world for our kids. We are your customers, and we’re sending you a demand signal to make us happy.  Coincidentally, it can make your business more efficient, more profitable and more resilient—all things that your shareholders will love to hear. Believe me, you want to be able to issue a sustainability report that’s both real and robust.

So if the GRR is Walmart’s report card on global responsibility, how did they do? Read more