A careful analysis of retailer progress across fourteen scoring criteria revealed five major findings:
- 1: IMPROVING: The nation’s largest retailers are driving a race to the top to ensure that safer chemicals are used to make and package their products.
- 2:LEADING: Other retail leaders on safer chemicals were newly identified by expanding the evaluation to 30 major firms that dominate US retail sectors.
- 3:LAGGING: Two-thirds of retailers surveyed are serious laggards, failing to implement safer chemical policies, with 40% earning D’s and 30% F grades.
- 4:REDUCING: Retailers are driving toxic chemicals from the market, but more effort is needed to avoid regrettable substitutes as alternatives.
- 5:BY SECTOR: Some retail sectors are relatively high performers while other sectors seriously lag behind in ensuring the chemical safety of products.
1.IMPROVING: The nation’s largest retailers are driving a race to the top to ensure that safer chemicals are used to make and package their products.
The Mind the Store campaign has evaluated the safer chemical policies and practices of certain large U.S. retailers in both 2016 and 2017. The average grade for the thirty retailers assessed this year was a D+, the same average grade earned by the eleven retailers evaluated in 2016.
However, the average grade for the eleven retailers assessed in both years improved from D+ to C, marking good progress toward reducing the use of harmful chemicals in the products they buy and sell. Seven of these retailers demonstrated substantial improvements over the last year, perhaps in response to consumer concern and the Mind the Store campaign.
Two leading retailers substantially expanded their existing safer chemical policies and programs in the last year. As a result, their grades improved, as shown below along with each retailer’s overall ranking (in points) among all thirty retailers evaluated in 2017.
- Wal-Mart Stores (Walmart and Sam’s Club) improved from B+ to A-, ranking #2
- Target improved its grade from B to B+, and ranks #6
The five most improved retailers either adopted safer chemicals policies for the first time or substantially expanded existing programs this past year. As a result, their grades jumped significantly higher:
- CVS Health improved from a C to a B+ and climbed into a tie for the #3 spot
- Best Buy rose from a C- to a B and is now ranked #7
- The Home Depot rose in grading from a D+ to a C+ and ranks #8
- Costco improved the most from an F to a C- and now ranks #9 overall
- Albertsons Companies improved its grade from an F to a C- and ranks #10
Additionally, Amazon reported modest progress and their grade rose from an F to a D (not including its recently acquired subsidiary Whole Foods Market, which was scored separately). Amazon indicates that it’s “developing and evaluating a chemicals policy.”
2.LEADING: Other retail leaders on safer chemicals were newly identified by expanding the evaluation to 30 major firms that dominate US retail sectors.
The Mind the Store Campaign expanded its second annual Report Card assessment to 30 retailers in 2017, up from 11 the previous year. The selection was based on U.S. sales dominance and other factors in eleven retail sectors, such as beauty products, groceries, office supplies, and dollar stores.[i]
Based on this expanded scope, a few high performance retailers were newly identified. They, along with their grades and overall rank in points scored, include:
- Apple, earned an A and the overall #1 rank in scoring
- Ikea, received a B+ grade, tied for the #3 spot
- Whole Foods Market, the grocer acquired by Amazon, scored a B+ for a #5 rank
Overall, one-third of all 30 retailers evaluated in 2017 are leaders in ensuring the chemical safety of the products they buy and sell, earning grades ranging from A to C-.
3.LAGGING: Two-thirds of retailers surveyed are serious laggards, failing to implement safer chemical policies, with 40% earning D’s and 30% F grades.
Too many retailers remain serious laggards without even the most basic policies in place to ensure the chemical safety of the products they buy and sell. Those who scored an F for failing to adopt public policies that address toxic chemicals in their products include:
- The grocery chains of Ahold Delhaize (which owns Food Lion, Stop & Shop, Hannaford, and Giant) and Trader Joe’s;
- Apparel sellers such as TJX Companies (which owns TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods) and Kohl’s;
- The discounter Dollar General;
- The home improvement franchisor Ace Hardware;
- Office supplier Office Depot (including OfficeMax);
- Cosmetics seller Sally Beauty; and
- Children’s products seller Toys “R” Us / Babies “R” Us.
Eight out of nine of these retailers scored 0 out of 135 possible points, with a lack of any significant public-facing commitments to address the safety of chemicals in their products.
Several other of the largest U.S. retailers also seriously lag behind on safer chemicals. Earning various D grades were Amazon, which showed only modest improvement (excluding its new subsidiary Whole Foods Market, which is addressed separately); Kroger (including Ralph’s and Harris Teeter), whose grade remained flat; Lowe’s, whose progress was modest; and Walgreens, who reported some meaningful, but limited, progress. First-time chemical policies are under development at Amazon and Walgreens, and Kroger is reviewing options for a future chemicals policy, but none have yet been publicly announced. Walgreens plans to publicly release its chemicals policy and Beyond Restricted Substance List in 2018.
Rounding out the 40% of retailers who earned various D grades were several newcomers to the 2017 Report Card: the Macy’s department store (also includes Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury); cosmetics retailers Ulta Beauty and Sephora; the discounter Dollar Tree / Family Dollar; the office supplier Staples; the home furnisher and baby products seller Bed Bath & Beyond / buybuy BABY (also includes World Market); and the Rite Aid drugstore. Among these retailers, Dollar Tree recently published its first chemicals policy, Rite Aid has not made public its existing policy, Sephora and Bed Bath & Beyond maintain a confidential restricted substances list, Staples has pledged to adopt a chemicals policy in 2018, and Ulta Beauty said it would consider making a public statement on chemicals.
4.REDUCING: Retailers are driving toxic chemicals from the market, but more effort is needed to avoid regrettable substitutes as alternatives.
While comprehensive policies establish a foundation for retailer success on chemical safety, driving chemicals of high concern from the product supply chain remains a bottom line metric of meaningful progress. Over the past three years, at least a dozen retailers achieved serious reductions or elimination of dangerous chemicals far ahead of any government-imposed restrictions. These include (with overall ranking on points as indicated):
- Apple (#1) – Eliminated use of chlorinated organic solvents, N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), and toluene in the final assembly of its products.
- Wal-Mart Stores (#2) – Since 2014, suppliers slashed high priority chemicals by 96% to Walmart and 49% to Sam’s Club, and more than halved priority chemicals for Walmart by 68% (all percentage reductions are by weight).
- CVS Health (#3 tie) – Removed parabens, phthalates, and major formaldehyde donors from nearly 600 beauty and personal care products across several store brands.
- Ikea (#3 tie) – Banned all per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals from textiles, a major leadership milestone in phasing out these very persistent compounds.
- Whole Food Markets (#5) – Eliminated formaldehyde-releasing compounds and oxybenzone from body care products, and phased out BPA in 70% of store-brand cans.
- The Home Depot (#8) – Will eliminate alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) including NPEs in paints by 2019, and prohibited other chemicals of high concern in many products.
- Albertsons (#10) – Phased out BPA in more than 80% of store-branded can linings and in thermal receipt paper.
- Rite Aid (#11) – Suppliers eliminated triclosan, formaldehyde, diethyl phthalate, and dibutyl phthalate from its formulated products.
- Kroger (#17) – Converted 90% of its store-branded canned foods to non-BPA liners.
Unfortunately, nearly one-half of the 30 retailers evaluated have not publicly reported any progress in reducing or eliminating chemicals of concern over the past three years, including Ace Hardware, Bed Bath & Beyond / buybuyBaby, Ahold Delhaize, Costco, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Kohl’s, Office Depot, Target, TJX, Toys“R”Us / Babies“R”Us, Sally Beauty, Trader Joe’s, and Walgreens.
Evaluating safer alternatives remains a challenge for big retailers. Very few retailers provide specific or substantive guidance to suppliers to ensure the safety of the alternatives to targeted chemicals of high concern, and most fail to disclose which alternatives are present in reformulated products. This may contribute to “regrettable substitution,” in which the alternative chemistries raise additional or new health and environmental concerns.
Among the 30 retailers evaluated, Apple does the best job by requiring its suppliers to prepare alternatives assessments that document the safety of substitutes before phasing out chemicals of high concern in its supply chain. Apple states that: “For substances that are restricted or regulated and have been replaced with an alternative substance, the supplier is required to ensure the alternative substance is an environmentally responsible substitution. Substitutions should be selected based on minimizing unintended consequences that might occur in phasing out a potentially hazardous substance. Suppliers shall conduct alternative assessments or obtain these assessments from their raw materials suppliers prior to making a replacement.”
Target aspires to make breakthrough progress on safer alternatives, stating that: “Target will actively pursue and promote new approaches to chemicals development and the commercialization of safer alternatives. Target will contribute resources and expertise to initiatives working to develop safe alternatives for chemicals where no viable alternatives currently exist. Target will support innovation which utilizes green chemistry principles in the development, design, and manufacturing of consumer products.” The company committed to invest up to $5 million in green chemistry innovation by 2022.
Unfortunately, nearly half of all retailers apparently provide no guidance on avoiding regrettable substitutes. Many other retailers offered only very general, non-mandatory direction to their suppliers on safer alternatives.
5.BY SECTOR: Some retail sectors are relatively high performers while other sectors seriously lag behind in ensuring the chemical safety of products.
By applying a retailer’s overall grade to each major retail sector that they operate in, the Mind the Store Campaign calculated the average grade for each of eleven retail sectors assessed. Note that this approach only approximates actual sector performance since retailers that operate in multiple sectors were given the same score in each sector but their progress may actually have varied by sector, and only 30 retailers were evaluated overall with far fewer assessed in each sector.
The BEST performing retail sectors outpaced this average grade on chemical safety:
- Drugstores (7 retailers with an average grade of C)
- Electronics (10 retailers with an average grade of C-)
- Furniture/Home Goods (9 retailers with an average grade of C-)
- Groceries (14 retailers with an average grade of C-)
The sectors that matched average retailer performance on safer chemicals with a D+ are:
- Baby and Children’s Products (8 retailers)
- Apparel (6 retailers)
- Beauty and Personal Care Products (19 retailers)
The WORST performing retail sectors scored below average in safer chemicals grading:
- Home Improvement (4 retailers with an average grade of D)
- Office Supplies (3 retailers with an average grade of D-)
- Dollar Stores (2 retailers with an average grade of F)
- Department Stores (2 retailers with an average grade of F)
[i] Special thanks to the Campaign for Healthier Solutions for their partnership in evaluating Dollar General and Dollar Tree in this report card. Learn more about their work at http://ej4all.org/campaigns-and-activities/campaign-for-healthier-solutions/
We also thank the Getting Ready for Baby campaign for their partnership in evaluating Babies“R”Us and buybuy Baby in this report card. Learn more about their work at https://www.gettingready4baby.org/