Lowe’s earned a letter grade of B-, which reflects a significant improvement from its D+ grade in 2018. The company scored 66 out of 146.5 possible points, ranking 10th out of the 43 retailers evaluated this year.
In 2019, Lowe’s announced new restrictions on classes of and individual toxic chemicals in numerous product categories. It stated that: “All indoor residential carpet and rugs purchased by Lowe’s will be free of PFAS chemicals by January 2020.” The company also disclosed new restrictions on phthalates, halogenated flame retardants, vinyl chloride, triclosan, organotins, coal fly ash, and other toxic chemicals in other notable product categories, including wall-to-wall carpet, paint, and fiberglass insulation.
In November 2018, Lowe’s launched a new safer chemicals policy, which states: “There has been a growing concern that there are hazardous chemicals that can be persistent and build up in the environment and have significant adverse human and environmental health effects. While regulations are being strengthened, certain concerns remain unregulated and may impact the health and safety of Lowe’s products.” It also states: “Lowe’s will develop a framework to systematize the process of assessing chemicals and managing chemical risks. Chemical risks can be managed in several ways and may include requiring disclosure of chemicals in Lowe’s products, reducing or eliminating toxic chemicals from Lowe’s products or packaging, better educating consumers on product safety, and/or driving innovation by encouraging suppliers to transition to safer alternatives and green chemistry solutions.” The policy references the company’s products, packaging, and operations and applies to all its stores. The company notes that: “Lowe’s will review this chemical policy at least on an annual basis and report progress in its annual corporate responsibility report.”
In 2018, the company demonstrated impressive leadership by becoming the first major U.S.-based retailer to announce a global ban on the sale of paint strippers containing methylene chloride and NMP in all of its stores. This helped spur a major ripple effect among other large home improvement, paint, and big box retailers who joined the market shift away from toxic paint strippers. In 2015, Lowe’s also adopted a policy to eliminate phthalates in its flooring by the end of 2015, making it the second-largest home improvement retailer in the country to adopt such a policy.
Opportunities for improvement: Lowe’s should continue to implement its chemicals policy by expanding its beyond restricted substance list (BRSL) across key product categories; setting public quantifiable goals with clear timelines for reducing and eliminating additional chemicals of high concern (CHCs); phasing out the use of any PFAS, ortho-phthalates, halogenated flame retardants, methylene chloride, and NMP that may be in other key product categories; and becoming a signatory to the Chemical Footprint Project and piloting it with key private label suppliers. The company should follow through on its ban of toxic paint strippers by also restricting regrettable substitutes, particularly those containing GreenScreen Benchmark 1 chemicals. Lowe’s should also pilot the Health Product Declaration with suppliers.
Summary of Lowe’s Grade
12.5 out of 17.5 points
Policy: Adopted a retailer safer chemicals policy
The company notes: “Lowe’s will review this chemical policy at least on an annual basis and report progress in its annual corporate responsibility report.”
In 2019, the company expanded its policy by adopting a BRSL with quantifiable goals. It includes restrictions on CHCs in various product categories. The company stated: “All indoor residential carpet and rugs purchased by Lowe’s will be free of PFAS chemicals by January 2020.” The company disclosed restrictions on phthalates, halogenated flame retardants, vinyl chloride, triclosan, organotins, coal fly ash, and other toxic chemicals in other notable product categories, including wall-to-wall carpet, paint, and fiberglass insulation.
In 2018, Lowe’s demonstrated impressive leadership by becoming the first major U.S.-based retailer to announce a global ban on the sale of paint strippers containing methylene chloride and NMP in all of its stores. Lowe’s has stores in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. This helped spur a major ripple effect among other large home improvement, paint, and general merchandise retailers who joined the market shift away from toxic paint strippers. Lowe’s has also restricted chemicals such as ortho-phthalates in flooring.
Lowe’s does not have a publicly available manufacturing restricted substance list (MRSL).
2.5 out of 5 points
Oversight: Established management responsibilities and incentives
In its most recent sustainability report, the company stated: “In the U.S., Lowe’s senior vice president, chief compliance officer & deputy general counsel oversees sustainability matters and reports quarterly to the sustainability committee and to the general counsel, a direct report to the CEO, and regularly updates the sustainability committee of the board. Additionally, the sustainability team meets monthly with our corporate responsibility council, consisting of vice presidents and directors from more than 14 functions across Lowe’s. Although Lowe’s takes a global approach to corporate responsibility, we adapt it to our local regions. Our Canadian director of corporate responsibility reports to the senior vice president of communications, public affairs and compliance, who is a direct report to the president of Lowe’s Canada. For the Canada region, we plan to implement a sustainability steering committee in 2019 and look for improved means to quantify sustainability progress and harmonize our metrics with Lowe’s U.S.”
Lowe’s does not appear to offer financial incentives for senior management to implement its safer chemicals policy.
2.5 out of 12.5 points
Accountability: Ensures supply chain accountability
In September 2019, the company stated: “Our chemical policy and current commitments have been communicated to our suppliers to ensure they comply. In addition, we are engaging across mutiple [sic] suppliers to evaluate potential commitments to reductions in CHCs in paint, flooring, insulation and cleaning products.”
In its most recent sustainability report, Lowe’s states: “We actively audit, test and inspect products where we are the importer of record. Our quality assurance (QA) team monitors product safety, quality and customer satisfaction across our product offerings. Annually, Lowe’s authorized third-party labs conduct product and transit/packaging tests to verify compliance with applicable industry standards and state and federal regulations. The third-party labs also conduct consumer testing and provide us with product test reports, which Lowe’s uses to make informed sourcing decisions. We implemented an enterprise QA program in 2018 to expand product testing and monitoring to our global operations. Simultaneously, we streamlined our product testing processes based on product risk profiles, reducing overall tests needed by removing unnecessary evaluation of extremely low-risk products.” It is, however, unclear to what extent Lowe’s engages in these efforts to ensure regulatory compliance or to go beyond regulatory compliance to implement its safer chemicals policy.
The company previously shared that it conducts annual testing for wood flooring (laminate/composite wood and bamboo) to ensure compliance with both CDPH 1350 for VOC’s and CARB requirements for formaldehyde nationally. The company noted: “when there are state-specific regulations on chemical composition, we test to ensure national compliance.” The company stated: “in 2016, more than 13,000 product tests were conducted in 87 third-party labs around the world. The Quality Assurance team also works closely with third-party agencies to conduct pre shipment product inspections prior to acceptance by Lowe’s. Products are inspected for proper labeling, functional operation and consistency across production samples to help ensure customer satisfaction. In 2016, factories were visited nearly 11,000 times to perform these pre shipment product inspections.”
Lowe’s has not specifically disclosed that it incorporates its safer chemicals policy or reporting requirements in supplier contracts, that it trains suppliers on the company’s safer chemicals policy or reporting requirements, or that it requires suppliers to conduct testing in third-party laboratories and provide results to the retailer.
2.5 out of 13 points
Disclosure: Requires suppliers to report use of chemicals in products to retailer
– all products that contain gels, powders, pastes, liquids or gases
– [fluorescent], halogen, and HID lamps”
The company went on to clarify: “The initial driver for collecting the information was to ensure that we were transporting and storing product in the right spots, and cleaning up spills correctly. That said, we are starting to work with UL to use the the [sic] database to query for the presence of specific chemicals in our products – which will help us ensure we are meeting our commitments, and can also help us identify which products contain CoCs that have not yet been addressed by our commitments. In short, we are leveraging an existing process & database to drive progress on the proactive side of the house.” Lowe’s has not confirmed whether it requires suppliers to disclose allergens or the components of generic ingredients through this program, and has not confirmed whether it requires this of all suppliers (private-label and name-brand), so we are awarding 2.5 points.
Lowe’s recently helped develop the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3) Retail Leadership Council (RLC) Statement on Chemical Innovation Priorities and Transparency Roadmap and should consider implementing the Transparency Roadmap with its suppliers.
13.5 out of 16 points
Action: Reduced or eliminated chemicals of high concern (CHCs) within the last three years
In 2019, Lowe’s anounced new restrictions on classes of and individual toxic chemicals in numerous product categories. It announced that: “All indoor residential carpet and rugs purchased by Lowe’s will be free of PFAS chemicals by January 2020.” The company also disclosed new restrictions on phthalates, halogenated flame retardants, vinyl chloride, triclosan, organotins, coal fly ash, and other toxic chemicals in other notable product categories including wall-to-wall carpet, paint, and fiberglass insulation.
In 2018, Lowe’s demonstrated impressive leadership by becoming the first major U.S.-based retailer to announce a global ban on the sale of paint strippers containing methylene chloride and NMP in all of its stores. Lowe’s has stores in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. This helped spur a major ripple effect among other large home improvement, paint, and big box retailers who joined the market shift away from toxic paint strippers. The company has followed through and implemented this commitment.
The company also noted in its most recent sustainability report: “We also continue to phase out volatile organic compound (VOC) paints. We sell a large selection of VOC-free paints in the U.S. and 100% low-VOC paints in Canada, in compliance with Canadian regulations.”
Finally, in a recent communication, Lowe’s Canada stated it is investigating the use of bisphenols in thermal receipt paper in its stores, stating: “we are currently evaluating different options to phase out the use of thermal paper containing bisphenols across our banners.”
In 2015, Lowe’s was the second major U.S. retailer to work with suppliers to eliminate all ortho-phthalates in residential vinyl flooring, one of the largest uses globally. Recent testing has confirmed Lowe’s followed through on that commitment. Lowe’s enforces the California formaldehyde restrictions for all laminate, engineered, and bamboo flooring categories. Points are not awarded for either of these efforts since they happened more than three years ago and outside the scope of our quantitative assessment. The company also restricts lead to 600 parts per million (ppm) in surface coating for all products, not just regulated items.
2 out of 13.5 points
Safer Alternatives: Evaluates safer alternatives, avoids regrettable substitutes
In its most recent sustainability report, the company notes it worked with the GC3 RLC to develop a new joint statement. This statement calls on chemical companies and suppliers to develop safer alternatives for flame retardants, plasticizers, water and stain repellents, and other chemicals in products sold at retail. It identifies the need to develop safer alternatives to dangerous chemicals in food packaging, electronics, personal care products, building materials, and other product categories.
Lowe’s was the first major retailer to phase out the sale of methylene chloride- and NMP-containing paint removal products, which helped spur a major market shift away from these hazardous products. However, recent research has found that Lowe’s is selling other paint removal products containing chemicals of concern that meet the GreenScreen Benchmark-1 criteria. Lowe’s must do a better job of ensuring substitutes for methylene chloride and NMP are safe.
7.5 out of 18 points
Transparency: Demonstrates a commitment to transparency and public disclosure
In October 2019, Lowe’s disclosed restrictions on toxic chemicals in carpet, paints, flooring, and insulation, essentially making a BRSL publicly available.
Lowe’s recently helped develop the GC3 RLC Statement on Chemical Innovation Priorities and Transparency Roadmap and should consider implementing the Transparency Roadmap with its suppliers.
Lowe’s does not appear to encourage or require suppliers to publicly disclose ingredients in products online or on product packaging and does not itself publicly disclose the identity of articles or formulated products that are free of CHCs going beyond regulatory compliance.
0 out of 7.5 points
Chemical Footprint: Evaluates its chemical footprint
3 out of 8.5 points
Third-party Standards: Promotes credible third party standards for safer products
Lowe’s requires that flooring products be certified to either Greenguard or FloorScore standards to meet CDPH-1350 standards for volatile organic compounds (VOCs). While these certification programs are primarily oriented around meeting a California regulatory standard, Lowe’s requires suppliers to meet this certification nationally.
2.5 out of 5 points
Joint Announcement: Public commitment demonstrated through joint announcement
10 out of 15 points
Continuous Improvement: Shows continuous improvement by steadily expanding safer chemicals policy
Lowe’s launched its safer chemicals policy in November 2018 after the 2018 retailer report card was published and followed through on its ban of toxic paint strippers (that it had announced in May 2018) by the end of 2018.
2.5 out of 5 points
Safer Products: Program to promote safer products in stores and/or on website
The company also sells a large selection of VOC-free paints in the U.S. but has not taken action to thoroughly implement a program to feature and market these products online and sells 100 percent low-VOC paints in Canada (in compliance with Canadian regulations).
5 out of 5 points
Collaboration: Actively participates in collaborative process to promote safer chemicals
0 out of 5 points
Impact Investment: Investing financial resources into independent research into safer alternatives and/or green chemistry solutions