How Target and Walmart led a push to make over makeup

How Target and Walmart led a push to make over makeup

Courtesy ofForum for the Future

More consumers than ever are inquiring about the makeup of cosmetics and other personal care products. The best anecdotal evidence? The pressure giant retailers Target and Walmart have put on their suppliers  especially over the past year — not just to disclose their use of "ingredients of concern" but to phase them out entirely.

For the most part, the retailers’ past efforts have been very company-specific. Both companies have published lists of chemicals they’d like to see go, such as triclosan, diethyl phthalate and preservative compounds that release formaldehyde.

Now, however, Walmart and Target are taking this cause industry-wide in collaboration with non-profit Forum for the Future. All three are encouraging other retailers, consumer products companies and other interested parties to participate in the forum’s Beauty and Personal Care Products Sustainability Project.

The goal: clarify priorities for products such as makeup, hair products and other personal care goods and share best practices that accelerate the availability of greener chemical alternatives.

"You wouldn’t have the retailers pushing as hard if the consumer pressure wasn’t there," said Helen Clarkson, director of Forum for the Future U.S. "Retailers are seeing more rapid growth in product categories with natural or safe on the label. … We want more products like this, and we want to be more sure about what the labels mean, because more manufacturers are making these claims."

Many details, including specific membership requirements, have yet to be finalized. What’s clear, however, is that the new leadership group will focus on coordinating the work of existing initiatives, such as the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council. One of the first things it plans to tackle is the development of sustainable preservatives. "We want them to be ambitious," Clarkson said.

Walmart began asking for disclosures about chemicals from its suppliers way back in 2006. Its initiative, the Sustainable Chemistry Policy, prioritizes action around 10 chemicals of concern.

Target updated its own chemicals list earlier this year as part of broader update to its Product Sustainability Index. Its "Made to Matter" brand, which features natural, organic and sustainable brands selected by Target, should generate $1 billion in sales this year, according to the company. In fact, human wellness is officially part of its corporate social responsibility platform.

"It is a critical time for collaboration; we need the supply chain to come together to truly move the need and make the greatest impact," Target spokeswoman Angie Thompson told GreenBiz.

Early recommendations

Forum for the Future has collaborated closely with Walmart and Target over the past year to document what’s working and what’s not. In preparation for the leadership group’s first meeting this month, in October it published a "think piece" (PDF) identifying potential barriers as well as frameworks that could inform a systemic approach.

Aside from the retailers, other companies involved in the research were BASF, CVS, Dow Chemical Company, Eastman Chemical, the Environmental Defense Fund, Henkel, Johnson & Johnson, Method, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

Among the report's recommendations are a push for more cross-initiative communications among the groups already working on solutions. The authors note:

To ensure a systems approach and lay the groundwork for greater alignment, we recommend creating a short-term, overarching organizational structure that provides an umbrella for the various sustainability initiatives in the beauty and persona care industry and combines their influence. This body should support holistic thinking over the coming months, until alignment and collaboration among the various existing initiatives has build up enough momentum to continue independently.

Forum for the Future also advocates a collaborative research and development initiative centered on sustainable preservatives. Among the issues that the industry needs to address are the sharing of intellectual property and safety information, as well as the framework for forward-thinking procurement policies that help bring these new products to market.

Our recommendations focus on taking action close to the market, improving or hastening the return on investment, and incentivizing companies or innovators that are already working to bring innovations to scale  not on incentivizing the early research and development of new ingredients.

The latter is already a focus for GC3, according to the Forum’s analysis. Other groups, such as the Sustainability Consortium, have made progress in prioritizing ingredients.

"We see more and more retailers developing sustainable product indices, as well as evolving their policies beyond just chemicals, to now include ingredients, animal testing, safety and packaging," Sarah Lewis, a TSC managing director, told GreenBiz. "We are also seeing convergence around key certifications and standards in this space."

There’s also a policy-related twist that could inform the sustainable chemicals movement, in the form of proposed reforms to the nearly 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. Two bills are circulating in Congress, both of which would require more testing and more disclosure.

"Americans are exposed to a toxic soup of more than 80,000 different chemicals, but we have no idea what the impact of those chemicals is on our bodies  or those of our children," said New Mexico senator Tom Udall when in March he proposed the Senate’s version of the bill (named for the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg).

Right now, however, it doesn’t look like the legislation will be addressed this year.