A report card on retailer actions to eliminate toxic chemicals
Click each company's logo to see how they scored
Retailer Rankings and Findings
In this first-ever report card, major U.S. retailers earned grades ranging from B for good progress to F for failing to develop even basic safer chemical policies. Grades were assigned based on publicly available information concerning retailer policies and self-reported information concerning retailer practices. We also reached out to retailers, giving them an opportunity to review their draft score and provide additional information. The average grade was a D+, indicating a significant need for improvement by big retailers to meet rising consumer demand for safer products.
To review how each retailer graded in detail you can:
- Click any of the company logos at the top to see how they graded in detail;
- Download the two-page factsheet to compare how the 11 retailers scored across the 13 categories of criteria (PDF);
- View the detailed scoring chart for the 11 retailers in Google Sheets;
A careful analysis of retailer progress across thirteen scoring criteria revealed five major findings:
- 1: Three retailer leaders are making meaningful progress toward adopting policies for safer chemicals and products, setting the pace for the entire sector. More »
- 2:Too many retailers remain serious laggards that lack even basic public policies, while a few others are just beginning to make progress. More »
- 3:Retailers are driving toxic chemicals from the market, but more effort is needed to ensure that alternatives avoid “regrettable substitutes.” More »
- 4:Disclosure of chemical ingredients by retailers and suppliers is improving, but greater transparency is needed to satisfy consumers. More »
- 5:Third-party standards are playing a positive role in product safety, but not enough retailers are assessing their chemical footprint. More »
1. Three retailer leaders are making meaningful progress toward adopting policies for safer chemicals and products, setting the pace for the entire sector.
Of the retailers we evaluated, Walmart, Target, and CVS Health have developed the most robust safer chemical management programs during the past three years and, therefore, have received the highest grades. Walmart earned a grade of B, scoring 78.5 out of 130 possible points, the highest score of any retailer we evaluated. Target was also awarded a B grade, receiving 76.5 points. CVS Health attained a grade of C based on a score of 53 points.
- Walmart developed a “Sustainable Chemistry Policy” in 2013 and “Sustainable Chemistry Implementation Guide” in 2014, and for the first time reported significant progress in implementing its policy in the summer of 2016. Walmart has developed a list of 16 “High Priority” chemicals and more than 2,000 “Priority” chemicals of concern that it challenges suppliers to reduce and eliminate. The company states in its policy: “All suppliers are expected to reduce, restrict and eliminate use of priority chemicals using informed substitution principles.” The policy applies to cleaning products, cosmetics and personal care products, infant products, and pet supplies. In October 2016, Walmart unveiled its “Sustainable Packaging Playbook,” which also encourages suppliers to identify, restrict and remove its priority chemicals from packaging, and also avoid polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) plastic, in packaging. In November 2016 Walmart announced important new 2025 sustainability goals which include a commitment to sell “safer and healthier products” but unfortunately it did not announce any new goals or commitments to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals in products as part of this effort.
Opportunities for improvement: Walmart can continue to improve its safer chemicals program by setting public quantifiable goals with clear timelines for reducing and eliminating chemicals of high concern, continuing to annually report on progress in implementing its policy, expanding its list of High Priority chemicals to tackle a broader list of chemicals, and expanding the policy to other chemically intensive product categories such as apparel, electronics, and furniture.
- Target developed a “Sustainable Product Index” (SPI) in 2013, which was updated and expanded in 2015 and again even more recently in 2016. Target has flagged more than 2,000 chemicals of concern for reduction and elimination. The SPI has been applied to personal care, baby care and cleaning products, and in 2016 the company expanded it for the first time to also address cosmetics. In 2016, Target made other significant improvements to its policy: 1) Expanded the list of chemicals subject to its policy, particularly those restricted in cosmetics in the European Union and Canada; 2) Significantly improved its evaluation of suppliers’ transparency practices, including a new way for Target to evaluate fragrance ingredients against its restricted substance list; and 3) Added criteria pushing suppliers to disclose their “palette list” of fragrance ingredients, allergens in fragrance and nanomaterials. With these improvements, Target has developed the most robust criteria for evaluating suppliers’ disclosure practices. Unfortunately, it removed reference to endocrine disruptors and reduced the number of points granted for third-party certified products.
Opportunities for improvement: Target can continue to improve its safer chemicals program by setting public quantifiable goals with clear timelines for reducing and eliminating chemicals of high concern, reporting on its progress in working with suppliers to reduce chemicals of high concern, developing guidance for suppliers on evaluating alternatives, and expanding the policy to other chemically intensive products such as apparel, electronics, and furniture.
- CVS Health developed a “Cosmetic Safety Policy” and in 2016 disclosed it has developed a list of “Chemicals of Consumer Concern” (CCCs). The company states in its most recent sustainability report: “(We) actively identify and prioritize the replacement of CCCs with safer alternatives in certain CVS Brand categories, including beauty, baby and personal care, and food products. As new, conclusive research is published on how certain chemical ingredients are linked to health and environmental risks, and safer alternatives are made available, we apply our Cosmetic Safety Policy. This policy outlines our commitments to customer safety, scientific research, supplier collaboration and continuous improvement as well as the evaluation and replacement of CCCs in CVS Brand products. In 2015, we began the process of developing a sustainable products policy to further inform our strategy and commitments.”
Opportunities for improvement: CVS can continue to improve its safer chemicals program by setting public quantifiable goals with clear timelines for reducing and eliminating chemicals of high concern, developing guidance for suppliers on evaluating alternatives, and getting private label cleaning products certified to meet third-party standards such as EPA Safer Choice, Made Safe, or Green Seal.
2.Too many retailers remain serious laggards that lack even basic public policies, while a few others are just beginning to make progress.
Out of the eleven retailers we evaluated, Amazon, Costco, and Albertsons all earned failing grades. Kroger also scored poorly with a grade of D-, barely avoiding an F with 15.5 points. None of these four retailers have public written safer chemicals policies.
- Amazon received the lowest grade of any retailer evaluated, accruing only 7.5 out of 130 possible points. Meanwhile, Amazon’s market share is rapidly growing and the company continues to roll out more private label products. According to projections, the company will soon be the biggest retailer of apparel and electronics in the United States. Unlike several of its competitors, the company has no public safer chemicals policy in place.
Opportunities for improvement: Amazon can begin by developing a public written safer chemicals policy and setting clear public timelines for reducing, eliminating, and safely substituting chemicals of high concern, beginning with its private label apparel and electronics. Amazon should promote greater transparency about chemicals in products by requiring suppliers to disclose full chemical ingredient information and posting them on Amazon.com.
- Costco received the second lowest grade of any retailer, receiving only 9.5 points. The company has no public written safer chemicals policy in place, unlike many competitors. Costco was surprisingly the only major retailer that did not publicly report any progress in eliminating chemicals of high concern over the past three years.
Opportunities for improvement: Costco can make progress by developing a public written safer chemicals policy and setting public quantifiable goals with clear timelines for reducing and eliminating chemicals of high concern, beginning with its private label products.
- Albertsons received the third lowest grade of any retailer, with only 12.5 points.
Opportunities for improvement: Albertsons can make progress by developing a public written safer chemicals policy, setting public quantifiable goals with clear timelines for reducing and eliminating chemicals of high concern, and completely eliminating and safely substituting BPA and perfluorinated chemicals (PFC’s) in food packaging.
- Kroger received the fourth lowest grade of any retailer we evaluated, receiving only 15.5 points.
Opportunities for improvement: Kroger can make progress by developing a public written safer chemicals policy, setting public quantifiable goals with clear timelines for reducing and eliminating chemicals of high concern, and completely eliminating and safely substituting BPA and perfluorinated chemicals (PFC’s) in food packaging.
Progress is being made by some retailers to develop chemical policies:
Some retailers are beginning to make progress in developing safer chemical management programs. To their credit, both Best Buy and Walgreens have pledged to develop written safer chemicals policies. Best Buy earned a C- grade, receiving 41 points. Walgreens was issued a D grade, scoring 29.5 points.
- Best Buy is actively developing a chemical management program that will be publicly released in 2017. This policy will include both a Restricted Substance List (RSL) and a Manufacturing Restricted Substance List (MRSL), both of which the company will publicly disclose. Best Buy deserves credit as the only retailer we are aware of that is developing a MRSL, which requires avoidance of hazardous chemicals in the manufacture of the chemicals in a product even if not a final ingredient in the product. This can help drive harmful chemicals out of complex supply chains such as electronics.
Opportunities for improvement: Best Buy can continue to make progress by setting clear public benchmarks and timelines for its private label suppliers to reduce, eliminate, and safely substitute toxic chemicals such as flame retardant chemicals in televisions and other electronics.
- Walgreens announced in late 2014 that it was developing a “Chemical Sustainability Program,” for release in the spring of 2015, but then backtracked, saying it would be forthcoming in the “coming months.” However, nearly two years later, this program is still not public.
Opportunities for improvement: The company can improve by publishing its “Chemical Sustainability Program” and setting clear public benchmarks and timelines for its suppliers to reduce and eliminate all Restricted Substance List chemicals that its sister retailer Boots has already acted on in the UK. The company should also certify private label cleaning products to a third party program such as EPA Safer Choice, Made Safe, or Green Seal.
3. Retailers are driving toxic chemicals from the market, but more effort is needed to ensure that alternatives avoid “regrettable substitutes.”
During the past three years, retailers have made notable progress in reducing and eliminating toxic chemicals and materials such as phthalates, halogenated flame retardants, triclosan, bisphenol A (BPA), formaldehyde, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. To their credit, Albertsons, Amazon, Best Buy, CVS Health, The Home Depot, Kroger, Lowe’s, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart all reported reductions in the use of certain toxic chemicals in the products they sell. However, more action is urgently needed to further drive harmful chemicals out of the marketplace in favor of safer alternatives.
- Walmart announced in the summer of 2016 that its suppliers achieved a 95% reduction by weight of “High Priority” chemicals and a 45% reduction of “Priority” chemicals by weight. This amounts to a significant reduction of approximately 11,000 tons or 23 million pounds of Walmart “High Priority” chemicals. However, more progress is still needed: the number of products containing High Priority chemicals decreased by only 3 percent, and the percent of suppliers using High Priority chemicals actually increased. Meanwhile, the percent of products containing any Priority chemical grew by one percent.
- The Home Depot was the first major retailer to develop a policy to eliminate all added ortho-phthalates in flooring in 2015, setting a major precedent for home improvement and flooring retailers across the nation. The Mind the Store campaign of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families worked in partnership with The Home Depot for nearly a year to develop its policy. As the largest home improvement chain in the United States and globally, The Home Depot’s accomplishment is significant. According to one article, “Total flooring sales accounted for over 7 percent of Home Depot’s $83.2 billion total revenues in 2014, or almost $6 billion, a 4 percent increase from the year before.” The Home Depot was issued a D+ grade, scoring 35.5 points.
Opportunities for improvement: The Home Depot should leverage this success by expanding its policy by phasing out phthalates in other vinyl products it sells, and develop a written safer chemicals policy.
- Lowe’s also adopted a policy to eliminate phthalates in its flooring by the end of 2015. Also significant, Lowe’s is the second largest home improvement retailer in the country, and flooring “represented $3.2 billion in sales for Lowe’s last year, or 6% of its $56 billion total revenues.” Lowe’s was issued a D grade, scoring 29.5 points.
Opportunities for improvement: Lowe’s should leverage this success by phasing out phthalates in all other vinyl products it sells, and develop a written safer chemicals policy.
The Home Depot’s and Lowe’s actions led to a major ripple effect among other large home improvement and flooring retailers such as Lumber Liquidators and Menards who joined the market shift away from phthalates in flooring.
Most retailers have not developed adequate guidance for evaluating the hazards of replacement chemicals or materials. Businesses must ensure that suppliers are actively evaluating the hazards of alternatives when reducing or eliminating chemicals of high concern, because otherwise the substitute may be as bad as or worse than the original chemical. For example, while Kroger and Albertsons have reported some progress in reducing the use of BPA in canned foods, a recent report co-written by the Mind the Store campaign showed that some of its suppliers are using regrettable substitutes such as styrene and PVC based resins in can linings.
- Walmart deserves credit as the only retailer to develop clear guidance for suppliers in assessing the hazards of replacement chemicals. Walmart provides public guidance for suppliers in its “Sustainable Chemistry Implementation Guide.” Walmart states:
“Informed substitution is the considered transition from a chemical of particular concern to safer chemicals or non-chemical alternatives… Using informed substitution principles will mitigate hazard risks associated with product formulation and achieve compliance with Walmart’s Policy on Sustainable Chemistry in Consumables…In the aim of advancing safer formulated products and promoting informed substitution, Walmart recommends the major tenets of Alternatives Assessment, a process for identifying, comparing and selecting safer alternatives to priority chemicals (including those in materials, processes or technologies) on the basis of their hazards, performance, and economic viability…”
In its Implementation Guide, Walmart cites many valuable resources, such as GreenScreen, Pharos Chemical and Material Library, BizNGO’s Chemical Alternatives Assessment Protocol, and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production’s Alternatives Assessment Protocol. However, how the company tracks or evaluates suppliers’ use of these tools and practices remains unclear.
4. Disclosure of chemical ingredients by retailers and suppliers is improving, but greater transparency is needed to satisfy consumers.
Business-to-business disclosure: Major retailers are increasingly encouraging or requiring suppliers to disclose the identity of chemicals to them through tools such as UL’s WERCS and PurView platforms. However, no retailers are going as far as to require full ingredient disclosure. Walmart recommends that disclosure should include “Full disclosure of all ingredients including those typically protected under trade secrets (e.g. fragrances)” as well as “Known residuals, contaminants, and by-products,” but does not go as far as to require full ingredient disclosure for all products. Target encourages suppliers to disclose their full formulations and fragrance palettes, and work with third parties such as UL, DFE (now known as Safer Choice), and Cradle 2 Cradle to evaluate whether fragrances and full ingredient formulations contain hazardous substances identified by Target while still protecting confidential business information (CBI). This is important as Target states: “Consumers can have confidence that a brand’s products will not contain Target SPI High Priority or Concern chemicals if its palette passes the screen.”
Consumer disclosure: Retailers are also pushing suppliers to disclose chemical ingredients to consumers. Target incentivizes suppliers to disclose all ingredients to consumers, including the specific constituents of fragrances or other proprietary components, grading suppliers on their public disclosure practices. Target is the first major retailer to push suppliers to publicly disclose 1) A “palette list” of fragrance ingredients, which according to Target allows: “consumers to determine if undesirable chemicals might be present in a product”; 2) Allergens of concern identified by the EU, which may be present in fragrance; and 3) Nanomaterials, which are substances of emerging concern. In total, Target has identified six tiers of ingredient disclosure practices suppliers are scored on.
Retailers are gradually becoming more transparent about the identity of their priority chemicals of concern, but more transparency is essential to meet the growing consumer demand for “radical transparency.” In summer of 2016 Walmart disclosed for the first time the identity of its 16 “High Priority” chemicals: butylparaben, propyl paraben, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, formaldehyde, nonylphenol ethoxylates (a class of nine substances), toluene, and triclosan. Both Walmart and Target have also published their lists of priority chemicals, which we have compiled and made publicly available with the Healthy Building Network for the first time here. Both Best Buy and CVS Health have pledged to disclose the identity of their restricted substance lists in 2017. Other retailers including Albertsons, Amazon, Costco, The Home Depot, Kroger, Lowe’s, and Walgreens are clearly lagging behind and have either not developed or not publicly disclosed their RSL’s.
5. Third-party standards are playing a positive role in product safety, but not enough retailers are assessing their chemical footprint.
Retailers are increasingly making safer products more readily available on store shelves and online. However, more progress is urgently needed in order to meet growing consumer demand for safe and healthy products. Best Buy, The Home Depot, and Target each have programs in place to market safer products free of harmful chemicals to their customers.
Retailers are also encouraging suppliers to get their products certified through credible third-party safer chemicals standards such as EPA Safer Choice and Cradle 2 Cradle. Retailers should also promote other reputable third-party safer chemicals programs such as Green Seal and Made Safe.
- Walmart has set a goal of getting all private label cleaning products certified through the EPA Safer Choice program, though the company has yet to report progress on meeting this goal.
- Target evaluates whether suppliers meet the third party standards Safer Choice and Cradle 2 Cradle, and rewards those that do. Target also created the “Made to Matter” program to promote and feature products free of toxic chemicals online and on store shelves. Target states that these products meet its “clean label” criteria, which is based on scores generated through its Sustainable Product Index. These products are selling very well in its stores, reaching more than a billion dollars in sales in one year alone and achieving “approximately a 30 percent sales growth at Target, which is 1.5 times faster than anywhere else” at Target in 2015. Target has also certified some of its private label Up & Up cleaning products to Safer Choice and children’s pajamas to the Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS).
- Best Buy features EPEAT-certified products on its website, and reports that, “Best Buy customers purchased more than 3 million EPEAT-registered products, which collectively helped prevent the generation of hazardous materials equivalent to the weight of 35,000 refrigerators…Savings result from avoiding the use of toxic materials such as lead in printed circuit boards and mercury in light sources.” EPEAT is a third-party certification program for electronics, which includes criteria around avoiding chemicals of concern.
- The Home Depot features safer products, such as EPA Safer Choice-certified cleaners, on its Eco Options website.
The Chemical Footprint Project provides a new tool that retailers can utilize to evaluate and benchmark their progress systematically and the progress of suppliers in reducing reliance on toxic chemicals and bringing safer products to market. CVS Health recently became the first major pharmacy chain in the country to become a signatory of the Chemical Footprint Project, and the only one of the eleven retailers graded to sign on to date. Other retailers should follow suit to help spur the proliferation of this important tool in the marketplace.
In its most recent sustainability report, Walmart embraced the concept of evaluating its chemical footprint and states the company has “an initial framework for evaluating our chemical footprint using UL’s WERCSmart™ platform for in-scope formulated consumable products.”