Whole Foods Market, which was recently acquired by Amazon in August 2017 but is scored separately here, earned a letter grade of B+, scoring 82.25 out of 135 possible points, the 5th highest score of 30 retailers evaluated. Whole Foods Market has several policies around chemicals – including the Eco-Scale rating system, the first cleaning product standard of any retailer; Body Care Quality Standards; and protocols for chemicals not allowed in packaging, such as BPA in can linings. The Eco-Scale rating system prohibits between 52 and 326 chemicals in products, depending on their rating, and requires nearly full ingredient disclosure on labels and third-party verification. This process also means that almost all ingredients must be disclosed to Whole Foods Market for a safety evaluation, and enzyme blends are vetted by a third-party auditor. Whole Foods Market evaluates the ingredients in the body care products it sells and has banned 117 chemicals in all products in this category and 471 chemicals for Premium Body Care products. Whole Foods Market expanded both lists of banned chemicals in body care products over time, to prohibit ingredients previously found in these products. Additionally, they’ve reported metrics to show progress in moving away from BPA in packaging.
Opportunities for improvement: Whole Foods Market can make progress by expanding its policy to cover additional product categories and chemicals in manufacturing processes, including specific public quantifiable goals for the reduction or elimination of chemicals of high concern, and completely eliminating and safely substituting BPA and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in food packaging and phthalates in food it sells. The company can also augment its practices for holding suppliers accountable to the policy. Whole Foods Market can also require full disclosure of fragrance ingredients, both publicly and to itself. The company should also become a signatory to the Chemical Footprint Project and pilot it with key private label suppliers.
Summary of Whole Foods Market’s Grade
9 out of 15 points
Policy: Adopted a retailer safer chemicals policy
Through Eco-Scale, the first cleaning product standard of any retailer, all ingredients in all household cleaning products sold at WFM are evaluated for safety, among other attributes, and the products are rated red, orange, yellow, or green. Red-rated products are not allowed to be sold at WFM, because they contain any of 52 banned ingredients that were identified through these evaluations. Orange-rated products are not allowed to contain these 52 ingredients. A total of 134 chemicals are banned in “yellow” rated products and 326 are banned in “green” rated products. As of April 2013, WFM had reviewed over 500 ingredients in the household cleaning products sold in their stores.
For body care, WFM evaluates “the quality of personal care products in terms of ingredients, experience, and efficacy” and has prohibited over 100 ingredients, some potentially harmful, in all body care products sold at WFM. The company also has a more stringent standard called “Premium Body Care” that prohibits over 400 ingredients. Since June 2012, WFM has required personal care products with an “organic” label to be certified organic.
WFM has some policies related to packaging. As related to BPA in can linings: the company “is committed to minimizing the use of BPA in canned goods where functional alternatives exist” and are working with their suppliers on alternatives. WFM does not accept “any new canned items with BPA in the lining material.”
WFM has policies related to its operations: the company uses safer materials in constructing stores such as for laminates, paint, and carpeting; the soap provided in store bathrooms meets Premium Body Care standards; in 2012, the company reported switching to DEHP-free vinyl gloves and BPA-free scale labels and cash register tapes; and in 2008 WFM discontinued single-use plastic grocery bags at checkouts. The company is in the process of ensuring cleaning products used in “back of house” are certified to either the orange level of Eco-Scale or Green Seal’s standards.
WFM does not have a publicly available Manufacturing Restricted Substance List (MRSL) and the company has not set public quantifiable goals for reducing and eliminating chemicals of high concern.
5 out of 10 points
Oversight: Established management responsibilities and incentives
WFM’s Quality Standards Team has 12 people who research, determine, and maintain WFM’s strict standards for ingredients and sourcing. The members of its Quality Assurance Team review and audit products and facilities for compliance to WFM’s standards. The responsibilities of a WFM Global Quality Standards Coordinator include: researching, developing, and maintaining the Quality Standards for the body care and household cleaning categories. The duties of a Quality Standards Analyst include reviewing new body care products for acceptability to our Quality Standards and for overall compliance at the request of global and regional purchasing teams. WFM Team Members working in stores receive training on ingredient standards to convey the information to shoppers.
WFM does not appear to ensure board level engagement in its chemical policy or offer financial incentives for senior management to implement safer chemical policies.
6.25 out of 10 points
Accountability: Ensures supply chain accountability
For the Premium Body Care review process (according to a 2010 blog): “Small manufacturers who may not have the technical expertise of a larger manufacturer have received guidance from us regarding testing protocols and compliant labeling.” Staff states that “[a]ll suppliers of products to Whole Foods Market are provided clear information about our standards and unacceptable ingredients.”
WFM does not appear to test materials itself or to require suppliers to test in third-party approved laboratories.
WFM requires suppliers with products labeled “paraben free” to “provide testing results from … raw material suppliers [that] supports this claim” but does not specifically require this testing in third-party approved laboratories. The company also requires body care and cleaning products that choose to be labeled as “organic” to have third-party certification to that standard, but it’s unclear if the certification involves testing.
6 out of 10 points
Disclosure: Requires suppliers to report use of chemicals in products to retailer
Because the company stated it would pull all products not meeting the “orange” tier on the Eco-Scale by April 22, 2012, and these ingredients had to be evaluated to receive a rating, it’s implied that the supplier disclosure to WFM for cleaning products then on the shelves was due in advance of April 22, 2012.
12 out of 15 points
Action: Reduced or eliminated chemicals of high concern within the last three years
For example: in a letter to suppliers dated February 1, 2016, Whole Foods Market confirmed that they were banning certain chemicals – e.g. formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and oxybenzone – from their Baseline Body Care Quality Standards, effective January 1, 2017. The company stated that it was taking this action because: “These ingredients are found in a small percentage of our body care products. Growing concerns about the safety and environmental impact of these ingredients have led us to re-evaluate them, and we have determined that they are no longer acceptable to our Baseline Body Care Quality Standards.” Whole Foods Market told its suppliers the company preferred to keep selling their products but would do so only if the product was reformulated to be compliant.
In April 2016, Whole Foods Market stated they “have converted 70% of our store brand products that were in BPA-containing packaging to non-BPA alternatives.” Additionally, WFM does not accept “any new canned items with BPA in the lining material.”
The points awarded for this category recognize WFM’s quantifiable reductions of BPA in packaging and the elimination of chemicals in body care products.
Note: Whole Foods Market has not added any chemicals to the “Unacceptable Ingredients” list for household cleaning products since November 24, 2014, according to its website. WFM had made progress on removing BPA from products other than packaging prior to 2015. They switched to using DEHP-free vinyl gloves in the supply realm, as reported in their 2012 Green Mission report. Additionally, in 2008, Premium Body Care standards were launched with 277 banned ingredients. Currently, there are 471 banned ingredients, and WFM has approved over 4,000 products to meet this standard.
6 out of 10 points
Safer Alternatives: Evaluates safer alternatives, avoids regrettable substitutes
More generally, WFM employees state: “When items are added to the unacceptable ingredients lists, any substitutions producers propose must be reviewed for acceptability. If there is indication of harm, the company would not deem the substitution acceptable and would add that ingredient to our unacceptable list.”
Additionally, according to WFM: “Using the precautionary principle as a guide, every body care and cleaning ingredient that is allowed on our Quality Standards lists has been given a thorough review based upon safety, environmental impact and source. To make ingredient decisions, we consult published scientific and medical literature, reports from regulatory authorities and NGOs, data from manufacturers and suppliers, and guidance from chemists and industry technical experts. In this way, we have continually ensured that alternatives are safer for both our branded and private label products.”
12 out of 15 points
Transparency: Demonstrates a commitment to transparency and public disclosure
Also, the BRSLs on WFM’s website are not the full lists of prohibited ingredients, according to WFM’s statement on the “Information for Potential Suppliers” webpage: “… the ingredient list on our public website is only a partial list intended for screening products…” Additionally, WFM only lists out 89 of their 100+ banned body care ingredients on this webpage: https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/body-care-quality-standards. WFM has publicly disclosed 454 of the 471 ingredients prohibited in Premium Body Care products.
WFM requires suppliers of all household cleaning products sold in store to display all ingredients according to cosmetics nomenclature, except for fragrance and enzymes.
The company has required this disclosure since April 2012, although in April 2013 they stated: “the majority of our products should contain full disclosure ingredient listings on the package. However, there might be smaller, regional brands that are still undergoing the audit process.”
0 out of 7.5 points
Chemical Footprint: Evaluates its chemical footprint
6 out of 7.5 points
Third-party Standards: Promotes credible third party standards for safer products
In 2012 at least, the food bar container in many of WFM’s stores was “Cradle-to-Cradle Silver certified.” Additionally, WFM staff noted that the company helped found EPA’s Green Chill Partnership to reduce refrigerant gas emissions. Several WFM stores have been certified to Green Chill’s Silver Level and the company received a 2016 Green Chill Achievement Award.
WFM employees told us that historically, the company created its own product and ingredient standards and accountability practices if third-party standards did not exist or were not adequate.
WFM partnered with Green Seal “in the development, launch and execution of Whole Foods Market’s Eco-Scale™ Rating System for household cleaners.” They were the 3rd party verifier, at least in 2013.
0 out of 5 points
Joint Announcement: Public commitment demonstrated through joint announcement
15 out of 15 points
Continuous Improvement: Shows continuous improvement by steadily expanding safer chemicals policy
WFM first established quality standards for all body care products in 1988 by banning artificial colors, a few preservatives and other ingredients. By 2016, 103 ingredients were banned via baseline body care standards, and today, that number is 117. In a letter to suppliers dated February 1, 2016, WFM confirmed that they were banning specific chemicals – e.g. formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and oxybenzone – from their Baseline Body Care Quality Standards, effective January 1, 2017.
In 2008, Premium Body Care standards were launched with 277 banned ingredients. Currently, there are 471 banned ingredients and WFM has approved over 4,000 products to meet this standard.
WFM formalized its standards for cleaning products with the Eco-Scale Rating System that was launched in 2011.
The list of banned ingredients in household cleaning products was last updated in November 2014, according to their website.
5 out of 5 points
Safer Products: Program to promote safer products in stores and/or on website
From a WFM blog post on March 26, 2014, the company “sells more than 650 Eco-Scale-rated products – from liquid laundry detergents and fabric softeners to all-purpose, glass and toilet bowl cleaners.”
The webpages for the different WFM stores have links to the “Premium Body Care Products List” and “Organic Personal Care Products List” of items sold at the locations. WFM has approved over 4,000 products to meet the Premium Body Care standard.
0 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