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SC Johnson reveals criteria for selecting 'Greenlist' ingredients

Consumer products giant SC Johnson has revealed the criteria behind its Greenlist ingredient selection programme.

Its sustainability report, The Science Within, gives a detailed breakdown of how the company evaluates the ingredients in its products to "better protect human health and the environment".

The report says the Greenlist programme has been peer-reviewed by five "leading experts in human and environmental toxicology", which includes Paul Anastas, director of Yale University’s center for green chemistry and engineering and Julie M. Schoenung, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of California.  

Under the programme, ingredients undergo a four-step evaluation of their potential impact on human health and the environment which looks at both hazard and risk.

The four steps assess each ingredient for:

  • chronic human health hazards;
  • long-term environmental hazards;
  • acute risks to human and environmental health; and
  • other potential effects such as allergic reactions

Hazard assessment

The report says that hazard assessment is conducted by an external panel of experts, who the report claims provide "an unbiased scientific evaluation of each ingredient." A spokesperson for SC Johnson said they were unable to share details about who carries out the assessments, but confirmed they were different experts to those who peer-reviewed the Greenlist programme. 

The panel reviews ingredient information provided by suppliers and fills any gaps by examining publicly available data.

The sources used to collect data include:

  • Echa's website;
  • Toxnet – the US National Institute of Health’s database on toxicology, hazardous chemicals, environmental health and toxic releases;
  • eChem Portal – OECD chemical substance property data;
  • California Proposition 65 list – chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm;
  • Inchem – International Programme on Chemical Safety site for safety information from intergovernmental organisations; and
  • ToxCast/EDSP 21 – the US EPA’s endocrine disruption screening programme.

Ingredients are classified as either ‘acceptable’, ‘better’ or ‘best’, depending on the evidence. If an ingredient fails to meet one of these levels, and the science indicates a potential hazard, a risk assessment is carried out.

Risk assessment

The assessment is based on how the product will be used, who will be exposed to it, by how much, for how long and how often. This information is then used by its scientists for new product development and improvements to existing products.

The report says that SC Johnson uses the ‘broadest likely exposure scenarios’ in order to establish a safe margin for use.

This, it says, ensures the concentration of the ingredient used in products is "multiple times lower than the lowest concentration that could possibly cause impacts to human health or the environment." The packaging, use instructions or other features might also be altered to mitigate exposure.

In some cases, SC Johnson may seek to substitute the ingredient with a suitable alternative.

‘Not allowable’ list

SC Johnson maintains a ‘not allowable’ list of ingredients, which it aims to avoid using in its products. This includes more than 200 raw materials and more than 2,400 fragrance ingredients.

These are materials and ingredients which meet legal and regulatory requirements. SC Johnson says it has voluntarily chosen to avoid these because they do not meet its standards.

The report says that in some cases SC Johnson uses the ingredients "in very small amounts", because there is not an available cost-effective alternative that delivers the same performance.

SC Johnson chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson, said: "We hope others will follow our lead and share their own scientific method. More transparency simply raises the bar for everyone."

Four step criteria

Step 1 – Chronic human health effects 

  • carcinogenicity;
  • mutagenicity;
  • reproductive/developmental impacts; and
  • endocrine disrupting.

Step 2 – Long-term environmental hazards

  • persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT).

Step 3 – Acute risks to human and environmental health

  • mammalian toxicity (oral, dermal);
  • irritation/corrosion;
  • mammalian toxicity (respiratory);
  • aquatic/terrestrial toxicity;
  • biodegradability; and
  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Step 4 – Other effects

  • dermal allergenicity.

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