U.S. retailer Target introduces sustainable product standard.

On October 7, 2013, Target announced a new Sustainable Product Standard that it will begin using this month to evaluate the sustainability and environmental impact of products sold in its stores.

Target said that it will ask “vendors representing 7,500 products in household cleaners, personal care and beauty and baby care” to provide product ingredients and information about various environmental attributes so that the company can assess products using GoodGuide’s UL Transparency Platform, a business-to-business screening tool that allows a company to evaluate ingredient information provided by suppliers. The Platform’s assessment tool will compare the product data to hazard trait and regulatory and other environmental criteria lists.

After being evaluated, each product will be assigned up to 100 points based on the sustainability of ingredients, ingredient transparency and overall environmental impact. Target’s announcement explains that the standard was developed “over the last two years in partnership with industry experts, vendors and NGOs.” The standard “will help establish a common language and definition for qualifying what makes a product more sustainable.”

According to Target spokesperson Jessica Stevens, the Sustainable Product Standard “does not have a direct guest-facing, in-store component,” so consumers will not see product assessment scores displayed in stores. Stevens explained that “products that pass a minimum threshold to be set by Target” will have access to special merchandising and marketing support.

Many environmental advocates like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Breast Cancer Fund and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics were enthusiastic about the new standard. However, BizNGO chair and Clean Production Action co-director Mark Rossi expressed concern that the UL Transparency Platform is designed for information sharing between businesses and does not require any public disclosure; the platform’s proprietary nature means consumers and safety advocates have no access to the criteria used in its assessments. Although Target has not released any details on its scoring or standard benchmarks, it is expected to do so in the near future.

Target’s new Sustainable Product Standard follows its competitor Walmart’s announcement of its own “Policy on Sustainable Chemistry in Consumables,” which we discussed last month. Walmart’s policy is based on GreenWERCS, its own proprietary tool that assesses products’ chemical composition and screens for potential adverse human and environmental effects. Both retailers are taking steps to increase transparency and eliminate potentially hazardous chemical ingredients in their supply chains, although Target’s policy focuses on incentivizing safer products through its point-based standard, while Walmart’s approach is to eliminate certain chemical ingredients from products in their stores altogether.