Businesses are responding to demand for chemical transparency

Businesses are responding to demand for chemical transparency

4/26/2017 Bev Thorpe GreenBiz Blogs

It’s been over 30 years since the U.S. Community Right to Know Act was passed in 1986. At the time, the idea that companies publicly would report their emissions of toxic chemicals to a Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) seemed far-reaching, yet corporations now know this is part of doing business.

Touting the success of TRI chemical reporting, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy proclaimed, "People deserve to know what toxic chemicals are being used and released in their backyards, and what companies are doing to prevent pollution. By making that information easily accessible through online tools, maps and reports, TRI is helping protect our health and environment."

Fast forward to 2017 and disclosure is growing from chemical emissions reporting to include chemical ingredient reporting. Sustainable business news is awash with articles on company transparency, ingredient disclosure and new tools that track materials from source to product.

According to the Harvard Business Review, winning in the age of "radical transparency" will bring great marketing opportunities for companies as consumers demand more information about the products they are buying. In a consumer survey sponsored by major chemical and formulated product companies, including DuPont and SC Johnson, 84 percent of respondents from developed countries and 88 percent of respondents from developing countries listed ingredient transparency as one of the most important issues companies should solve (PDF).

Of course, getting full disclosure from the supply chain can be hard work, but the cost of not doing so can be formidable. Our multi-group project investigating the use of Bisphenol-A (BPA), a highly hazardous hormone disruptor, in food can lining materials discovered that most brands did not demand, or could not get, comprehensive disclosure from their can suppliers about the identity and chemical hazards of their can lining materials. But not knowing what’s in your products is a growing business liability. Take the case of Sigg USA, which had to file for bankruptcy in 2011 with $13 million in liabilities when its claims of BPA-free bottles were found untrue, generating consumer anger and a quick response from retailers who pulled their products off their shelves.


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