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Beautycounter, HP and Walmart Are a Step Ahead in Chemical Management

Claudia Baldwin

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California recently banned the use of PFAS in children’s products and disposable food packaging, and set new requirements for cookware manufacturers to disclose the presence of these toxic “forever chemicals,” on products and labels. Maine passed legislation to ban most uses of PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) by 2030, except when their use is essential for health and safety or alternatives aren’t available. Shortly afterwards, the Biden administration announced a “whole of government” approach to regulating PFAS, leading some to predict a coming wave of litigation.

Companies that know what chemicals are being used to make the products they buy or manufacture are best positioned to respond to such regulatory risks — not to mention exploding consumer concern about the health and safety of the products they consume. Yet few companies actually know whether their products contain chemicals of high concern to human health or the environment (CoHCs, for short), such as PFAS.

There are notable exceptions. Beautycounter, Herman Miller, HP, Humanscale, Naturepedic, Reckitt Benckiser and Seventh Generation, for example, all proactively manage their chemical risks.

These companies received top scores in the Chemical Footprint Project’s fifth annual survey of chemicals management practices. All scored higher than 80 out of 100 possible points, well above the average 54 points for other companies participating in the survey, which evaluates company performance in four key areas: management strategy; chemical inventory; footprint measurement; and disclosure and verification.

Walmart was the first U.S. retailer to announce a time-bound chemical reduction goal.

These front runners are remarkably diverse, showing that proactive chemical management is achievable, whether you’re small or large, a publicly traded or privately owned company, or whether you produce building materials or personal care products.

Companies embarking on the Chemical Footprint journey follow a similar trajectory: they develop their management strategy for moving beyond regulatory compliance to safer alternatives; they inventory their chemicals, create restricted substances lists (RSLs), assess their footprint, and last publicly disclose their actions. The figure below depicts that trajectory. Each bar represents a company participating in the survey.

Front runners are deep into this journey. They’re hitting the mark in all four categories. Here are some key practices of these front runners.

Boards and senior management are engaged

Front runners are far more likely than other survey responders to have accountability at the highest levels of the company. For example, front-runners often offer financial incentives for senior management to meet corporate sustainability goals, including reducing the use of CoHCs. Leading companies also engage their boards on the implementation of their chemicals policies. Such support at the highest levels is critical for sustaining focus and action on reducing chemical footprints in the face of competing corporate demands.

HP, for example, commits to integrating its principles for materials and chemicals management into its business operations. This includes conducting assessments, defining performance goals and metrics, reviewing results with senior management regularly and publicly reporting on its continual improvement in areas covered by this policy.

Chemical footprints are measured — and reduced

Inventorying the chemicals used in a company’s operations and supply chains is the first key step to evaluating a company’s use of CoHCs, chemicals with wide-ranging health impacts such as carcinogenicity, reproductive or developmental toxicity, endocrine disruption, acute toxicity and neurotoxicity.

The Chemical Footprint analysis takes things a step further by summing the total amount of COHCs by mass that a company uses. That way a company can benchmark its progress at reducing, and ultimately eliminating, its use of harmful substances.

Walmart, for instance, was the first U.S. retailer to announce a time-bound chemical reduction goal, committing to reduce by 2022 its footprint of “priority chemicals” in formulated consumables by 10 percent in comparison to its 2017 baseline of 216 million pounds. Walmart tracks both its total footprint and its “normalized” footprint, or pounds of priority chemicals as a percent of total chemicals. The normalized footprint allows the company to track progress regardless of changes in total inventory.

Front-runners explicitly incorporate the use of safer alternatives into their hazard reduction strategies.

All the front-runners in the fifth annual survey have calculated their footprint by mass of CoHCs or had no CoHCs in products. The Chemical Footprint Project classifies over 2,200 chemicals and chemical classes as CoHCs based on the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and dozens of other authoritative institutions.

Safer alternatives are prioritized

Proactively and systematically seeking safer alternatives to replace CoHCs lessens the risk of a “regrettable substitute,” one that turns out to be of equal or greater concern to human health or the environment. For example, many companies replaced hazardous polystyrene food clamshells with fiber-based food clamshells, which they later learned contained hazardous PFAS. Because the companies did not thoroughly investigate chemical ingredients and associated hazards with their selection of an alternative, they chose a regrettable substitute.

Front-runners explicitly incorporate the use of safer alternatives into their hazard reduction strategies by including a preference for safer alternatives in their chemicals policy, integrating the criteria for safer alternatives into their business practices or rewarding suppliers for using safer alternatives.

Beautycounter, for example, reports that it omits close to 2,000 questionable ingredients in its formulations that are currently used in the industry (The Never List) and uses more sustainable ingredients that have been screened by its safety and sustainability experts.Further, it has created 12 safety standards that it requires its formula and manufacturing partners to follow.

GOJO’s Sustainable Product Innovation Policy states that it identifies and reduces the use of chemicals of concern and works to replace them with safer alternatives. The policy also states that GOJO will choose suppliers who provide best value, which includes prioritizing sustainability and actively supporting GOJO’s objectives and goals.

Public disclosure

Leading companies are willing to publicly disclose their chemicals management policies and practices.

Many front runners in our 2020 survey committed to disclose their Restricted Substances Listmanufacturing RSL (MRSL) and their 2020 Chemical Footprint Survey responses and score. Top disclosing companies include: Beckton Dickinson & Co, Beautycounter, GOJO Industries, Herman Miller, HP, Naturepedic, Seventh Generation and Walmart.

Significant chemicals management policies and practices go unshared with the public.

Seventh Generation goes further and publishes an ingredients glossary to inform consumers about the chemicals it uses in its products. Reckitt Benckiser similarly reported in 2020 that three-fourths of its revenue comes from products with 100 percent transparency in labeling.

For many companies, however, disclosure remains a challenge. The 2020 CFP Survey results revealed that significant chemicals management policies and practices go unshared with the public. For example, of all the companies that responded to the survey, 78 percent had a reduction goal for CoHCs, but only 44 percent shared the goal with the public.

While we highlight practices of leading-edge companies, we commend all 33 companies that reported to Clean Production Action’s 2020 Chemical Footprint Survey for embarking on the journey to safer chemicals and welcome the nine new companies that participated in the survey for the first time in 2020.

We encourage other companies to understand the chemicals they use or sell, and then systematically reduce their chemical footprints. The Chemical Footprint Project provides a practical framework for accomplishing this task — and in so doing, staying ahead of regulatory requirements and consumer and investor demand.

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Environment

Episode 327: Meet Carbontech Startup Air Company

Claudia Baldwin

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This week’s run time is 29:34.

WEEK IN REVIEW (3:45)
FEATURES
Turning carbon into value (18:55)

Gregory Constantine, co-founder and CEO of Air Company, talks growth plans for his startup — a leading carbon use company specializing in consumer goods such as vodka and fragrance made from air.

*Music in this episode: Lee Rosevere: “And So Then,” “4th Ave. Walkup,” “I’m Going for a Coffee” and “Let That Sink In.”

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To make sure you don’t miss the newest episode of GreenBiz 350, subscribe on iTunes or Spotify. Have a question or suggestion for a future segment? E-mail us at [email protected].

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The Sustainability Scorecard, Reviewed

Claudia Baldwin

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A version of this article originally appeared in our Circularity Weekly newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter here.

I was invited to read a new book and interview one of the authors. As someone who has long enjoyed reading books about sustainability, it was very flattering to be sent a copy of a new book, “The Sustainability Scorecard,” by Paul Anastas and Urvashi Bhatnagar, and asked to provide my thoughts in a review.

Many of our Circularity Weekly readers are probably familiar with Paul Anastas. A hero of mine since graduate school, Anastas is a deep thinker, a brilliant chemist and an engaging speaker. I was far less familiar with Urvashi Bhatnagar. Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to chat with Bhatnagar over the phone about her book and immediately became a fan. A healthcare executive and population health expert with a keen eye toward sustainability, Bhatnagar brings a different perspective to “The Sustainability Scorecard” that pairs quite well with Anastas.

“The Sustainability Scorecard” provides a simple and straightforward method for identifying where a company currently is on its sustainability journey and a method to track progress. The book proves that sustainability makes economic as well as ecological sense and guides leaders in creating and scaling their own green supply-chain initiative. I’ve read a lot of sustainability books, and this one provides the most practical steps for corporate improvement. According to Goodreads, “Through repeatable, reliable processes that address operating model design and new key performance indicators to scaling, this book is a practical guide that leaders can rely on to make their existing systems more sustainable and profitable.”

What I learned No. 1: Entrenched systems are not so entrenched

To some degree, this takeaway from the book follows quite well on my piece from a couple Fridays ago. We often get the false sense that the status quo is the status quo is the status quo is the status quo (Wait, did I just type that a bunch of times? Whoops, leaving it in because it helps make the point). “Entrenched systems and globe-spanning companies may appear impossible to dislodge,” Bhatnagar and Anastas write, “but consider that none of the top-10 most valuable companies today were on that list in 1990. Many didn’t even exist in 1990. Big changes can happen within only a few decades.” Because of this, we need to overcome the learned behavior that we can’t make a difference because the behemoths in the economy will never change.

What I learned No. 2: The scorecard framework

Bhatnagar and Anastas have provided a straightforward and scalable model for firms to move directionally towards sustainability. The framework focuses on four areas:

Waste prevention
Maximizing efficiency and performance
Renewable inputs
Safe degradation of materials

While these endpoints are largely rooted in environmental sustainability, they also cross over into social wellbeing for workers, fence-line communities and product users — all very important considerations for any sustainability practice.

When I looked at the scorecard, I was struck by how it is simultaneously simple and in-depth. The four high-level goals manage to get to the heart of how to make more sustainable products and processes without overcomplicating things. The authors have developed a data-driven methodology that can be approached whether you are starting your sustainability work (Initiate phase), are down the path but still learning (Develop phase) or are an industry leader that’s been focused on sustainability for quite some time (Maturity phase). The key to this framework, and I think one of the key insights I pulled from the book, is that directionality is important. In other words, set a direction for your sustainability work that aligns with the best science available and start moving. Sure, the pace we are moving is important, but the direction is far more so.

What I learned No. 3: Perfection is unattainable

When I spoke with Bhatnagar about the book, she mentioned this was one of the sticking points in writing and publishing it. There is always a desire within any framework to define the perfect state, to show users how to grab the brass ring. Bhatnager and Anastas argue that sustainability doesn’t have a perfect state. Even if firms can achieve the best score in all areas of the sustainability scorecard (zeros for all categories in this case), there will always be work to do. The work could be remediating the issues the firm has created in the past or pushing upstream and downstream partners to improve their sustainability. In other words, firms should be reaching for perfection, but it should always be getting farther away as the science evolves and shows us what it means to be sustainable as an individual, a company, a nation and a global community.

Overall

When I look at this book and the Sustainability Scorecard as a whole, I am excited for the structure it can bring to corporate sustainability in all sectors of the economy. Having spent a considerable amount of time in the private sector trying to build sustainability programs, I can confidently say that these broadly applicable frameworks are always welcome as inputs to a sustainability strategy.

I’d encourage folks to pick up this book, give it a read and think about how you can apply the Sustainability Scorecard to your own work. If you set directional goals, track data and measure progress, you can ensure you are moving in the right direction. And remember, if you reach for the brass ring and fall, at least you tried.

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Environment

Episode 326: the Heat Index; a Historic Climate Policy Opp

Claudia Baldwin

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This week’s run time is 44:51.

WEEK IN REVIEW (3:30)
FEATURES
A sweltering European summer (21:05)

James Murray, editor-in-chief of BusinessGreen, chats about record-breaking heat waves in the U.K. and Europe are challenging infrastructure and economies, and reshaping the dialogue about climate risk.

Cognizant CSO reflects on climate change and employee well-being (30:20)

Sophia Mendelsohn, chief sustainability officer and global head of ESG at tech services firm Cognizant, addresses the company’s broad ESG strategy and why employee well-being needs to be considered in the context of climate change.

*Music in this episode: Lee Rosevere: “Keeping Stuff Together,” “Not My Problem,” “Snakes,” “Southside.”

STAY CONNECTED

To make sure you don’t miss the newest episode of GreenBiz 350, subscribe on iTunes or Spotify. Have a question or suggestion for a future segment? E-mail us at [email protected].

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