Wal-Mart Stores (Walmart and Sam’s Club) earned a letter grade of A, which reflects an improvement from its letter grade of A- in 2018. The company scored 98.25 out of 146.5 possible points, ranking 3rd out of the 43 retailers evaluated this year.
Walmart has continued to implement and expand its chemicals policy in 2019, building on progress it has made over the past few years. In 2019, Walmart expanded the Sustainable Chemistry policy to target chemicals of concern in apparel, footwear, and soft home textile products for the first time. The company has set a goal: “to reduce the discharge of priority chemicals from the manufacturing process for apparel, footwear, and soft home textiles by 2025.”
In 2018, Walmart announced it was phasing out the sale of methylene chloride- and NMP-based paint strippers in all of its stores in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America and on walmart.com, becoming the fourth major retailer to take action on these harmful chemicals.
In 2017, the company made significant progress in both implementing and expanding its chemicals policy, which includes a greater focus on the larger list of 2,700 chemicals. This list grew by adding two new authoritative lists of fragrance chemicals of concern. Also in that year, Walmart stated a new goal: by “2022, Walmart aims to reduce its consumables chemical footprint for Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. stores by 10 percent,” which translates to a notable reduction of toxic chemicals given Walmart’s size. Since 2014, Walmart has reduced the use of its “high priority” chemicals by 96% by weight. The company states that: “All suppliers are expected to reduce, restrict and eliminate use of priority chemicals using informed substitution principles.” The policy applies to cleaning products, cosmetics, and personal care products, infant products, and pet supplies, covering approximately 90,000 products and 700 suppliers. The company’s Implementation Guide provides comprehensive guidance to suppliers on how they should work with Walmart to implement the policy.
In 2016, Walmart unveiled its “Sustainable Packaging Playbook,” which also encourages suppliers to identify, restrict, and remove its “priority” chemicals from packaging, while avoiding polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) plastic in packaging.
Opportunities for improvement: Walmart can continue to improve its safer chemicals program by setting a more ambitious chemical footprint reduction goal beyond 10% and expanding the policy to include key chemically intensive product categories, such as electronics, food, and furniture. As the largest grocery chain in America, Walmart should eliminate and safely replace any toxic indirect food additives that may be in food contact materials, with special attention paid to any bisphenols and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that may be in food packaging and other food contact materials as well as any phthalates that may be in food and food contact materials in its supply chain. The company should follow through on its ban of toxic paint strippers by also restricting regrettable substitutes, particularly those containing GreenScreen Benchmark 1 chemicals. The company should also expand its Sustainable Chemistry policy globally.
Summary of Walmart’s Grade
12.5 out of 17.5 points
Policy: Adopted a retailer safer chemicals policy
In January 2019, the company disclosed a new “baseline” of priority chemicals in consumables it is targeting for reduction as “>189 million pounds (lbs.) for Walmart U.S.” and “>31 million lbs. for Sam’s Club.”
Walmart has developed a list of 16 “high priority” chemicals and more than 2,700 “priority” chemicals of concern that it is challenging suppliers to reduce and eliminate. The policy now includes a greater focus on the larger list of 2,700 chemicals, and in 2017, the company expanded the list of chemicals to which its policy applies by adding two new lists of fragrance chemicals of concern. The company states that: “All suppliers are expected to reduce, restrict and eliminate use of priority chemicals using informed substitution principles.” The policy encourages both private-label and brand-name suppliers to certify their products to credible third-party standards, such as EPA Safer Choice. The policy applies to cleaning products, cosmetics, and personal care products, infant products, and pet supplies, covering approximately 90,000 products and 700 suppliers. In 2016, the company unveiled a “Sustainable Packaging Playbook.” It encourages suppliers to identify, remove, reduce, and restrict the company’s “priority” chemicals and materials in packaging “that may present human health and environmental toxicity risks,” which includes carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxicants, and PBTs. The company also recommends suppliers avoid PVC plastic in packaging.
In 2019, Walmart expanded the Sustainable Chemistry Policy to target chemicals of concern in apparel, footwear, and soft home textile products for the first time. The company set a goal: “to reduce the discharge of priority chemicals from the manufacturing process for apparel, footwear, and soft home textiles by 2025.” The company has yet to finalize and disclose what those priority chemicals are. Walmart stated: “Walmart will work with private, proprietary, and national brand suppliers to Walmart U.S. stores to identify priority chemicals discharged in the textile manufacturing process and establish best practices to limit and reduce their use.” The company has also set a new goal in 2019 so that: “by 2022, Walmart U.S. stores will endeavor to source apparel and home textile products only from suppliers working with textile mills that use the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index Facility Environmental Module (FEM) to measure and help improve environmental performance.” The Higg Index includes various criteria for chemicals management. The company states: “Walmart U.S. asks all private, proprietary, and national brand suppliers of apparel and soft home textile products to provide transparency to their textile mill operations, report and verify performance by completing a Higg FEM self-assessment annually with 3rd party verification every other year, and establish plans for continuous improvement of environmental performance.”
However, Walmart has not yet developed a publicly available manufacturing restricted substance list (MRSL), though given the company’s pledge, partial credit for having an MRSL was awarded. Additionally, the policy does not appear to apply to products sold in stores outside of the United States, such as in Canada and other markets (outside the transparency portion of the policy and its recent work to restrict toxic paint strippers), so partial credit was awarded for this component as well. The policy does not appear to apply to its operations.
2.5 out of 5 points
Oversight: Established management responsibilities and incentives
Walmart 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
Walmart has not specifically disclosed that it incorporates its safer chemicals policy or reporting requirements in supplier contracts, that it requires suppliers to conduct testing in third-party laboratories and provide results to the retailer, or that it conducts its own testing to ensure suppliers comply with its safer chemicals policy.
7.5 out of 13 points
Disclosure: Requires suppliers to report use of chemicals in products to retailer
Walmart is measuring the percentage of products (by number of UPCs) with fully disclosed formulation by supplier to The WERCS.
In 2019, the company publicly disclosed updated metrics about how suppliers are disclosing chemicals to Walmart. Walmart reported that just 11% of in-scope consumables products are disclosing full ingredient information to the WERCS for screening against Walmart’s list of Priority and High Priority chemicals (as of 2017). The company also disclosed that just 8.6% of in-scope products for Sam’s Club are being fully disclosed to the WERCS for screening. While we applaud Walmart’s transparency, this demonstrates significant work is still needed by Walmart suppliers to fully disclose ingredients for screening against the company’s list of Priority and High Priority chemicals.
In 2019, the company also disclosed that Walmart suppliers reported over 189 million pounds of Walmart priority chemicals in “in-scope” consumables. Sam’s Club suppliers reported over 31 million pounds of Walmart priority chemicals in “in scope” consumables. The company also shared the percentage of suppliers whose products contain Walmart priority chemicals and the percent of products containing Walmart’s priority chemicals.
In 2017, the company announced it was asking suppliers to ensure contaminants of concern are not present in the final product (for example, in ingredients such as petrolatum). Walmart stated it will be asking suppliers to “verify purity of ingredients where contaminants of concern may exist, starting in 2019” and that it will annually measure “weight volume of ingredients, known to often harbor contaminants of concern, that are verified to meet purity standards” starting in 2019. For suppliers that are not ensuring contaminants are not present, the company will encourage them to remove priority chemicals or ensure contaminants are not present. An extra credit point is awarded for these activities.
In its previous sustainability report, the company described how the data it collects can not only help it understand chemical hotspots, but also how suppliers compare with one another, stating: “Suppliers can see how they rank relative to the field, and gain insight into improvement opportunities for each of the categories they supply. For example, suppliers of laundry detergent can see how they are progressing relative to all other suppliers on chemicals of concern.”
The company is now also evaluating how it can utilize blockchain technology to increase transparency of products and packaging and noted that it could be utilized for chemicals in food and food packaging.
15 out of 16 points
Action: Reduced or eliminated chemicals of high concern (CHCs) within the last three years
In 2017, Walmart publicly reported on metrics in implementing its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, including reporting on the presence of and reductions of Walmart’s “priority” and “high priority” chemicals by weight, percentage of products containing chemicals of high concern (CHCs), and percent of suppliers selling products containing CHCs for both Walmart and Sam’s Club. The company has reported on additional metrics in 2019 (see the disclosure section), though it has not disclosed new metrics on the reductions of chemicals of concern as the company has set a new baseline.
In 2017, the company reported that since 2014, Walmart suppliers have reduced the use of its “high priority” chemicals by 96% by weight, translating to a reduction of these chemicals by more than 23.6 million pounds. The company noted that “a small number of suppliers used the largest volumes of all high priority chemicals (HPCs), with one supplier, in particular, using the majority of HPCs in only a few select products. We have encouraged these suppliers to reformulate their products to remove the high priority and priority chemicals. While we have removed 96% of HPCs by weight, there is still a long way to go before removing all HPCs, and we will continue to actively encourage suppliers to advance safer formulations.” It has also reduced the use of “priority” chemicals by 49% by weight since 2014.
Sam’s Club suppliers achieved a reduction of the company’s “high priority” chemicals of 68% (by weight) since 2014. However, the weight of “priority” chemicals sold by Sam’s Club increased by 13% (by weight) since 2014. The company attributed this to a mix of increased sales of products containing CHCs and new chemicals added to authoritative and regulatory lists.
Both Walmart and Sam’s Club reported a reduction in the percentage of products containing CHCs and suppliers whose products contain CHCs, but the rates of reduction are far less than the reductions by weight. More work is still needed, particularly to address the “priority” chemicals. Walmart had previously reported 483 million pounds, and Sam’s Club reported 67 million pounds of “priority” chemicals present in their suppliers’ products. More recently, in early 2019, Walmart reported 189 million pounds and Sam’s Club reported 31 million pounds of “priority” chemicals present in their suppliers’ products (based on 2017 data).
Going forward, the company has set a clear goal to reduce the use of chemicals of concern by 10% by 2022. In 2019, Walmart expanded the Sustainable Chemistry policy to target chemicals of concern in apparel, footwear, and soft home textile products for the first time. Walmart has set a goal: “to reduce the discharge of priority chemicals from the manufacturing process for apparel, footwear, and soft home textiles by 2025.”
8.5 out of 13.5 points
Safer Alternatives: Evaluates safer alternatives, avoids regrettable substitutes
Walmart’s Implementation Guide states: “Informed substitution is the considered transition from a chemical of particular concern to safer chemicals or non-chemical alternatives. Using informed substitution principles will mitigate hazard risks associated with product formulation and achieve compliance with Walmart’s Policy on Sustainable Chemistry in Consumables…In the aim of advancing safer formulated products and promoting informed substitution, Walmart recommends the major tenets of Alternatives Assessment, a process for identifying, comparing and selecting safer alternatives to priority chemicals (including those in materials, processes or technologies) on the basis of their hazards, performance, and economic viability.”
In its Implementation Guide, the company cites many great resources, such as the GreenScreen, CleanGredients, Pharos Chemical and Material Library, BizNGO’s Chemical Alternatives Assessment Protocol, US EPA Safer Chemical Ingredient List (SCIL), and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production’s Alternatives Assessment Protocol. It is unclear how the staff is tracking or evaluating suppliers’ use of these tools and practices.
14.5 out of 18 points
Transparency: Demonstrates a commitment to transparency and public disclosure
Walmart is encouraging suppliers to disclose ingredients to consumers, both on-pack and online. The company states: “Walmart will create more transparency about ingredients contained in the products on its shelves by requiring all suppliers to provide full online ingredient disclosure beginning January 2015 and Walmart Priority chemicals on pack beginning January 2018. Walmart expects online public disclosure to be publicly accessible from the supplier’s website and to be displayed at the per-product level.” Walmart recommends that disclosure should include “full disclosure of all ingredients including those typically protected under trade secrets (e.g. fragrances)” as well as “known residuals, contaminants and by-products” but does not require full ingredient disclosure for all products. The company is tracking supplier public disclosure practices through “the Sustainability Index to capture data on supplier practices regarding product ingredients disclosure online” and publicly reported on the results of this tracking online in early 2019. In September 2017, the company announced that it is asking suppliers to disclose ingredients to consumers across the globe, not just in the United States, for the first time.
6 out of 7.5 points
Chemical Footprint: Evaluates its chemical footprint
The company has not made its CFP score or responses publicly available but, in September 2017, it committed to continue to participate in the CFP on an annual basis going forward.
5.5 out of 8.5 points
Third-party Standards: Promotes credible third party standards for safer products
In September 2017, Walmart announced it is asking private-label and brand-name suppliers of consumables to certify their products to Safer Choice, Cradle to Cradle (Silver or above), or EWG Verified. The company also announced that, beginning in 2019, it will annually measure the number of suppliers with credible certifications and number of products certified to one of these standards. The company stated: “we want to encourage private and national brand suppliers to lead on sustainable chemistry by leveraging third-party certifications that assess and recognize leadership in line with the principles of green chemistry and safer substitution. third-party certifications can help lend credibility and verification for how products are made and can provide a signal of leadership to customers. For these reasons, Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. stores encourage suppliers to obtain such certifications where applicable.” An extra point is awarded for this commitment.
More recently, in its new 2019 commitment on textiles, the company states: “Walmart also encourages suppliers to lead on sustainable chemistry in apparel, footwear, and soft home textile products and leverage third party certifications that assess and recognize leadership in line with the principles of sustainable chemistry. Third party certifications can help lend credibility and verification for how products are made and can provide a signal of sustainability leadership to customers, such as OEKO-TEX Standard 100.”
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
1.25 out of 5 points
Safer Products: Program to promote safer products in stores and/or on website
The company had previously developed a “Sustainability Leaders Shop,” but the criteria Walmart used for this is not fully consistent with its Sustainable Chemistry policy, and the online shop featured some products that contained chemicals of concern. It is unclear whether or not the Sustainability Leaders Shop is still being promoted.
On Jet.com, the company offers a range of search filters to make it easier for customers to find products that meet third-party standards such as Cradle to Cradle and Safer Choice. Partial credit is awarded for this effort.
5 out of 5 points
Collaboration: Actively participates in collaborative process to promote safer chemicals
The company also noted that in recent years, it participated, “in the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council’s (GC3) crowd-sourcing competition for new preservative technologies based on green-chemistry principles, alongside other retailers, personal-care and household-product manufacturers, preservative makers and NGOs.” It is unclear what the next steps for this project are.
5 out of 5 points
Impact Investment: Investing financial resources into independent research into safer alternatives and/or green chemistry solutions