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Why Walmart’s Chemicals Disclosure Is a Smart Business Move

green chemistryWalmart released significant information about its progress toward reducing certain chemicals in its products this week.

As Michelle Mauthe Harvey writes in an Environmental Defense Fund blog, in April Walmart published its 2016 Global Responsibility Report, highlighting a 95 percent reduction by weight in some 10 high-priority chemicals in home and personal care products covered by the company’s Sustainable Chemistry policy.

Back in 2013 when Walmart announced the chemical policy, it said it would work with its suppliers to reduce or eliminate “about 10” toxic chemicals in its products. At the time it didn’t name the 10.

Then in its most recent sustainability report, touting the 95 percent reduction by weight, the chemical names and volumes were notably absent from the report.

On Tuesday, the retail giant released the names of the chemicals — butylparaben, propylparaben, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, formaldehyde, nonylphenol ethoxylates, triclosan and toluene — along with details as to how it reduced their use.

EDF worked with Walmart on its chemical policy. The blog says in deciding to tackle ingredient chemistry despite difficult challenges such as changing a product formula without changing the product, Walmart changed the marketplace.

“Walmart is the one company in the world that could drive over 11,500 tons — 23 million pounds — of chemicals out of so much product in less than 24 months,” Harvey writes.

Following Walmart’s lead, other companies including Target and SC Johnson have taken steps to phase out hazardous chemicals in their products and encourage product transparency.

The moves come as customers, investors and other shareholders are increasingly demanding transparency from companies about their sustainability initiatives and progress.

The federal government may soon be asking companies to provide additional information about chemicals in their products as well.

The updated Toxic Substances Control Act — the nation’s primary chemical safety regulations — became law late last month. In imposes a number of new responsibilities on manufacturers and potentially any company that uses chemicals in its products.

In an earlier interview, Judah Prero, an attorney at Sidley Austin LLP said because the new provisions have a more distinct focus on use of and exposure to chemicals, the size of the population affected by the new rules will expand from the traditional chemical manufacturers and processors to potentially any manufacturer that incorporates chemicals into their products.

“This bill directs EPA to look at chemicals in the context of their use in a much more pointed fashion than exists today,” Prero told Environmental Leader. “To do that, EPA is going to need information on use, which doesn’t necessarily come from manufactures because manufactures will sell chemicals that are used in all sorts of substances. Downstream industries that didn’t necessarily feel a TSCA impact are going to have to start paying attention to what EPA is doing.”

 

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