Retailers Share Best Practices for Managing Chemicals

Retailers Share Best Practices for Managing Chemicals

Shopping - / CC BY-SA 2.0

From a company like Apple that makes the majority of the products it sells to chains like Staples and Walmart that handle loads of products from suppliers, retailers have had to become more aware of the chemicals and ingredients in the products they offer.

A new report looks at six companies' product chemical management systems, showing how they developed their systems, what challenges they've faced and what benefits they've encountered.

Many companies are finding that it's no longer good enough to just comply with chemical regulations and that customers, both consumers and other businesses, are asking more and more about what chemicals and ingredients are in products and demanding that some are no longer used.

One of the biggest cases of company self-regulation has been with bisphenol A (BPA), the widely used chemical to make hard plastic, metal can liners and numerous other products. While the chemical has not been regulated by the U.S. government, due to growing concern over its possible effects, others countries' and states' regulations of it, government reports on it and consumer backlash, many manufacturers and retailers pulled items that contained BPA and started developing BPA-free alternatives.

The report, by the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council, analyzed the work of Apple, Boots, Green Depot, Patagonia, REI, Staples and Walmart to create a list of six best practices for retailers to follow:

1. Gaining commitment from the top. Get a commitment from leaders that it is important to have a system for managing product chemicals.

2. Collaborating with direct suppliers. Communicate expectations to suppliers and work with them as they make changes.

3. Engaging with a wider net of stakeholders. Work with suppliers, advocates, other retailers and sector/industry groups when developing a chemical management system.

4. Educating consumers. Provide information about the safety of products on the products themselves.

5. Managing the system well. Start the system with a baseline that allows for continuous improvement.

6. Selecting the approach that's right for you. Look at different systems to find a system that is the best fit for your business.

While Apple is now very open about the contents of its products and what materials is has or will eliminate, the company was originally very secretive about what it was doing to cut out chemicals, which led to the company being called out by groups like Greenpeace while it was actually working behind the scenes to green up its electronics.

The company now follow a product design strategy aimed at minimizing environmental impact, complies with the E.U.'s Reduction of Hazardous Substances Directive and eliminated asbestos, cadmium, lead, arsenic in glass, PVC, phthalates and other chemicals from products.

Outdoor gear retailer REI developed a list of restricted substance for products sold under its own brand, but has less control over what goes into products from suppliers. The company works with other brands, encouraging them to become certified under the Bluesign independent environmental textile standard and created its own ecoSensitive label for any items that have better environmental impacts than similar products.

The report, Best Practices in Product Chemicals Management in the Retail Industry, is available for free.

Shopping - / CC BY-SA 2.0