Global Brands are Committing to Chemical Transparency

Sep 1, 2016 4:10 PM ET

In just the last few years, there has been a positive trend of leading global brands such as Walmart, Target and Nike that have made visible commitments to both chemical transparency and cutting down hazardous chemicals along their supply chains. Furthermore, many brands are starting to collaborate with NGOs and other industry experts to create momentum around achieving transparency goals.

In its 2016 Global Responsibility Report released in April, Walmart reported that they successfully reduced usage of 10 priority chemicals in home and personal care products by 95%.

Just earlier this month, Walmart named the 10 priority chemicals and shared how they successfully limited their use – a significant step forward for supply chain transparency. The chemicals are butylparaben, propylparaben, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, formaldehyde, nonylphenol ethoxylates, triclosan, and toluene.

The EDF (Environmental Defense Fund) helped Walmart craft its chemical policy, a sign that companies continue to collaborate with NGOs to become leaders in improving their sustainability and social responsibility performance.

Many other companies, including retailers and manufacturers, have also made commitments to chemical transparency and restricting hazardous chemicals in the supply chain, often in collaboration with NGOs and other industry experts.

Target released its Sustainable Product Standard in 2013, which assigned a sustainability rating of up to 100 points for 7,500 products. Suppliers of household cleaners, personal care and beauty, and baby care products were required to complete an assessment of ingredient sustainability, material transparency, and the overall environmental impact of the product. Target used these ratings to make decisions on where to place products and how to market them.

SC Johnson released for the first time a “restricted-use” list in its 2014 sustainability report. In addition, the company disclosed its Greenlist process, which was established in 2001. Its goal is to make sure SC Johnson products use the chemical and ingredient options that would allow Johnson to go beyond meeting compliance requirements, and use ingredients that would lower their impact on human health and the environment. Materials are ranked on a scale from 0-3 (0-Rated, Good, Better, Best). 0-rated materials are prohibited from use in new products, and are slated to be eliminated from any existing products.

At the time the report was released, the company went from using Better/Best ingredients in 18% of their materials to 52%, nearly tripling their usage of “better” chemicals in a little over 10 years.

Nike’s Restricted Substance List (RSL) is readily available on their website and is “based on the most stringent worldwide legislation or regulation.” Similar to SC Johnson’s efforts, Nike also voluntary included non-regulated substances that may have detrimental effects on human health and the environment. Any supplier to Nike has to comply with its RSL and its “green and sustainable chemistry guidelines.” EU REACH is one of the primary regulations Nike based its chemical list on.

In the electronics industry, HP has also announced its commitment to following global standards for restricting toxic chemicals. HP’s commitment to RoHS and REACH are publicly available on their website. HP is “committed to compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, including any new material restriction requirements that may be adopted under the European Union Recast RoHS Directive..” To learn more about what the requirements of RoHS are, and to understand the standards global brands are requiring their supply chain to comply with, click here.

The movement toward supply chain transparency and sustainable chemistry is being driven by collaboration between industry leaders and NGOs. As leading brands continue to push for eliminating harmful chemicals from their supply chain, upstream suppliers will be required to meet the same standards in order to continue business. The best way to manage this continuing trend for all supply chain stakeholders is proactively collect meaningful data to drive transparency. Slowly but surely, these standards set forth by globally visible brands will set the next high bar for other companies to follow.