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Walmart, Target push for sustainable cosmetics with industry scorecard

Products - cosmetics Korea© Gina Smith - Fotolia.com

A group of organisations led by US retailers Walmart and Target has published a science-based scorecard for the personal care industry, aimed at helping manufacturers create safer and more sustainable products.

The two rival retailers and NGO Forum for the Future (FFTF) began work on the project three years ago. Addressing chemicals of concern and ingredient transparency emerged as one of the main issues from actions agreed at the 2014 beauty and personal care (BPC) product sustainability summit.

A core group of eighteen organisations across the BPC value chain - including Henkel, Johnson & Johnson, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Sustainability Consortium - has worked on the scorecard since.

The final result is made up of 32 key performance indicators (KPIs) for sustainable personal care products. These KPIs are clustered into four areas:

  • human health impact of ingredients and product formulations;
  • resource usage and emissions during sourcing, manufacturing and product use;
  • ingredient disclosure to consumers; and
  • environmental and health impacts of packaging.

The scorecard awards the highest number of points - 130 out of 400 - to the human health cluster, which focuses on aspects of chemicals in products.

The section includes a stewardship list of chemicals of concern. On it are all compounds on, among others, California's Prop 65 list of suspected carcinogens, the EU priority list of endocrine disruptors, and the list of carcinogens, mutagens and reprotoxicants (CMRs) under REACH Annex XVII.

Cosmetics manufacturers gather points on the scorecard by making sure their product does not include any chemicals on the stewardship list. Extra points are given to companies with a publicly stated policy not to include any of these substances in their formulations.

The stewardship list covers both intentionally and unintentionally added ingredients. For good practice, it says, companies should certify their product for safety by a third party, such as the Safer Choice or Cradle to Cradle Certified product standard.

Boma Brown-West, senior manager of consumer health at NGO the Environmental Defense Fund, told Chemical Watch that through the scorecard major retailers are sending a joint signal to suppliers that it’s time to improve product sustainability.

"This scorecard will incentivise a race to the top for safer, more sustainable products. While federal regulation continues to lag, this sets a clear, market-driven benchmark for sustainability performance," she said.

"There’s a divide in the marketplace between companies who make safer product innovation a cornerstone of their business and those who do not. This scorecard will shed more light on the performance divide in the industry," Ms Brown-West said.

However, in a blog post following the announcement. she said that despite major retailers’ aligning on the stewardship list, the group could not reach consensus on how much the reduction of the use of chemicals on the lists should contribute to a product’s sustainability score.

"This was disappointing to EDF; we hope that in the future, activity regarding the stewardship list will be sufficiently rewarded in practice," she said.

Other KPIs cover compliance with the International Fragrance Association (Ifra) standards for fragrance ingredients in final formulations; and a product’s chemical footprint. Companies gain points by measuring their chemical footprint, according to the NGO Clean Production Action's initiative, and publicly disclosing it.

And several KPIs cover ingredient disclosure. To score the highest points, suppliers should provide information on all chemicals on the stewardship list that are reasonably expected to be present at detectable levels, whether they were intentionally or unintentionally added.

Lists of allergens, the function of each ingredient in the product, and names of any nanomaterials contained in it, should be publicly available, either on the pack or on online.

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