2013-10-28

Co.Exist

Like Walmart, Target Is Cracking Down On Toxic Chemicals In The Products It Sells

The retail giant is teaming with GoodGuide to take a closer look at what's in the baby products, household cleaners, and beauty care products on its shelves.

Chemical manufacturers, you're officially on watch: Target announced that it's teaming up products-rating platform GoodGuide to create the Target Sustainable Product Standard, which will measure supplier performance against set criteria based on ingredient sustainability, transparency, and environmental impact.

Walmart had previously led the charge in this area of supply-chain responsibility. This past September, the company announced a plan to have suppliers phase out 10 popular toxic chemicals. Before that, it embarked upon the ambitious challenge of creating a measurement system to track the environmental impact of its progress—a project that is still under way.

But Walmart has largely stood alone in its efforts. That's not to say other multinational retail chains haven't embarked upon impressive sustainability efforts of their own, but few reach the scale of what Walmart has attempted (few companies reach the scale of Walmart, period). That's starting to change.

For two years, Target has been working on a sustainable product standard, which will cover 7,500 products in three categories: baby care, household cleaner, and personal care and beauty. The company started with these categories because these are areas for which Target thinks its customers will most value ingredient sustainability and transparency. In 2014, it will start rating cosmetics as well.

Target is using GoodGuide's brand new business-focused version of GoodGuide's consumer app, which offers up environmental, health, and social impact information for more than 145,000 products. "We leveraged the GoodGuide platform, but instead of the GoodGuide rating system, we installed the Target standard, collect data from vendors, help analyze data, and [create] tools for Target buyers and sustainability teams," explains Dara O'Rourke, the cofounder of GoodGuide.

While the consumer version of GoodGuide relies on publicly available data for ratings (including in-house lab testing of products), Target has also asked its suppliers to offer up extra data it doesn't supply to the public for evaluation, such as a breakdown of product packaging. Target's standard "doesn't cover all the things that GoodGuide covers, but it's more than what's out there in the market," says O'Rourke.

Target isn't yet planning an actual product sustainability label, but companies that score well on the index will get perks, such as ad space with some sort of unique "sustainable designation and the chance to showcase their products."

"While you may or may not see a [consumer-facing] designation, you'll ultimately see products with different ingredients in them. Our vendor partners will be developing and creating them because of the benefit from that perspective," says Kate Heiny, Target's senior group manager of sustainability. But like Walmart, Target has no plans to ditch suppliers that rank low in the ratings and refuse to clean up their act.

"The scores are meant to inform a dialogue, and the results will inform discussion on what to do to improve products," says Heiny.

While Walmart is taking a harsh approach to toxic chemicals (suppliers will be shamed into revealing them for the world to see if they don't take action), Target is taking a nicer—but arguably still effective—one. The only problem is that consumers won't have the benefit of Target's sustainability information spelled out for them on a label—at least not yet.

Target is the first of many companies that may end up using GoodGuide's transparency platform. O'Rourke says that GoodGuide is working with other "large retailers" as well. "I've been betting on radical transparency for the past five, six years. . . . In the last two to three months, it's been really interesting to see major movement in the marketplace," he says.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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1 Comments

  • Anthony Mitchell

    Selection of safer substitutes depends on the application in which a product is being used. A safer degreaser and cleaner for metal parts may be unsafe or less safe if used for washing dishes, for example.
    There is also the issue of comparative upstream impacts, which can be difficult to quantify. Hats off for anyone doing this work.