In the last 50 years, the introduction of new chemicals to our homes and workplaces has brought greater convenience, quality and efficiency to our lives. At the same time, we’re learning that some of these chemicals may have unintended and harmful consequences for our health and environment. In fact, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), the air inside the typical home is on average two to five times more polluted than the air outside. In extreme cases, indoor air can be 100 times more contaminated, largely because of household cleaners and pesticides.
While we only sell products that meet government regulation, we believe we can take greater responsibility and leadership in moving beyond compliance and drive the development of products that are better for our environment and for our health. Through the Chemical Intensive Products Network, we are working to make this vision a reality. The Network’s strategy is to identify chemicals of concern and encourage suppliers to explore and bring to market innovations that contain safer alternatives.
With hundreds of products that contain chemicals on our shelves, identifying which chemicals may be harmful is, without question, a challenging task. By working closely with our suppliers, we are tackling this challenge and seeing progress. One way we’re doing this is through our "Preferred Chemical Principles," which were established in 2006 to set out a clear set of preferred characteristics for product ingredients.
The principles are:
- Embrace the spirit of the precautionary principle by taking action toward finding better alternatives when we suspect that an ingredient in a product or the product itself is capable of causing harm to human health and the environment.
- Establish leadership by going beyond compliance with legal requirements and moving towards ingredients with preferred characteristics.
- Demonstrate concern for the entire product life cycle by not only acknowledging the role that exposure and risk assessment play in understanding the potential risk to customers, but also establishing that our concerns extend beyond the end user of the product and relate to the entire life cycle, including the production of the raw materials used in products.
- Focus on human health and the environment by concentrating on chemicals that, with regard to hazard, are known to be likely or probable human carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxicants.
Using these principles, we identify “priority chemicals” or “chemicals of concern.” Our immediate focus is chemicals that have been classified as “known,” “likely” or “probable” human carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxicants. We also focus on chemicals that are persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic. Chemicals with all three attributes are of the greatest concern. To date, we have announced three priority chemicals that we have asked suppliers to remove or replace.
To help our suppliers identify priority chemicals in their products and replace them with safer alternatives, we have implemented a three-step process:
- Awareness – where participating suppliers are given a period of time to identify for us any of their products that currently contain one of the priority chemicals;
- Development of an Action Plan – where suppliers communicate to us their plans regarding the removal of priority chemicals from their products; and
- Recognition and Reward – where we acknowledge the suppliers who participate and reward them for their efforts.
As we look to the future, we are focused on extending this three-step process to additional priority chemicals. Our goal is to notify suppliers of our desire to remove or replace these chemicals and to initiate the three-step process on an ongoing basis. To further engage suppliers, we are also developing a product sustainability screening tool. Through the tool, suppliers will be able to learn about ways to identify and replace chemicals of concern in their products.
Wal-Mart Video Center
In October 2006, the Chemical Intensive Product Network hosted the Molecule-to-Molecule Meeting to encourage innovation in products that meet the Preferred Chemical Principles. At the two-day symposium, the network announced the first three “priority chemicals,” or “chemicals of concern.” These are chemicals for which the network is encouraging the development of alternatives. We are encouraging current suppliers of products that contain these chemicals to move toward exploring the use of innovative replacement chemicals that meet the Preferred Chemical Principles.
These first three chemicals are:
- Propoxur – Propoxur is in the chemical class called carbamates and has been declared to be a “probable human carcinogen” by the U.S. EPA. Once a widely used insecticide, it is still found today in a small number of insect control products.
- Permethrin – While this chemical found in insecticides has preferred alternatives, it is still one of the most widely used insect control ingredients in and around homes in the United States. Permethrin has been characterized by the U.S. EPA as “likely to cause cancer in humans.” In many cases, suppliers have already replaced permethrin with preferred alternatives.
- NPEs (Nonyl Phenol Ethoxylates) – The potential toxicity of NPEs to aquatic organisms as well as their persistence in the environment has raised concern worldwide. Our focus is on their use in cleaning products, where they are most commonly found and where they have the potential to do the most harm.