No one-hit wonder: Walmart reinforces its commitment to safer chemicals

Walmart made two big moves last week to reinforce its commitment to leadership on safer chemicals. In 2013 Walmart sent a major demand signal for safer chemicals through the supply chain – issuing its Sustainable Chemistry Policy that covered 700 suppliers and over 90,000 cleaning, personal care, and cosmetics products on its shelves. The policy called for greater ingredient transparency and the reduction and elimination of chemicals harmful to human and environmental health, starting with eight prevalent chemicals of concern. Last week, Walmart released its latest results following up on these commitments and became the first retailer to participate in the Chemical Footprint Project annual survey (and the second major retailer to become a CFP signatory).

Walmart’s participation in the Chemical Footprint Project is a new indicator of its continued commitment to safer products

The Chemical Footprint Project is an initiative to benchmark how effectively companies are managing the chemicals in their products and supply chains. As I mentioned in a previous blog, it’s a way for investors and large purchasers to assess which firms are carrying heavy chemical risk and which ones are demonstrating competitive leadership in response to growing demand for safer products. So far, 24 companies, including Walmart, participate in this program – sending a clear signal to their suppliers, investors, and consumers that chemicals management is material to business success. Leaders identified in the CFP survey show that adopting and enforcing policies and measuring progress are key to reducing chemicals of concern.

Progress on its ground-breaking policy

Also last week, Walmart quietly released its second annual Sustainable Chemistry Policy report, showing progress on its policy to eliminate priority chemicals. The chemicals of concern were drawn from 16 reputable regulatory and other authoritative lists – starting with eight High Priority Chemicals.

Table 1: Walmart's High Priority Chemicals


A chemical inventory is the first step in meeting a commitment to reduce your chemical footprint

Before jumping into the results, let's review why this public disclosure of results is important. If you can't measure something, you can't improve it effectively. Walmart’s public reporting of quantitative data shows that it is serious about measuring its chemical footprint and being transparent about it. Walmart uses aggregate chemical inventory information across and within the departments under the policy to track progress.

Clear, meaningful metrics to track progress are the next step

Walmart tracks progress by looking at both weight volume – pounds of chemicals going out the door – and ubiquity – number of suppliers using these chemicals and the number of products in which they are using them. Both are important indicators of the prevalence of these chemicals in our world. Last year, Walmart achieved a 95% reduction in its High Priority Chemicals (HPCs) at Walmart US stores, equivalent to 23 million lbs. Since then, another 372,230 lbs have been removed – a 30% drop compared to the 2015 weight volume and a 96% drop since the policy began in 2014. Similar reductions continue to happen at Walmart's Sam's Club stores:  another 75,629 lbs have been eliminated, a 53% drop compared to the 2015 weight volume and a 68% drop compared to 2014. The second year results also reaffirm that a concerted effort to reduce a select set of priority chemicals, i.e. HPCs, drives results faster. Overall usage of Walmart Priority Chemicals continues to decrease (at Walmart US stores), but not nearly at the rate of that of Walmart HPCs.

Figure 1: The cumulative weight volume reduction of High Priority Chemicals since 2014 has been over 23.6 million lbs and over 164,000 lbs for Walmart and Sam’s Club respectively.

Walmart’s public disclosure also shows that the company isn’t afraid to share where performance is lagging

Though overall weight volume of the HPCs continues to drop, their ubiquity continues to be a challenge. Both the number of products (i.e. UPCs) containing the HPCs and the number of suppliers using them continues to drop, at both Walmart US and Sam’s Club stores, but at a rate slower than the weight volume reduction.

Figure 2: Current percent of products (or UPCs) containing and suppliers who using High Priority Chemicals in products, along with the respective percentage point changes since 2014.

The tools for success

In the end, Walmart continues to make progress against its policy as demonstrated through real data. Beyond data, what else contributes to Walmart‘s success?

  • Clear targets
  • Driving action through the business (where relationships between buyers and suppliers stress the importance of the commitments)
  • Public accountability

With new notable commitments popping up from other major retailers like Target and CVS, we hope to see similar tracking and reporting of meaningful results both directly and through the Chemical Footprint Project survey.

FURTHER READING: See EDF’s previous analysis of Walmart’s first year results here and here.


Boma Brown-West is Senior Manager of Consumer Health at EDF + Business. You can follow her on Twitter for insights and analysis on safer chemicals leadership in the supply chain and subscribe to her Behind the Label newsletter here.

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