Can we collaborate our way to safer chemicals?

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.

Advancing public health through innovation

After a yearlong competition among innovative companies and research institutions, the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3) and InnoCentive announced winners of their global innovation challenge for greener preservatives. Greener preservatives have been an aim of many retailers and brands recently. As we explored in our landmark Smart Innovation report, preservatives are a tough class of ingredients to tackle. Many of today’s conventional preservatives pose one or more concerns including skin sensitization, aquatic toxicity, and endocrine disruption. Others have extensive health and safety data gaps. However, preservatives provide a vital function in products by preventing pathogenic microbial growth and extending shelf-life. Importantly, the innovation challenge focused on products with frequent direct skin contact beauty, personal care and household cleaning products.

How can a company find alternatives that can provide the same function yet have a lower impact on human health and the environment?

The GC3 challenge used a novel approach to do just that. GC3 convened a pre-competitive group of key stakeholders from across the value chain – eleven brand manufacturers (including Johnson & Johnson and Reckitt Benckiser), five ingredient suppliers (including Lonza and Dow Microbial Control), and Walmart and Target, two retailers that have issued strong calls for better preservatives in personal care and cleaning products.

Boma Brown-West, Senior Manager of Consumer Health

Since Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) developed an ambitious goal of reducing chemicals of concern in the marketplace, we see ingredient innovation as a key to realizing market-driven solutions for safer products. EDF was a sponsor of the challenge, involved in setting submission criteria and in judging submissions. Participation from business leaders across the value chain and public health scientists led to the development of robust environmental, health, and performance criteria by which to judge submissions, as well as an attractive incentive for potential innovators to directly engage with industry leaders. Importantly, ingredient manufacturers who sponsored the challenge did not participate in setting the criteria or judging submissions. It also led to sharing of experiences and learning across the supply chain. After a rigorous review of the 48 submissions from around the globe, seven promising technology solutions were ultimately selected to split the $175,000 reward. GC3 and the industry sponsors will continue to nurture the development of the winning solutions and the innovators’ access to industry leaders.

Achieving a safer marketplace takes more than just the identification of problematic ingredients. It also requires market actors working together to spur, validate, and commercialize green chemistry innovation. The GC3 preservatives innovation challenge is an exciting collaborative model for supporting the safer chemical and product innovation we need. We look forward to the GC3’s additional collaborative innovation initiatives in the future.

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