The OECD Substitution and Alternatives Assessment Toolbox: A Tool for Safer Chemicals in Products

Implementing a comprehensive Product Design process to manufacture and sell safer products requires:

  • Establishing specific objectives to move away from hazardous chemicals and to ensure the use of safer chemicals for both existing and new products
  • Determining a methodology for meeting objectives
  • Identifying the necessary resources; and,
  • Developing a timeline to track progress, and to reevaluate and update elements of the Product Design

Successful Product Design will require a variety of tools and resources. The Substitution and Alternatives Assessment Toolbox, developed by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) is here to help. The Toolbox, released earlier this year, compiles vast and very useful resources in one place. These resources can aid a company in becoming a leader for safer chemicals in the marketplace.


The main page of the toolbox, available on OECD’s website, provides resources through portals on the upper right hand side of the page.

But first, what is alternatives assessment? The Toolbox glossary defines alternatives assessment (also known as chemicals alternatives assessment) as a “process for identifying and comparing potential chemical and non-chemical alternatives that can be used as substitutes to replace chemicals or technologies of high concern.”  Alternatives assessment is a field of practice that integrates a variety of chemical evaluation approaches and tools to characterize and better understand different attributes across alternatives.

The OECD Toolbox focuses largely on chemical hazard assessment (CHA) tools. Chemical hazard assessment focuses on characterizing the inherent toxicity of various alternatives and is a core component of chemical alternatives assessment. As CHA deals with the potential health impacts of substances it is often applied as an initial screening across alternatives.

How does the OECD Toolbox help a company develop a Product Design process for safer chemicals?  

There are four main portals in the Toolbox, found below the Resources tab (pictured above). A summary of each portal and its utility is provided below.

Case Studies and Other Resources:

What is it? This portal provides a selection of 32 case studies on alternatives assessment and chemical hazard assessment, developed by companies, non-profits, and government entities.  There are case studies that detail assessments of groups of chemicals, as well as case studies that profile companies who have performed alternatives assessments. The portal also includes toolkits and product rating systems, which offer different ways to evaluate and consider/act on the relative safety of substances and products.

Why is it useful to me? As a company sets specific objectives for their Product Design process, OECD’s case studies illustrate objectives that other companies have set in moving out of hazardous chemicals. Having an understanding of the breadth and depth of objectives set by other companies, particularly companies that are leading in this arena, can help a company set more precise and quantitative goals. And in cases where a company has limited Supply Chain Transparency, these case studies present competitors’ activities to help inform objective setting. Finally, as each identified objective should have a timeline attached, consulting how other companies have established timelines can help set a reference point for action.  The other resources available in this portal provide guidance for developing a methodology to meet objectives and present systems and tools to evaluate different substances.

Regulations and Restrictions:

What is it? This portal of the Toolbox identifies international regulations and restrictions, organized by geographic region. The lists currently available were developed by governments of Canada, the U.S., the European Union, Japan, and several other countries, as well as by industry, and NGOs, such as ChemSec and their Substitute it Now (SIN) List which forecasts chemicals that may be regulated. A company can easily identify lists of interest all in one place. The lists may indicate a legally binding restriction or a voluntary restriction; either way, these chemicals are under scrutiny for action.

Why is it useful to me? The “Regulations and Restrictions” portal can help a company identify specific chemicals of concern to target for removal from products. For example, a company who commits to removing all persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) substances can refer to the U.S. EPA’s list of PBTs of concern for examples of specific chemicals to target. Some of the industry lists shed light on leadership activities in different sectors; the Roadmap to Zero presents lists of chemicals that member companies in the textile industry have committed to phasing out.  The Toolbox provides a robust starting point for identifying chemicals to tackle.

Tool Selector:

What is it? The Tool Selector presents a filter option that allows a user to compare and select among 37 different CHA tools. The Selector also provides information on tools that examine attributes beyond inherent hazards, such as exposure and cost (see here).

Why is it useful to me? The Tool Selector will be helpful as a company develops a methodology to achieve its safer product objectives. Specifically, use of the Tool Selector can help identify an approach for evaluating different chemical alternatives.

The Tool Selector filter options provide a variety of options to match tools to goals for addressing chemicals of concern.

The Tool Selector filter options provide a variety of options to match tools to goals for addressing chemicals of concern.

Once filter options are selected and a results list is produced, clicking on the “Summary” link next to each tool’s name provides a table summarizing key details about the tool.

An example of a tool summary for the “Column Model” tool, providing specific hazard endpoints addressed by the tool, among other attributes. Additional categories are available on the summary page.

An example of a tool summary for the “Column Model” tool, providing specific hazard endpoints addressed by the tool, among other attributes. Additional categories are available on the summary page.

Frameworks and Guides:

What is it? This portal presents chemical substitution or alternatives assessment frameworks, defined by the OECD as “an arrangement of analyses and decisions that can be used to assess alternatives.” Pulling from the OECD document “Current Landscape of Alternatives Assessment Practice: a Meta-Review”, the OECD group developed an informative matrix that compares and contrasts key elements of some of the frameworks, such as the inclusion of stakeholders in the assessment process or the consideration of social impacts.

Why is it useful to me? The “Frameworks and Guides” portal compiles resources that can also help a company develop a methodology to meet its safer chemical objectives. The “Tool Selector” provides the necessary tools for evaluating the hazards of different chemical alternatives; the “Frameworks and Guides” can then help a company decide a process for how this information is applied in making decisions about what chemicals should and should not be used in future products.

The OECD toolbox primarily aids in objective setting and methodology development for safer Product Design. Once these pieces are in place, a company needs to identify roles and resources and develop a timeline for tracking progress against objectives established in its Product Design process. The Toolbox also provides access to and knowledge about a growing community that can aid safer chemicals leadership, including experts with helpful tools, and potential partners who can offer support as you continue your journey.

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