Where is your company on the path to safer, healthier products?
Industry groups, nonprofits, governments and big brands are prioritizing the identification and elimination of chemicals of concern, including Target, Walmart, Hewlett Packard and the U.S. Green Building Council.
Their approaches may differ but the goal is the same: phase out chemicals of concern. Now the producers of two popular chemical assessment tools are collaborating in an effort to improve the assessment process and hasten the journey to safer products.
Some common steps on this path to safe and healthy products include restricting substance lists, disclosing chemical ingredients and assessing the hazards.
Restricted substance lists
Some organizations have established restricted substance lists of chemicals that they want to avoid. They ask suppliers to declare that the products they supply don't contain any chemicals included on these lists. It's one way to start, but this approach often leads to a perpetual revision process as unfortunate substitutions are made with chemicals that are not on the list but have the same or worse human and environmental health impacts. For consumers, a banned list only tells them what they are not getting. This approach may eliminate "known bads" to reduce immediate business and regulatory risk, but it does not help to prepare for the future.
Disclosure of chemical ingredients
There is a push — especially in the building industry — for greater transparency and understanding of all ingredients used in a product. This approach calls on manufacturers to dig deep into their supply chains, identify all chemical components in their products and disclose those ingredients to customers. This step isn't as easy as it may seem. There are many barriers to supply chain transparency, including proprietary concerns, multiple layers of suppliers, inconsistent reporting and lack of knowledge. Knowing what's in your product is the first critical step to eliminating chemicals of concern. We can't change what we don't know. But just knowing what is in a product does not make it safe. An inventory of ingredients puts the burden on customers to recognize which chemicals they should avoid and understand what hazards and risks are involved.
Chemical hazard assessments conducted by trained toxicologists and chemists to evaluate a comprehensive set of endpoints are the best way to determine the potential human and environmental health impacts of product ingredients. Manufacturers can use this information to make informed decisions in product design and development.
Conducting these assessments consistently and with integrity requires expertise and standardization. GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals and the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Certified Product Standard offer methodologies to review the entire inventory of product ingredients for safety to human and environmental health.
Chemical hazard assessments are increasingly being recognized as a foundational tool for applications that include risk assessment, alternatives assessment and product design and development. GreenScreen is a free, publicly available and scientifically robust method for chemical hazard assessments that is increasingly being adopted globally by companies, government organizations and standards bodies. In both GreenScreen and the C2C certification program, chemical hazard assessments can inform substitution by identifying safer alternatives to chemicals of concern. It supports product design and development by providing a scientifically robust and transparent way to evaluate and compare chemicals across a suite of hazard endpoints. It provides transparency about chemical hazards and data gaps, helping users to "know what they know, and to know what they don't know" about a chemical so they can reduce uncertainty and make informed decisions.
Optimizing products and their manufacturing processes
The C2C Certified Product Standard, co-founded by architect William McDonough, is a multi-attribute assessment of a product and its manufacturing process against criteria in five quality categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness. The C2C material health assessment methodology relies on comprehensive chemical hazard assessments as its foundation. It also includes a material-specific evaluation that considers chemical hazards in the context of relevant exposure scenarios during manufacture, use and end-of-use phases and "cyclability," which ensures materials in products can continue to flow in managed cycles or be released to the environment.
Bringing sustainable products to scale
To accelerate the path to safe and healthy products, assessments need to be simpler, faster and cheaper for manufacturers across all industries. With this in mind, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and GreenScreen together completed a deep analysis of similarities and differences between their chemical hazard assessments methodologies. The analysis revealed significant overlap between information needed for chemical hazard assessments using GreenScreen and chemical hazard assessment information needed for the material health assessment in the C2C Certified standard. While the hazard assessment methods are not identical, it was quickly recognized that GreenScreen assessments provide most of the core information needed to conduct chemical hazard assessments in the C2C material health assessment process.
To help accelerate manufacturers selection of better ingredients, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute published supplemental guidance (PDF) for the Cradle to Cradle Certified Material Health Assessment Methodology, Version 3.0 in November. It includes recognition of GreenScreen profiles as quality information towards the C2C hazard assessment portion of the material health criteria. The supplemental guidance states GreenScreen assessments performed by a licensed GreenScreen Profiler may serve as data sources for completing hazard assessments. This will save time and money for C2C assessors and product manufacturers alike. If a manufacturer has conducted a GreenScreen assessment, it can more easily take further steps toward innovation and product optimization. This encourages progress toward full C2C materials assessment and product certification.
It is hoped that this recognition will help to streamline product assessment and optimization, not only for building materials under LEED v4, but also for all manufacturers that want to make better products from materials that flow in safe and sustainable re-use cycles.
This first step represents a broader commitment to further collaboration that will allow GreenScreen and C2C Certified to continue efforts toward harmonization. Collaboration will allow us to continually improve our methods for chemical hazard assessments so we can advance the use of predictive toxicology tools and increase access to data and assessment results to accelerate the path to safer and better products.
Where is your company on this path?
Stacy Glass is vice president at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, where she is responsible for outreach, engagement and education of architects, designers, manufacturers and standards programs, such as LEED.
Read more from Stacy Glass.
Dr. Lauren Heine is the co-director of Clean Production Action and director of the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals programs. Lauren worked closely with the USEPA Design for the Environment Program to facilitate the development of DfE Screens for Safer Chemicals, led the development of CleanGredients and served on the California Green Ribbon Science Panel.