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.
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.
Consumer 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
Increasing the safety of products calls for a structured, thoughtful approach: knowing which chemicals of concern you want to remove from your supply chain, putting in place a methodology and resources to meet that goal, and evaluating progress as you move forward. That’s at the core of the pillars of leadership for safer chemicals we’ve identified through our collaborations with Walmart and others.
However, figuring out how to move from hazardous chemicals to those that are inherently safer – without increasing risk or compromising performance – takes having a clear, replicable process. Chemicals Alternatives Assessment (CAA), sometimes referred to simply as Alternatives Assessment, is one such process, a powerful methodology that can help you select ingredients in line with your safer product design objectives. CAA helps product designers identify, compare and select safer alternatives to chemicals of concern (including those in materials, processes or technologies) on the basis of key attributes – notably their hazards, exposure potential, performance, and economic viability.
CAA was born out of a need to help companies make smarter choices about the chemicals used in every day products, and ultimately make our world a healthier one. As a methodology, CAA was developed as a practical way of incorporating safer product design into product development and reformulation. Read more
For a number of years in the environmental world, we’ve been able to talk about the public commitments companies are making – and achieving – with respect to impacts like greenhouse gas emissions and water usage. Lately, companies have begun to publicly discuss goals related to safer products, recognizing that safer chemicals are part of the sustainability conversation.
For example, in the food sector, companies have cracked opened the proverbial “kitchen door” and started to share with consumers what is not in their products. This glimpse into the food-making process comes in the form of public commitments made by more than 10 major food manufacturers and restaurants in 2015 alone to eliminate or reduce artificial colors and flavors. Similar activity is occurring elsewhere, like the electronics sector and personal care sector.
But, what is leadership when it comes to public commitments? Today, we tackle this question as part of our series on the leadership pillars for safer chemicals in the marketplace. In a nutshell, leadership on public commitment goes beyond a one-time publication of goals; it requires a company to make frequent, transparent communication about its safer chemicals journey. Three key actions companies can and should take:
- Publish a corporate chemicals policy
- Share progress and
- Communicate the process
Of course, going public has its challenges, such as opening the door to criticism. But, good things happen as well when a company goes public with its goals and journey.
A company can rally its supporters inside the company and supply chain. It can find new allies in the media, business, and non-profit worlds. It can build consumer confidence in its brand. Finally, being open about goals and the subsequent journey helps a company succeed in its quest to meet those goals.
Today we’ve updated our Behind the Label website to delve further into the elements of leadership on public commitment and the associated hurdles and opportunities.
In addition to outlining what leadership on public commitment means, we’ve started tracking the commitments some companies are making, so those newer to the process have a sense of where to get started. We’re beginning with the food sector, where grocers, restaurants and food manufacturers have become increasingly vocal about the food additives they are eliminating.
Further reading to help you get Behind the Label: