Wal-Mart Stores (Walmart and Sam’s Club) earned a grade of A-, the same letter grade as it did in 2017, scoring 93.75 out of 135 possible points, the third highest score of any retailer evaluated. 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. The company has yet to report on other progress in implementing its policy in 2018 but has indicated it plans to share a progress update later this year. Last year, 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. In 2017, 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 reduction of toxic chemicals of 55 million pounds. 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%, expanding the policy to include key chemically intensive product categories (such as apparel, electronics, food, and furniture), piloting the Chemical Footprint Project with key private label suppliers, and reducing priority chemicals in use by Sam’s Club, which grew 13% by weight since 2014. As the largest grocery chain in America, Walmart should set a goal to phase out per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals in food packaging and food contact materials and phthalates in food and food contact materials in its supply chain. The company should also expand its policy globally.
Summary of Walmart’s Grade
11.25 out of 17.5 points
Policy: Adopted a retailer safer chemicals policy
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.
However, Walmart has not developed a publicly available Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) and the policy does not appear to apply to its operations or 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 flame retardants, so partial credit was awarded).
2.5 out of 7.5 points
Oversight: Established management responsibilities and incentives
It is not clear if the board is engaged in the chemical policy or if there are financial incentives for senior management to implement safer chemical policies.
2.5 out of 10 points
Accountability: Ensures supply chain accountability
Walmart has otherwise not reported on programs to audit suppliers, require supplier testing in third-party laboratories, or conduct its own testing to ensure supplier conformance with its Sustainable Chemistry policy.
7.5 out of 10 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 through WERCSmart. Walmart states: “To capture this data, Walmart shares internal inventory data from Retail Link (a decision support system that is a bridge between Walmart and its suppliers) to The WERCS. The WERCS combines the Retail Link data with formulation data submitted by all its suppliers (for compliance purposes) into the WERCSmart system.” The company uses this information to identify its “priority” and “high priority” chemicals in products. The company reported in August 2017 that 96.1% of Walmart US and 97% of Sam’s Club UPCs “fully disclosed” their formulations through this system.
In 2017, the company announced it is 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 those suppliers to remove priority chemicals or ensure contaminants are not present.
In its most recent sustainability report, the company describes 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 15 points
Action: Reduced or eliminated chemicals of high concern 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 its “priority” and “high priority” chemicals by weight, percentage of products containing chemicals of high concern, and percent of suppliers selling products containing chemicals of high concern for both Walmart and Sam’s Club.
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 by 68% since 2014 (by weight). However, the weight of “priority” chemicals sold by Sam’s Club increased by 13% (by weight) since 2014, which the company attributed to a mix of increased sales of products containing chemicals of high concern and new chemicals added to authoritative and regulatory lists.
Both Walmart and Sam’s Club reported a reduction in the percentage of suppliers and products containing chemicals of high concern but the rates of reduction are far less compared to the reductions by weight. More work is still needed, particularly to address the “priority” chemicals. Walmart reported 483 million pounds and Sam’s Club reported 67 million pounds of “priority” chemicals present in their suppliers’ products.
Going forward, the company has set a clear goal to reduce the use of chemicals of concern by 10% or 55 million pounds by 2022. The company has yet to report on progress in implementing its policy in 2018 but has indicated it plans to do so later this year.
In its 2018 sustainability report, the company noted it is working to address chemical use for fabric mills in its supply chain using the Higg Index and through workshops with suppliers.
6 out of 10 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 staff are tracking or evaluating suppliers’ use of these tools and practices.
14 out of 15 points
Transparency: Demonstrates a commitment to transparency and public disclosure
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 August 2017. In September 2017, the company announced that for the first time it is asking suppliers to disclose ingredients to consumers globally, not just in the United States.
6 out of 7.5 points
Chemical Footprint: Evaluates its chemical footprint
5.5 out of 7.5 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 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.”
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 out of 5 points
Safer Products: Program to promote safer products in stores and/or on website
5 out of 5 points
Collaboration: Actively participates in collaborative process to promote safer chemicals
The company also notes that: “In addition, to help spur innovation in preservatives, Walmart is participating 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.”
5 out of 5 points
Impact Investment: Investing financial resources into independent research into safer alternatives and/or green chemistry solutions