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Walmart Issues Sustainability Guidelines

February 27, 2014

World's largest retailer puts its suppliers on notice

Walmart today sent a letter to its suppliers detailing its new sustainability program. A copy of it can be found here.

The program will reportedly impact the entire range of household and personal care products, including cosmetics and cleaners, which are sold in Walmart stores. In its letter to suppliers, Walmart is disclosing 10 chemicals that it is targeting for reduction or elimination. At this time, only suppliers are privy to the list of 10. But Sarah Vogel, director of environmental health, Environmental Defense Fund, said suppliers won't be all that surprised.

"The personal care industry is already moving in that direction," she noted. "In recent years, companies like Colgate, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson have all made announcements about ingredient phaseouts."

For example, last year, J&J removed formaldehyde-releasing preservatives from its baby products and reduced traces of 1,4 dioxane in all of its baby and adult care products. The company said it is moving toward its 2015 Commitment for the remainder of its baby and adult care products, which includes the removal of triclosan and phthalates from all adult products, as well removing all parabens from baby products and removing certain parabens from adult personal care products. In addition, J&J is reformulating to remove certain fragrance ingredients in all products.

The move represents just the latest step in an ongoing process, according to Vogel.

"Even though companies are reformulating to address certain issues, we want to make sure that they are not replacing them with equal or worse compounds," she told Happi.

Although she called it a long process, Vogel said that, in the end, all the efforts will be worth it.

"We hope that there will be safer products available to more people," she explained. "Eighty percent of Americans shop at Walmart. You shouldn't have to have a high income to purchase safer niche products."

Although only Walmart and its suppliers know for sure what is on that infamous "List of 10," Vogel suspects that the world will learn about them when the world's largest retailer issues a progress report in two years. By then, it is expected that all Walmart suppliers will have complied with the new recommendation.

For the Environmental Defense Fund, the Walmart program makes perfect sense.

"Knowing what ingredients are in your product and working toward continuous improvement and sustainability should be an important part of product development," observed Vogel.

Walmart worked closely with vendors and non-profit advisors including Environmental Defense Fund. Together they spent several years developing the policy, and figuring out how to implement the unprecedented measures across a sprawling global supply chain with hundreds of suppliers. The solution had to be robust, credible and transparent. It also had to set an ambitious goal for suppliers without creating impossible hurdles.

The policy covers formulated (chemical intensive) consumable products sold in US Walmart and Sam’s Club stores, including health and beauty aids; cosmetics and skincare; baby care products; pet supplies; and household laundry and cleaning products. Moving forward, this list is expected to grow.

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