Solutions that Work

Last spring, Walmart announced the creation of GreenWERCS, a tool to assess the chemical ingredients of household cleaners, personal care products and other chemical-based items on its shelves. With this new tool, Walmart can get information about hazardous waste potential, toxic substances such as carcinogens, or other chemicals of concern in the products it sells. EDF's Michelle Harvey co-chaired the working group that spent 18 months developing the tool's evaluation criteria. (Read more about this process and partnership between EDF and Walmart.)

One problem that EDF and Walmart had to confront was suppliers' requirements to keep the formulations of their products confidential. Because under current chemical policies companies are not required to disclose which chemicals are used in many types of consumer products, neither Walmart nor the public know the chemical composition of such products. To identify potential chemicals of concern, Walmart needed 100% full disclosure of ingredients. The stopgap compromise that EDF helped develop to get Walmart over this hurdle requires the information be collected under confidentiality agreements by a third party for assessment. This lets the third party evaluate and inform Walmart as to whether there are chemicals of potential concern in a given product without disclosing the product's formulation to Walmart.

The GreenWERCS results can be used by Walmart to initiate dialogue with product manufacturers on the chemical ingredients in their products and can be used to encourage safer substitutes. And best of all, the tool is available for other retailers to use.

"GreenWERCS is a robust first step towards bringing the safest possible products to consumers and complements EDF's work to reform chemical safety legislation and press for full public ingredient disclosure," says Harvey.

When the world's largest retailer demands change for the better, it usually happens, as when Walmart requested laundry detergent with less water. The bottom line is: more sustainable products benefit us all.

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