Why businesses and state governments aren’t waiting for federal action on chemicals transparency

As a Trump Administration appointee tries to dismantle EPA’s credibility as a guardian of public health and the environment, other actors have been stepping up. We recently examined retailers leading the way on removing chemicals of concern from the marketplace – but there has also been significant activity from state governments and companies to increase transparency about the chemicals we are exposed to every day and to empower consumers to make informed decisions about their product purchases.

Regulatory steps in the right direction

Government activity has recently focused on cleaning products, for good reason as the contents of these products are typically the biggest mystery for consumers.

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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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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

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

Walmart Makes Progress on Its Sustainable Chemistry Policy

Behind the Label_FIt’s been two and a half years since Walmart first committed to adopting a sustainable chemistry policy. Since then, consumers, companies and advocates have been watching the retailer with interest. Today, Walmart released its ninth annual Global Responsibility Report (GRR), which outlines its environmental and social activities for the past year. For the first time, this report includes information about the progress it has made against its Sustainable Chemistry Policy adopted in 2013, which aimed for more transparency of product ingredients and safer formulations of products.

According to Walmart, it has reduced the usage (by weight) of its designated high priority chemicals by 95 percent, a pretty sizeable number. Walmart has said that it will post more specifics in the coming weeks on its Sustainability Hub, including quantitative results on all aspects of the policy’s implementation guide and details about how they achieved the substantial reduction.

casestudy-walmartWhile this is a promising step in the right direction, the GRR doesn’t identify the high priority chemicals that have been reduced. It is difficult to fully appreciate Walmart’s accomplishments without knowing the names of these chemical targets. We expect that the names of the high priority chemicals will be revealed on the Sustainability Hub.

Walmart’s announcement marks the first time a major retailer has publicly measured and shared the progress it has made against its commitment on chemicals. This is especially important to EDF because we know through research and experience that shared stories about progress can prompt others to follow, to the benefit of public and environmental health.

We believe there are three key factors that have made Walmart's progress possible: 1) the existence and use of a 3rd party-managed chemicals database that can generate quantitative, aggregate information about the chemicals on Walmart’s shelves, 2) a policy that prioritizes specific chemical targets, and 3) a time-bound business commitment to track and share progress publicly (in Walmart’s policy they committed to start sharing progress in 2016). We look forward to the day these practices reflect the business norm rather than the exception.

Market leadership will always have an important role to play alongside policy in driving safer chemicals and products into commerce. EDF looks forward to the additional details forthcoming on Walmart’s Sustainability Hub.

Follow Boma Brown-West on Twitter: @Bbrown_west

Also of interest:

What’s in Your Product’s Flavor? Here’s Why You Should Find Out.

Behind the Label_FAs we discuss frequently on this blog, maintaining transparency and control of your company’s supply chain can help limit potential risks to your business. With some food additives, however, transparency is not enough and certain chemicals should be removed from your products, or risk having to reformulate quickly at significant cost or having to recall products with those ingredients.

A set of seven carcinogenic flavor chemicals under review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers a good example of these risks. On Jan. 4, 2016, the FDA announced that it is considering whether to rescind its 1964 approval of – effectively banning – seven flavoring chemicals as food additives. Read more

The Who What Why and How of Safer Chemicals

This installment of our Pillars of Leadership series explores Supply Chain Transparency.

You can’t act on what you don’t know. And if you can’t take informed action, you can’t innovate in smart and sustainable ways. A key step toward achieving industry leadership on chemicals is to gain a full understanding of the chemical supply chain.

Pillars of Leadership for Safer Chemicals in the MarketplaceSupply Chain Transparency informs a company’s decisions to effectively mitigate risk of current or pending chemical regulations (see here) and to efficiently allocate resources towards product innovation (see here). It also improves the data-set for product life cycle assessments, thereby yielding more firm-specific results. Above all, Supply Chain Transparency helps a company define and understand its starting point and its goals.

What does Supply Chain Transparency mean explicitly? EDF defines true transparency leadership as knowing the What, How Much, Why, and Who of the chemicals in one’s products. Read more