Two of the largest retailers in the US, Target and Walmart, have taken steps to phase out toxic chemicals from their products in response to the coalition Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF). The group represents over 450 organisations and businesses, and over 11 million individuals, including parents, health professionals and advocates – united by a “common concern about toxic chemicals in our homes, places of work, and products we use every day”. Its stated aims are to reform outdated toxic chemical laws, work with retailers to phase out hazardous chemicals from the marketplace, and educate the public about ways to protect one’s family from toxic chemicals.
In the 2013 campaign Mind the Store, SCHF asked 20 of the top US retailers, including Walmart and Target, to check which of the products they sell contain chemicals on its list of 100+ identified as of ‘high concern’ to health by two or more government agencies. Some companies failed to respond, but Target introduced a sustainable product standard “to help establish a common language, definition and process for qualifying what makes a product more sustainable at Target”. Using the UL Transparency Platform, powered by GoodGuide, it is now asking vendors representing 6,500 products for information to score each one out of 100, based on its ingredients, transparency and environmental impact.
In September 2014, Target and Walmart co-hosted the Beauty and Personal Care Products Sustainability Summit in Chicago, US. The day-long event, convened by Forum for the Future, brought together key players from across the beauty and personal care industries to accelerate a conversation about product sustainability. The aim was to map the landscape in which companies and organisations are operating, explore common concerns and identify where stakeholders can bring better options to consumers.
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“The summit was a first of its kind for Target and Walmart”, says Helen Clarkson, Director of Forum for the Future US. “Fiercely competitive, both have witnessed increased demand from their customers for more sustainable personal care and beauty products: Target says that 97% of households now buy some natural and organic products, for example. Meanwhile, campaigns such as Mind the Store, from activist group Moms Rising, have been lobbying to remove certain chemicals of concern from products.”
Following the summit, three areas have been identified where pre-competitive work with more than one player in the wider system will create the most sustainability benefits. These are streamlined information-sharing across the value chain; science-based assessment criteria for evaluating product sustainability; and pre-competitive development of new preservatives. Forum for the Future will be seeking interest from players in the system to participate and join these collaborations.