Can top retailers make safer chemicals commitments tangible for consumers?

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.

EDF is committed to making sure this demand for safer products produces real results on store shelves. How can a retailer demonstrate tangible results?

  • Measure and report progress using a data-driven approach: We’ve said this before, and we’ll keep saying it because it is one of the most important aspects of implementing a policy. A data-driven approach requires (a) tracking meaningful metrics, such as mass of toxic chemicals removed or number of products containing toxic chemicals, (b) setting goals, such as Target’s goal to remove certain chemicals by 2020, and (c) reporting progress publicly, such as Walmart’s annual progress report. This is how a company can ensure its commitments are resulting in real reductions of harmful chemicals in products.
  • Broaden the policy scope to national brands: Many retailers, such as Amazon and Rite-Aid begin their chemical policy journey with a focus on private brand products, which makes sense they have more control and opportunity to intervene with these products. But to truly make a difference on store shelves, all suppliers need to be brought along in this process. Including national brands within a policy scope is certainly more complicated, but it sends a stronger demand signal to the entire supply chain to remove harmful chemicals and use verified safer ingredients.
  • Include other product categories: As more and more retailers put out policies addressing formulated home and personal care products, we’re seeing progress and movement in this space. To create a truly safer shopping experience though, companies need to consider the other product categories on their shelves. Some retailers have committed to tackling a wider variety of product categories, like Target, and others have committed to tackling more product categories in the future, like Rite-Aid. We hope to see all retailers build on their commitments by expanding the product scope of their policies.
  • Make it easier for consumers to find safer products: The most meaningful outcome of a chemicals policy is when a consumer takes home a product that is safer for him/her and the environment. In an ideal world, a consumer would be able to pick any product off the shelf and know that it’s safe. Until we reach that point, retailers can make it easier for customers to find products that are safer. Many retailers encourage their suppliers to pursue robust certifications, like EPA’s Safer Choice, which is a great start. Ensuring that consumers can find these certified products, and understand what the certification means, is equally as important, especially as retailers pursue omnichannel strategies to sell more products. Telling supplier success stories is another tool for making safer products easier to find.

Alissa Sasso, Project Manager, Supply Chain, EDF + Business

While we continue to push proactive retailers to meaningfully implement their policies, the Mind the Store report also calls out a number of companies who have yet to address the chemical safety of their products. Dollar stores continue to rank at the bottom of the pack. Although there is some action from Dollar Tree, Dollar General scored 0 points in the report. Considering the geographical expansion that Dollar General has planned for this year, it’s even more important that they begin to address the ingredient safety of their products. Likewise, many grocers and fast food restaurants (included for the first time this year) scored poorly in the report. These companies have a major opportunity to lead in this arena. In a recent survey, more than 50% of consumers consider chemicals in food to be one of the most important food safety issues today.

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