Walmart has announced a 95% by weight reduction of “high priority chemicals” from certain products sold in US locations, according to its latest global responsibility report.
The company’s policy on sustainable chemistry in consumables, launched in 2013, seeks to remove substances of high concern from goods such as personal care, paper, cleaning, pet, and baby products.
It committed to begin publicly communicating its progress from January this year.
Absent from its announcement, however, is the list of the “ten or so” high priority chemicals that have been addressed. Kevin Gardner, senior director of Walmart’s global responsibility communications, told Chemical Watch that the company plans to release the list “in the coming months”.
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) – an NGO that worked with Walmart on its sustainability goals – called the announcement a “promising step in the right direction”. But it added that “it is difficult to fully appreciate Walmart’s accomplishments, without knowing the names of these chemical targets.”
“[It] is what spurs innovation throughout the supply chain,” said Jennifer McPartland, senior scientist for EDF. Knowledge of the substances the company seeks to eliminate could help bring other players into the picture who want to be part of the solutions, she added, and could encourage other retailers to follow suit.
Mr Gardner told Chemical Watch that Walmart determined its list of high priority chemicals based on:
- listing status on one or more authoritative hazard lists, as included in GreenWERCS (the chemical reporting tool, used by Walmart for supplier ingredient disclosure);
- a “relevance ranking” derived from the business volume or distribution, and the exposure or product type; and
- consideration of emerging regulations, stakeholder concern, and feasibility of safer substitution.
The EDF says it expects the company to release more specifics on its chemicals management policy – including “quantitative results on all aspects of the policy’s implementation guide and details about how they achieved the substantial reduction” – on its sustainability hub website in the coming weeks.
Mike Schade, director of the Mind the Store NGO campaign, said that it hopes Walmart will not only disclose their high priority substances list, but also expand it, “to challenge their suppliers to eliminate and safely substitute a broader universe of hazardous chemicals.”
Mr Schade said the campaign also wants the company to extend its policy to “other chemically intensive product categories”, such as children's toys, electronics and apparel.
Walmart’s report also mentions its commitment to expand its range of US EPA Safer Choice-certified own brand products.
It also reported that roughly three quarters of the suppliers who voluntarily responded to the company’s sustainability index survey provided information on their ingredient disclosure policies. Of these, 78% said they are disclosing ingredients online for all their products in accordance with a nationally recognised standard.
According to Mr Gardner, these standards include the US EPA Design for the Environment (DfE) standard for safer products, and the Consumer Specialty Products Association's consumer product ingredient communication initiative.
Walmart set a goal for suppliers to provide online ingredient disclosure for all products covered by the company’s chemicals policy, beginning in January 2015. It aims for disclosure of all priority chemicals on packaging by January 2018.
The EDF said that it attributes the progress reported by the company to:
- the use of a third-party managed chemical database (GreenWERCS);
- prioritisation of specific substances for removal; and
- establishment of a timeline to track and share progress publicly.
“We look forward to the day these practices reflect the business norm rather than the exception,” said Dr McPartland.