Buying more sustainable products is now the expectation of U.S. consumers. Market research firm Nielsen projects that the sustainability market will hit $150 billion in sales by 2021. For perspective, that’s larger than the entire video game industry. And demand for sustainable products is growing four times faster than conventional products. Millennials and Generation Z are fueling this transformation.
One of the top consumer concerns about products? Ingredient safety.
We recently reported that Sephora became the first major specialty beauty retailer to release a public-facing chemicals policy. As a complement to their policy, Sephora also promotes their Clean at Sephora labeling program, an avenue for showcasing brands with an embedded safer ingredient philosophy. Sephora recently updated this program: going forward, a product bearing Sephora’s Clean label must avoid a list of more than fifty ingredients (in some cases, ingredients are allowed in restricted concentrations).
With Clean at Sephora, the retailer extends its strategy to capture the growing “naturals” market segment, especially among millennial shoppers. While Clean at Sephora may receive most of the media attention, Sephora’s chemicals policy is an essential addition to the retailer’s sustainability efforts. The Clean program recognizes products pursuing leadership, but the new chemicals policy will impact all of the products sold in Sephora’s stores.
How does the policy stack up against EDF’s 5 Pillars of Leadership for Safer Products?
Sephora has released a public-facing chemicals policy, becoming the first major specialty beauty and cosmetics retailer to do so. The policy “seeks to strengthen ingredient safety and transparency” and applies to all formulated beauty and personal care products that are sold online and in stores, including both private label and third-partner brands. The policy is global in scope.
Even if you haven’t heard of perchlorate, chances are that you probably have eaten it. Perchlorate is a chemical used in plastic packaging and food handling equipment for dry food like cereal, flour, and spices to reduce the buildup of static charges.
The Mind the Store campaign recently released their third annual Who’s Minding the Store? report, which ranks retailer action on the removal of toxic chemicals from products. Many of this year’s top performing retailers are familiar. Apple, Walmart, Target, and CVS, all in the top 10, are companies that EDF considers to be safer chemicals leaders. Importantly, several retailers received much improved scores – Amazon, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid are the most improved retailers compared to 2016. We’ve previously blogged on Amazon and Rite-Aid’s new chemicals policies (see here and here, respectively). Walgreens is the newest face in this crowd, releasing its chemicals policy earlier this month. With more and more retailers making commitments, the market demand for safer chemistry in products is now undeniable.
Retail demand for safer products is not only here to stay – it’s now a source of competition in the evolving marketplace. Amazon is the latest retailer to join Walmart, Target, CVS Health, Home Depot, and Rite-Aid by publishing a chemicals policy and a public Restricted Substances List. Amazon and several of the above-mentioned retailers represent half of the top ten retailers in the US. Amazon’s new policy is a big deal: not only is Amazon the third largest retailer by sales in the US, it is the first primarily ecommerce retailer to create a chemicals policy. Ecommerce represents a challenge in terms of implementing such a policy, but as shoppers increasingly turn to online retailers for many of their purchasing needs, this also presents a major opportunity to increase the availability of safer products.
Earlier this month, the national drugstore chain Rite Aid released a new Chemical Policy and Restricted Substances List (RSL). Rite Aid joined a growing list of retailers taking action to ensure safer products for their customers. This public, written corporate chemicals policy communicates to Rite Aid’s suppliers, consumers, and other stakeholders that increasing Rite Aid’s assortment of safer products is important to the company’s mission.
How does Rite-Aid’s policy measure up?
Consumer products are a source of our exposure to toxic chemicals. Pressed by consumer demand and regulatory scrutiny around the globe, companies have increasingly committed to removing toxic ingredients from everyday products. One of the most difficult barriers to designing safer, more sustainable products is ensuring that the replacement ingredients are both effective and safe.
We’ve previously introduced our readers to the Chemical Footprint Project (CFP), a benchmarking survey that evaluates companies’ chemicals management practices and recognizes leaders. The CFP recently released a Model Chemicals Policy for Brands and Manufacturers, a template to help companies develop and share their chemicals policies. A chemicals policy institutionalizes a company’s commitment to safer chemicals and ensures understanding of these goals among all levels of their business, including the supply chain. Read more
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.
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.
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.