Chemical footprinting ‘moves to the mainstream’ for big businesses

Companies with more than $670bn in revenue, including Adidas, HP and Walmart, have collectively reduced the use of hazardous chemicals in products by around 416m pounds in the last two years, according to a new report.

The Chemical Footprint Project’s (CFP) second annual report details that “chemical footprinting is moving to the mainstream”, with 24 companies agreeing to voluntarily disclose, measure and manage chemical use in production and operation.

“For the first time ever, companies are quantitatively measuring and reporting their chemical footprint,” lead author of the report Mark Rossi said.

CFP aims to act as a third-part standard to evaluate how suppliers manage chemical risks, and is backed by a range of investors and retailers. Companies participating in this iteration of the report, including Johnson & Johnson and Levi Strauss, are “breaking new ground” by calculating their global chemical footprints.

In 2016, CFP found that 42% of participants calculated chemical footprints. These companies also range in size and cover numerous sectors including apparel and footwear, building products and furnishings, household and personal care products, electronics, toys, medical devices, and packaging.

Investors will now have access to the data and can begin benchmarking firms against demonstrations of new chemical management. CFP offers the highest praise for companies that are able to establish a comprehensive chemicals policy, an understanding of what chemicals are used and a willingness to promote transparency and engage with investors to remedy issues.

“CFP is making data available for benchmarking and gap analysis, which are critical for us to understand where our company and our suppliers are on the journey to more sustainable chemicals,” Walmart’s senior director for sustainability Zach Freeze said.

Chemical romance

According to CFP, tracking chemical inputs is a “critical metric” in mapping business progress against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) regarding sustainable consumption and production patterns and health and wellbeing.

Business use of chemicals has increased in prominence in recent months. Supermarket heavyweight Tesco has vowed to phase-out toxic chemicals in the supply chain of its F&F clothing line, as part of a wider commitment to Greenpeace’s DETOX campaign.

Elsewhere, fashion retailers H&M and Marks and Spencer (M&S) vowed to implement new supply chain management approaches, after a new report linked some of the world’s largest fashion brands with highly-polluting facilities accused of dumping toxic waste into nearby water sources.

However, issues can still be found in legislative approaches to chemical management. Earlier this week, ClientEarth complained to the EU Ombudsman about the European Commission’s “maladministration” surrounding a delayed publication of a list of nanomaterial use in cosmetics.

Nanomaterials are chemicals engineered to be up to a million times smaller than a millimetre. They are usually more toxic than larger particles of the same chemical because of a larger surface-to-volume ratio. They are also much more readily absorbed into the body.

The Commission published the catalogue on 15 June 2017, three and a half years later than scheduled. ClientEarth argues that even with the delay, the list fails to identify which cosmetics contain harmful nanomaterials.

ClientEarth lawyer Anne Friel said: “After deliberate delays of three and a half years, the Commission’s list does not contain the necessary information on nanos in the beauty products people use every day, further delaying consumers’ ability to make informed decisions.

“This is unacceptable, and the Commission’s contortions to avoid releasing the list in the first place are a shocking dereliction of duty. We call on the Ombudsman to investigate this unlawful practice and stop the Commission blocking access to the information to which consumers are entitled, and which will let them make informed decisions.”

Matt Mace

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