In 2008, a collaboration of businesses and environmental organizations released the visionary BizNGO Principles for Safer Chemicals:
- Know and Disclose Product Chemistry
- Assess & Avoid Hazards
- Commit to Continuous Improvement
- Support Public Policies & Industry Standards
The question of how to implement these Principles is the inspiration for the just released BizNGO Guide to Safer Chemicals (aka “The Guide”). Many a “downstream user” of chemicals, those organizations that use chemicals by virtue of the products they purchase, have stumbled on the path to developing and implementing a chemicals management program.
The Guide is a how-to resource for managing chemicals in products, processes, and feedstocks for downstream users of chemicals. This practical, easy-to-use guide is intended to revolutionize the way companies are able to move away from hazardous chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives. It is a resource of current and best practices of how organizations are implementing programs that advance safer alternatives to chemicals of high concern to human health or the environment Today’s business leaders recognize that comprehensive programs for safer chemicals are essential to innovation, informed decisions, and clear communication with suppliers.
Every week new scientific research links exposure to chemicals of high concern in products to the increasing incidence of serious chronic health problems, including asthma, childhood cancers, infertility and learning and developmental disabilities. The uncertainty surrounding the safety of chemicals is eroding consumer confidence in a wide range of products.
The Guide uses a hiking metaphor of four benchmarks—Trailhead, Base Camp, High Camp, and Summit—for the journey to implementing the BizNGO Principles for Safer Chemicals. The benchmarks are relative indicators of performance, not absolutes. The benchmarks increase in complexity and difficulty as they move upwards from Trailhead, actions commonly taken by organizations first moving beyond compliance, to summit, actions taken by only a few.
Principle #1a—Know Chemicals across the Life Cycle of Products (business-to-business sharing of information)
Knowing the chemicals in products, manufacturing processes, and feedstocks is foundational to advancing safer chemicals in products and supply chains. The Guide provides many examples of the steps organizations are taking to knowing chemicals across the supply chain. Seagate, for example, runs a comprehensive program to collect from its suppliers full chemical and material ingredients of all the components in its hard drives.
Principle #1b—Disclose Chemicals across the Life Cycle of Products (sharing of information to the public)
Chemical ingredient transparency, sharing chemical information to the public, is an essential component of innovation, clear communication to customers, and informed decisions for many business leaders. For example, Whole Foods Market’s Eco-Scale Rating for household cleaning products requires full ingredient disclosure on the label. And the just released Health Product Declaration (HPD) form sets a new standard for disclosure in the building products sector.
Principle #2—Assess & Avoid Hazards
A critical element in the implementation of a safer alternatives program is the frameworks and tools that organizations use to inform their identification of chemicals of high concern, evaluation of alternatives, and the selection and implementation of safer alternatives. HP, for example, is implementing a systematic process for evaluating chemicals of high concern, using an “Integrated Alternatives Assessment” with hazard assessment completed using the GreenScreen. And Nike’s approach to chemicals management includes evaluating the chemical inputs into its materials, specifying preferred chemistries and materials, and conveying these metrics to its suppliers along with other opportunities for greening their chemistries.
Principle #3—Commit to Continuous Improvement
Downstream users of chemicals lack clear, standardized metrics for evaluating progress to safer chemicals. There is no standardized “chemical footprint” tool like the carbon footprint metric for energy use. In fact, the The Guide’s benchmarks for Principles #1 and #2 are the closest to a standardized metric for a chemical footprint that we have. Dignity Health’s pilot of a beta version demonstrates how an organization can use The Guide to evaluate its progress on the paths to safer chemicals.
Principle #4—Support Public Policies and Voluntary Initiatives
The active participation of businesses and health care organizations, among others, is necessary for the successful integration of the Principles and The Guide’s benchmarks into public policies and voluntary initiatives. The collective voice of downstream users engaging in public and private spaces is critical for growing the global movement to safer alternatives to chemicals of high concern to human health and the environment. Ultimately corporate leaders will only succeed if their efforts are mainstreamed globally.
The Guide is a living resource and will evolve as we learn more about how organizations are implementing the BizNGO Principles. Please share your thoughts and work as you advance up the paths to safer chemicals.