Our Take on Target’s New Sustainability Standard

10/12/2013 Mark Rossi Blogs

Yesterday Target introduced its new Sustainable Product Standard that it claims “will help establish a common language, definition and process for qualifying what makes a product more sustainable.”

Target will implement its standard using the UL Transparency Platform to:

  • collect product-level information from suppliers of household cleaners and personal care, beauty, and baby care products; and
  • assess each product “based on the sustainability of ingredients, ingredient transparency and overall environmental impact.”

It is welcome news that Target is addressing the sustainability of chemical ingredients in the products on its shelves. Yet it is impossible to know what that means as UL’s Transparency Platform is not, at least as of today, transparent.

The UL Transparency Platform is pitched at the business-to-business (B2B) level, not at the business-to-consumer (B2C) level. The UL Transparency Platform is interesting from the 30,000 foot level, but what it does and how it evaluates the human health and environmental concerns of chemicals in products is impossible to know.

UL statement: Its platform will “Collect supplier data about the chemical composition of products and verify their compliance with sustainability standards.”

Assessment: We’re left in the dark as to which “sustainability standards” UL will use to evaluate products.

UL statement: Its platform will assess “material composition of products against a wide variety of regulatory and corporate standards regarding restricted substances.”

Assessment: We’re in the dark as to which corporate standards will be used; and it is not exactly cutting edge to be evaluating products for regulatory compliance.

UL statements: Its platform will “Monitor any product attribute or supplier performance relevant to your corporate sustainability goals”. “Screen products or suppliers using customized criteria based on your company’s unique sustainability policies.”

Assessment: The UL Transparency Platform is a B2B platform. This means there is no disclosure to the public. If it is a purely B2B platform, then it is a disingenuous to call it a “transparency” platform.

Given that UL’s Transparency Platform is B2B and opaque, it is hard to see how Target’s new Sustainable Standard will meet its claim to “help establish a common language, definition and process for qualifying what makes a product more sustainable.” Target’s initiative does establish UL as a new player in the sustainable product evaluation arena. However, adoption of UL’s platform does not equal “common language”, “common definition” (and what is being defined is unclear), or “common process for qualifying products as more sustainable”. UL’s platform is proprietary and does not sit in the commons.

Where does the Target / UL initiative stand in relation to the BizNGO Guide to Safer Chemicals? The Guide is a transparent and publicly available framework for evaluating corporate chemical policies and programs on a 4-tier scale—Trailhead, Base Camp, High Camp, and Summit. Here is my initial evaluation—based on the very limited information provided—as to where the Target / UL initiative stands on the path to safer chemicals:

  • Know chemicals in your products (B2B) = Target / UL initiative is at High Camp. This is the greatest strength of the initiative, which is a significant step forward in that Target, through a third party (UL), will have the means to evaluate chemical ingredients in products.
  • Disclose chemicals publicly (B2C) = Target / UL initiative is not even at Trailhead. The initiative says nothing about sharing chemical ingredient information on products to consumers.
  • Assess & Avoid Hazards = Target / UL initiative is not on the map. It is impossible to know where the initiative stands relative to evaluating chemicals and selecting safer alternatives since it provides no information in this regard.

Overall, I applaud Target for launching its Sustainable Product Standard. However, there is too little information to know what its standard will mean in practice beyond Target knowing more about the chemicals in its products.


BizNGO Guide to Safer Chemicals
UL Transparency Platform
Target's Sustainable Product Standard