Walmart’s sustainable chemicals policy promotes transparency and DfE.

Last month, Walmart released the details of how its sustainable chemicals policy will be implemented, a move that will likely push suppliers to use safer chemicals in reformulating consumer products like cosmetics and cleaners. Walmart’s chemicals policy was first announced in September, and was quickly followed by the announcement of a “Sustainable Product Standard” developed by rival retail chain Target.

Walmart’s Sustainable Chemistry Implementation Guide is aimed at suppliers and provides details, resources, and metrics by which suppliers will be evaluated in their efforts to meet each element of the policy. The policy draws on various preexisting governmental, private sector, and voluntary programs addressing various aspects related to safer chemicals in products, particularly U.S. EPA’s Design for Environment (DfE) program.

The policy identifies “Walmart Priority Chemicals,” which are compiled from a list of authoritative and regulatory lists, including the EU’s endocrine disruptors priority list, various REACH lists, IARC’s and the U.S. NTP’s carcinogens lists, and California’s Proposition 65 developmental and reproductive toxicants list. From that compilation, the company has selected a subset of “approximately ten” “Walmart High Priority Chemicals,” which have not been publicly identified because of “business reasons.” Suppliers will learn whether a product contains a Walmart High Priority Chemical through The Wercs, a company whose WERCSmart platform facilitates the submission of product formulation information and lets retailers access and compile regulatory compliance and hazard communication data. The list of Walmart High Priority Chemicals is described in the Guide as “proprietary to Walmart,” and suppliers who are notified that their product contains a Walmart High Priority Chemical are asked not to disclose or use that information outside the supplier’s organization.

The Implementation Guide organizes the policy’s elements into three categories: (1) transparency; (2) advancing safer formulation of products; and (3) DfE in private brands.

Transparency: Suppliers will be measured based on, for example, the percentage of products (“by number of UPCs and sales”) for which formulation information has been fully disclosed to The Wercs. Walmart expects its suppliers to disclose product ingredients on their own websites, on a product-by-product basis, by January 2015; priority chemicals are to be disclosed on product packaging by January 2018. The Guide refers to EPA’s DfE Standard for Safer Products as well as the Consumer Specialty Products Association’s Ingredient Communication Initiative for guidance on how suppliers should disclose ingredients.

Safer formulation: Suppliers will be asked to complete the Sustainability Index, a questionnaire-based program developed by the Sustainability Consortium, to report progress on chemical disclosure, risk assessment, and hazard avoidance. Walmart has been using the Sustainability Index to assess suppliers and their products since 2009, and has built the resulting scorecards into the way Walmart’s buyers work. Walmart will also evaluate suppliers based on their performance in reducing, restricting, and eliminating priority chemicals and Walmart High Priority Chemicals “using informed substitution principles.” The Guide recommends the tenets of the Commons Principles of Alternatives Assessments, and recommends certain Alternatives Assessment ingredient lists and methodologies. Suppliers’ performance will be quantified based on metrics including: the aggregate weight volume of priority chemicals; number of UPCs and sales volume of products with priority chemicals; and number of products formulated with only DfE-approved ingredients. Progress on the initiatives in this category will be compared to a 2012 baseline.

DfE in private brands: Starting this year, Walmart and Sam’s Club’s own brand of cleaning products will be reformulated and relabeled to meet the criteria of EPA’s DfE program. This program will be expanded to other product categories in the future, although the Guide did not specify further details. Progress on this initiative will be measured by the percentage of private brand products which are DfE-certified.

Walmart will begin monitoring progress of all the initiatives this year, and aggregate progress will be reported publicly starting in 2016.