A growing number of companies are taking steps to eliminate hazardous chemicals from their products and supply chains.
To this end, ADEC Innovations and the ZDHC Foundation say they are building a centralized product information database that helps chemical producers, brands and textile and footwear suppliers make better sourcing decisions.
ADEC supplies environmental, social and governance software, consulting and data management services to organizations around the world.
The ZDHC Foundation is a nonprofit that oversees the management of the ZDHC Programme, a collaboration of nearly two dozen leading brands including Adidas, H&M, Gap, Nike and Levi’s and industry groups working towards the goal of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals.
ADEC and ZDHC say the ZDHC Chemical Gateway will be a first-of-its-kind resource — but it enters a market saturated with dozens of other chemical management tools and platforms such as GreenWERCs, GreenSuite, EPA Safer Choices and GreenScreen to name a few.
Michele B. Carchman, sustainability program director of ADEC Innovations told Environmental Leader that the ZDHC Chemical Gateway is different from these and other tools in a number of ways.
“This is a database that is populated and maintained by chemical companies, so it provides a level of confidence that the information is up to date and accurate,” Carchman said. “The chemicals listed in the Gateway are then evaluated against the ZDHC MRSL [Manufacturers Restricted Substances List] by using accredited third-party standards and methodologies to provided a confidence level by which the chemical formulation conforms to the MRSL.”
ZDHC formed in 2011, following a series of Greenpeace reports about toxic chemicals in clothing from a host of brands including those mentioned above.
After Nike, Puma and Adidas individually committed to having zero discharge of hazardous chemicals throughout their supply chains by 2020, the sports brands began entered discussions about creating an industry-wide collaboration to develop chemical management programs.
The 22 brands involved in the collaboration also developed and signed off on the Manufacturers Restricted Substances List, a list of chemical substances banned from intentional use in facilities that process textile materials and trim parts in apparel and footwear.
“The Chemical Gateway can then be used by textile and footwear suppliers to determine if their chemical inventories and use conform with the ZDHC [Manufacturers Restricted Substances List] given the coalition’s goal to eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals in the textile/apparel supply chain,” Carchman said.
This is obviously a good and important goal. It protects the health and safety of customers, workers who are manufacturing the products and the environment. But does the market need another chemical management tool?
The industry leaders interviewed for this piece say it can’t hurt.
“Over the last decade, an increased focus on the safe use and sustainability of chemicals in consumer products has led to growing marketplace demand for accessible, transparent information about product ingredients,” said Debra Phillips, vice president, responsible care and value chain outreach for the American Chemistry Council. “To meet this demand, a variety of standards, lists, rating systems and other tools have been developed by government, academia, industry and NGOs, with the purpose of helping retailers, product manufacturers and others evaluate chemical ingredients in products. These tools range in their capabilities, how and what they measure in terms of endpoints, ease of use, transparency and cost. Because so many different tools with a range of characteristics are available, it is important for the tool user to have a thorough understanding of what the tool they are using is designed to measure.”
The Environmental Defense Fund worked with Walmart to develop its chemical policy, which includes reducing or eliminating eight toxic chemicals in its products. The nonprofit has said that 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.”
When asked if the market is oversaturated with chemical tools, EDF’s Boma Brown-West, senior manager, consumer health, said no.
“Chemicals management is a layered topic, encompassing issues from supply chain transparency to safer product design,” she said. “I believe why we see a variety of tools out there today is because they serve different purposes related to chemicals management and thus differ in capability or focus.
“For example, GreenScreen is a methodology for assessing and communicating the chemical hazard of individual chemicals. Chemical Footprint Project is a survey to evaluate the strength of your company’s overall chemicals management. GreenWERCS is a software that helps you flag chemicals in your product that appear on authoritative chemical lists. The EPA Safer Choice Program is a product labeling program that recognizes products that are made with safer ingredients. GreenSuite is a risk assessment software for evaluating chemicals under different scenarios.”
Johnson & Johnson in 2009 developed its own chemical management and product design approach called Earthwards. This incorporates various tools that the company developed for specific business segments.
“We also participated in the inaugural Chemical Footprint Project last year as a way to demonstrate and benchmark our process and approach to management of chemicals and ingredients in our products,” Al Iannuzzi, senior director of worldwide environment, health, safety & sustainability at Johnson & Johnson, said in an email to Environmental Leader. “Tools must be relevant to our business units and outcomes must be meaningful to our customers and stakeholders. We support cross-industry efforts and work closely with stakeholders, and focus on tools and rating systems that are valued by our customers As an example CVS Health, one of our largest customers in the United States recently awarded us with their inaugural Sustainability and Social Responsibility Supplier Award, in part because of our participation in the Chemical Footprint Project.”
Brown-West said retailers and manufacturers should consider two major things when selecting which chemical management tool or tools to use.
“First, what is the question you’re trying to answer or the goal you’re trying to track? This helps you pinpoint your real need,” she said. “For example are you focused on gaining deeper insight into the identity of chemicals in your product portfolio or are you keen on more detailed safety information?
“Second, what are your existing in-house capabilities? This helps you understand your in-house expertise and competencies, your in-house infrastructure, your finances — all things that are key to identifying what tools or enablers would be useful in helping you achieve your specific chemicals management goals.”
Phillips emphasizes that it’s important to understand what the tools are designed to measure as well as how and why a chemical ingredient is used in a product.
“A chemical assessment for one product may not fit all situations,” she said. “Retailers and manufacturers need to clearly understand and define the context in which a product is used before determining if a specific chemical ingredient is hazardous or not. For example, if a chemical is a hazard when it is inhaled, it shouldn’t be used in spray applications, but there may be no hazard associated with using that chemical ingredient in a lotion.”
The amount of the chemical used in a product also matters, Phillips said, adding that the “hazard” of a particular ingredient is only one aspect to consider in product and materials selection.
“Hazard assessment tools can provide valuable information about a chemical ingredient, but should not be used alone to make product selection decisions,” she said. “If a tool flags a certain chemical ingredient, it indicates that the tool user should dig deeper, and ask questions, such as: How is the chemical ingredient used in the product? What is the extent of possible human exposure to the chemical? What is the functional role of the chemical in the product?”
These are all important questions to ask. And luckily for manufacturers and retailers, there are many tools available to help come up with the answers and select safe ingredients for everything from medical products to running shoes.