Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families works hard to protect us from toxic chemicals by fighting to strengthen laws, working with retailers to phase out hazardous chemicals from the marketplace, and educating the public about how to protect our families from toxic chemicals.
The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition represents more than 11 million individuals—including parents, health professionals, advocates for people with learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive health advocates, environmentalists as well as businesses from across the nation.
One campaign that you should know about is called Mind the Store, which ranks retailers based on their policies towards eliminating toxic chemicals from products that these retailers sell. Check out RetailerReportCard.com to learn which retailers are leading a health conscious path in sustainability and social responsibility. The homepage of RetailerReportCard.com shares this context:
Toxic Chemicals in Our Homes
When we walk into a trusted store, we expect the products on the shelves to be safe. But toxic chemicals are hiding in everyday products all around us, from cleaning products and cosmetics to baby toys and electronics.
Doctors Are Sounding the Alarm
A growing body of science has linked exposure to toxic chemicals to health problems and diseases such as cancer, learning and developmental disabilities, and reproductive disorders. Although these chemicals come from multiple sources, many are present in the products we buy.
Calling All Change-Makers:
It's time retailers put the interests of our families' health above the special interests of chemical corporations. Big retailers can innovate to reduce or eliminate toxic chemicals from the products they carry and safeguard our health.
In December 2017, I had the opportunity to speak to the Campaign Director of Mind the Store, Mike Schade. In its second annual report card on toxic chemicals in consumer products, the Mind the Store Campaign found that one-third of 30 major U.S. retailers are leaders in trying to sell safer products.
While laws and, therefore, regulation in the US can take an extraordinary long time to change, our purchasing power and consumer voices can lead change much more quickly. To get started on how you can help, listen to my conversation with Mike to learn more about which retailers you should support because they are implementing policies to protect you from toxic chemicals. As a result, we should let them know we appreciate their leadership in sustainability and social responsibility by shopping at their stores, spreading awareness of their good work, and thanking their store managers to let them know we care.
Below is a transcript of the podcast, edited to be more reader-friendly. This was recorded in December 2017 so please be aware that content (like policies with retailers and regulation) reported in this podcast may have changed since this conversation was recorded.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: I really enjoyed getting to know more about the Retailer Report card. I think my questions today will reflect a lot of questions your average person would have. I didn't know about the retailer report card so it is really wonderful to learn about it.
Mike Schade: Terrific! It's a useful tool for consumers to understand which retailers are leading, and which are lagging, when it comes to evaluating the safety of chemical ingredients and products that they sell to consumers.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: As someone who gets frustrated and demoralized by laws and policies that protect public health from the toxic chemicals in our consumer products, it was wonderful to learn about your organization's efforts to pressure retailers to make choices that will help protect families. So thank you so much for your work.
Mike Schade: Thank you for the opportunity to share it on your podcast.
I've worked for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families for four years now. Before that, I worked at the Center for Health Environment and Justice, which is a national environmental health organization founded by Lois Gibbs, the renowned leader of the fight at Love Canal, which was the first time in our nation's history when a community was relocated due to toxic waste exposure.
Lois was the founder of an organization who led that community fight, which led to the creation of the federal Superfund program. And prior to that I worked for a statewide environmental health advocacy organization up in Buffalo, where I worked with community-based organizations fighting the tail end of these problems, working to get toxic waste sites cleaned up, fighting the sighting of landfills and incinerators in upstate New York, and working to protect communities from environmental harm.
So I've been working at the local, the state, and the national level for over 15 years now to safeguard public health and promote economic and environmental justice for communities and citizens around the country. Particularly over the past 10 years, I've been working on campaigns to hold corporations accountable and challenge big brands and major retailers to reduce and eliminate and phase out chemicals of concern in products and packaging.
For a number of those first years, I was working on chemicals and plastics, chemicals like phthalates, BPA, and PVC plastic when I was out CHEJ. Over the past, I think about, four years now, I've been working on Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, where I coordinate the Mind the Store campaign.
The Mind the Store campaign was launched almost five years ago. The campaign was launched in the winter or spring of 2013 and the money for a campaign was founded by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families were a coalition of hundreds of organizations, over 450 organizations, that worked hard to American families from dangerous chemicals. The Coalition was founded to advocate for comprehensive chemical reform at the federal level.
Recognizing that change is sadly slow in Washington. We launched the Mind the Store campaign to challenge large retailers to get tough on toxic chemicals, recognizing that there are literally thousands of chemicals of concern that are commonly found in consumer products from cosmetics, cleaning products, to plastic toys, and food packaging, and electronics. We recognize that retailers have an important role to play in safeguarding public health.
If we look at some of the chemical crises that have come to public attention over the past 10 to 20 years, whether it was when we became aware that there were millions of toys being imported from Asia that were contaminated with high levels of lead, or when it was revealed that this BPA was showing up in products like baby bottles and sippy cups, time and time again it was retailers who took the first steps to phase out chemicals of concern. So we think that retailers not only have a fundamental moral responsibility, but they actually have a lot of power and influence to drive dangerous chemicals out of products and ensure that substitutes are safe.
So we launched the Mind the Store campaign back in 2013 to challenge retailers and encourage retailers to use their power and influence and develop more systemic approaches to chemical management, to move away from the chemical approach of only tackling one chemical in one product at a time, to develop more comprehensive and systemic approaches. Because if we work on these issues one chemical at a time, this will take us literally hundreds or thousands of years to develop comprehensive approaches.
So we launched Mind the Store campaign back in 2013, when we sent letters to the top 10 retailers in America, challenging them to get tough on toxic chemicals. When we launched the campaign, we identified a list of roughly 100 chemicals that we called hazardous 100 chemicals, that we called on retailers to reduce and eliminate.
Since we launched the campaign, we've seen a tremendous market movement away from chemicals of concern, with big retailers like Target and Wal-Mart stepping up and calling on their suppliers to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals in products, like cleaning products, cosmetics, that they sell.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: How has that the response from retailers evolved from 2013 to your most recent evaluation?
Mike Schade: There was a tremendous amount of movement within a year of launching the campaign. Both Target and Wal-Mart announced fairly robust chemicals policies.
It was funny when we launched the campaign we identified a list over 100 chemicals that we wanted retailers to take steps to reduce and eliminate in products and packaging, chemicals like flame retardants, phthalates, and PFAS chemicals, lead, and triclosan.
When we started working on this, we were like, wow, you know, 100 chemicals, that feels like a lot. But it feels like it's a significant place for retailers to begin.
Within a year of launching the campaign, both Target and Wal-Mart adopted policies. Both companies actually identified a much bigger list of chemicals that they wanted their suppliers to reduce and eliminate.
Target had a list of over 1,500 chemicals that they flagged for their suppliers to reduce and eliminate. Wal-Mart identified a list of over 2,700 priority chemicals, and then a list of 16 high priority chemicals.
At the time, while they flagged two groups of chemicals, Wal-Mart decided to first start with a shorter list, what they call their high priority chemicals. Since then, over the past four+ years, Wal-Mart has successfully reduced the use of these high priority chemicals by 96 percent by weight, which translates to reduction were over 23 million pounds of chemicals of concern.
So we've definitely seen some proactive leadership last year. Over the years, we've not only seen Target and Wal-Mart move, but we've seen companies like Home Depot and Lowe's ban phthalates. We've seen companies like Ashley Furniture and Macy’s eliminate flame retardants in furniture.
Last year in 2016, we thought it would be an important moment to step back and take a look at what progress had been made, what challenges remain, and where are the opportunities for innovation. So last year we published our first ever report card, ranking the nation's top retailers.
Unfortunately, a number of companies last year received failing grades, including those on Amazon, Albertsons, and Costco. The average grade for those 11 retailers we ranked last year was a D+.
We just published a new report card, ranking these same retailers again as well as a bigger list of retailers. The good news is that of the retailers that we evaluated last year and this year, we've seen substantial improvements that have been made again last year. The average trade for 11 retailers was D+. This year, the average grade for those 11 retailers has jumped from D+ to a C.
Over the past year, 7 out of 11 retailers that we ranked have come out with either major new Safer Chemicals policies, or significant improvements to their chemical management programs. Companies like Albertson’s, Best Buy, Costco, CVS, Home Depot, Target, and Wal-Mart have all released new Safer Chemicals policies or initiatives.
This clearly shows that the impact that our campaign is having as well as how retailers are responding to rising consumer demand for safe and healthy products. In addition to those companies, we're also seeing some other companies, like Walgreen’s and Amazon, beginning to develop safer chemicals program.
So we're definitely seeing positive movement, but clearly more work is still needed given how prevalent chemicals of concern are still commonly found in everyday products that we bring into our homes.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: In your most recent retailer report card, there were seven retailers that received a grade of at least a B going up to an A, among the leaders, what motivates them to enact these chemical policies to sell safer products. Is it that they just a want to do the right thing? Or is it that they also feel like it’s a marketing advantage, in which case consumers should support these retailers that are trying to offer safer products.
Mike Schade: That's a really good question. That's definitely something we've been thinking a lot about. We think that there's a number of important drivers for safe and healthy products, one of which is the role that consumers have to play.
Increasingly, we're seeing shoppers really want to know what is in the products that they buy themselves, their children, their families, their babies. So, increasingly, we're hearing that, especially female shoppers are demanding increased transparency for the ingredients that go into the products that they use on a daily basis: The shampoos, conditioners, the makeup, the products that they use on their children with. So consumer demand is definitely playing an important role.
When we talk to retailers like CVS, they're saying that they're hearing from their customers. This past year, CVS announced that they were reformulating nearly 600 of their own private label products for chemicals of concern, eliminating chemicals like parabens, phthalates, and formaldehyde donors.
What they said was that it was not just NGOs like us asking them to change, but that they were clearly hearing this from their customers. I can't tell you how powerful we are as consumers to drive demand among brands and retailers. In addition, there's a strong business case in addition to that consumer demand, one is the increasing regulatory climate.
Increasingly we're seeing states are stepping up, introducing laws, restricting chemicals of concern, and pushing for disclosure. In the past year alone, we've seen states like Rhode Island and Maine pass laws banning flame retardants in furniture. In the past couple of months, we saw the state of California enact legislation requiring disclosure of chemicals in cleaning products.
The federal government, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, just announced that they had accepted an NGO petition and that they were recommending that manufacturers eliminate flame retardants and products like kids’ products, electronics, and furniture.
So there's a growing regulatory environment at the state level, a little bit at a national level although that is slowing down in our political climate, but also at the international level. So if you're a retailer, and you have to sell a product in 50 different states, and 10 of those states have different laws on the books regulating chemicals, you want to get ahead of that regulatory curve and you want to know, five years down the road, what are the chemicals that may be restricted in states.
So companies see a market advantage to getting ahead of the regulatory curve by anticipating what chemicals may be restricted down the road.
In addition to that, we're also seeing strong financial drivers as well for companies that are not properly managing chemicals and products if you have a customer that you returns a product, say it like a household cleaning product like bleach, and you don't properly dispose of that you could be fined for improper disposal of hazardous waste. And we've seen some retailers, like Wal-Mart, fined tens of millions of dollars for not properly disposing of chemically intensive product.
In addition, we're also seeing that if you're selling a product that violates a law, for example, for selling a kid’s product that may contain lead, that may be in violation of a law like Prop 65 or the CPSA, you can be fined, by say an attorney general or a class action lawsuit. So increasingly we're seeing there's growing financial liabilities for companies that are not managing chemicals in their supply chain. We see that there are regulatory liabilities, and then also reputational dangers. If you just look at the case of Lumber Liquidators, their stock plunged after it was discovered that the formula that they sold was laden with formaldehyde. So retailers definitely see a market advantage to getting ahead of these challenges, and taking more precautionary or preventive approach by taking a look what are the common of concern that are in products that we're selling, what are the steps that we can take to identify them, but then to reduce and eliminate them. And, perhaps most importantly, to ensure that substitutes are safe.
I guess the final driver is the growing body of science that has found that exposure to even low levels of chemicals in everyday products are contributing to an epidemic of diseases in our communities; diseases like cancer, infertility, asthma, learning developmental disabilities.
The retailers have seen that the science is growing stronger and stronger, showing that exposure to chemicals in everyday products is contributing to our exposure to harmful chemicals that, especially for vulnerable populations like fetus in the womb or pregnant women, even low level exposures at a critical window of exposure can pose lifelong dangers.
So it's really this confluence of factors that are really driving retailers to innovate, improve, and to develop robust safer chemicals policies. And then, of course, they're also responding to the campaigning and pressure that we're bringing through our Mind the Store campaign, in part by benchmarking, ranking retailers against one another.
I don't think any retailer that we ranked last year was happy that got an F or D grade. It’s clear to us that by ranking retailers we’re incentivizing them to improve and develop a comprehensive safer chemicals policies to protect their customer base.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: Absolutely. I'm so grateful you're creating this accountability and providing this transparency. I also wonder what impact, the fact that Europe, has become very organized and progressive in regulating chemicals, that must make it much easier for companies to develop their own chemical policy. Among your leading retailers and retailers report card, I don't know what portion sells internationally. Apple for sure, and they have an A, but I imagine in trying to sell to the European market, in meeting those stricter European standards, the rest of the world benefits.
Mike Schade: Yeah, regulations around the world are definitely driving companies to develop safer chemicals products and sustainable product policies. In Europe, programs like REACH and ROHS (restrictions on hazardous substances in electronics), these initiatives are definitely a huge driver. Certainly, that has been a big motivating factor, in part for companies, like Ikea and Apple, to develop innovative safer chemicals programs.
Both Apple and Ikea were two of our highest scoring companies of the 30 that we evaluated. Apple received in an A grade as you mentioned. IKEA came in with a B+.
It's interesting, even those European policies are not only an important driver for companies that sell a lot of products in Europe, but they're also increasingly being seen as a way for U.S.-based retailers to understand what are the hot button issues that five 10 years from now we need to get ahead of. So if you just take a look at the question of phthalates in kids toys, the European Union banned phthalates in kids toys back in 1999. It took here in the United States almost 10 years for the U.S. to catch up. Back in 2008, Congress and President George W. Bush signed legislation banning phthalates in toys.
So a lot of times, retailers and brands will look at what are chemicals being regulated in Europe to understand what are the chemicals that we need to be thinking about now.
If you look at some of the policies of some of these retailers that we've created and ranked, a number of them include lists of chemicals that are restricted in Europe on the list of chemicals that they are restricting in the United States, because they recognize that the EU is way ahead of us are probably ahead of us by at least 10 to 20 years, about a generation. And they know that it's only a matter of time before these chemicals get restricted in the U.S., state, or eventually by the federal government. So that's why companies like Wal-Mart and Target, for example, have flagged chemicals being restricted in Europe. So that's definitely an important driver.
When we launched our campaign back in 2013, chemicals that were being restricted in Europe were definitely among the chemicals that we evaluated as we developed our hazardous 100 list. We basically looked at what overlaps between chemicals being restricted in Europe, where is that overlap with chemicals being flagged as concern in states here in the U.S. by states like Maine and Washington, and with the EPA. We often look to the European Union for inspiration. And certainly that's been a big driver for some of these international firms.
Sadly though, in contrast, far too many retailers remain serious laggards and in our investigation, while we did find that there was a substantial improvement from the retailers we evaluated last year to today (the average grade again jumped from a D+ to a C for those 11 retailers). Like I mentioned, seven major retailers have announced major improvements. In contrast, far too many remain laggards: Two-thirds of the resellers that we evaluated in our report received D or F grades. So clearly there is a lot of room for opportunity in this.
One of the reasons why our campaign does this is to encourage, incentivize those companies that are lagging behind, to catch up into joining the growing market movement for safer and healthier, and more transparent, products.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: So, I’d love to peel back some layers to understand how this retailer report card can help me make healthier choices when I am shopping at a store that receives a good grade. For example, the retailer with the highest grade on the list is Apple. I'm wondering what does that really mean. I assume it means they have been thoughtful in chemical flame retardants used in their electronics, is that right? Does it mean that anything I buy at Apple, I should feel comfortable, with including accessories?
Mike Schade: That's a really good question. The way that we evaluate companies is fairly complex. We have a scoring system across 14 key criteria. We score companies based on questions like do they have a policy in place? Do they have steps to ensure that their suppliers are in compliance with their policy? Do they encourage or require suppliers to disclose ingredients to them? Have they taken action to reduce or eliminate any chemicals of concern? Do they have a process to evaluate the safety of alternatives? And it goes on and on. Folks can go to our website at RetailerReportCard.com to see how these companies compare and contrast across our 14 criteria.
We base our evaluation on publicly available information. Then we give companies an opportunity to review their score and either disclose additional information, or make new commitments. You can go to RetailerReportCard.com. If you click through to the Apple page you can actually see how Apple scores across our 14 criteria.
For most of the areas, they've actually made pretty substantial progress across our 14 criteria. That's not to say that there's not still room for improvement, especially the supply chain for electronics, it's incredibly complex. For any one specific product that you buy from Apple, that probably contains hundreds if not thousands of ingredients and suppliers that go into making any one product.
That's not to say that they're still not remaining challenges in their manufacturing. But of the major electronics brands that are out there, Apple has done just about more than any other major brand to take action on chemicals of concern in their products. They've taken action, for example, to reduce and eliminate bad actor chemicals like brominated flame retardants, PVC plastic, and phthalates.
One of the things that I think is really interesting about Apple is that they have what they call a full material disclosure initiative, where they require their private label suppliers to disclose the entire chemical composition, including chemicals that are intentionally added as well as known impurities and residuals, that may be in parts components and materials that are in the products. So far, they have evaluated 20,000 out of 40,000 components in their product.
So they haven't gotten 100 percent full material disclosure, but they've made major progress. I think that's an example of a company that is really doing a great job to try to understand what is actually in the materials and the chemicals that go into the products that they need and use.
An area where Apple can improve is around things like the accessories that they sell in their stores. You mentioned accessories. Today, their policy is primarily focused on their own private label products, the products that they have direct control over, the Macbook Air or the iPhone. They haven’t focused as much on some of the accessories, the brand name products that they sell in Apple stores. So that's an area where they certainly could improve, but certainly the retailers that we evaluated Apple received the highest rank of 30 major retailers. They received 103 out of 135 possible points.
It was really interesting to learn how seriously Apple takes this issue, especially compared to some other retailers and brands that are that are out there.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: Why do you think they take it more seriously than most?
Mike Schade: That's a good question. Apple has such a beloved brand so people that are Apple users, or that buy Apple products, which includes myself, consumers have somewhat of a special relationship with Apple products. So Apple as a company recognizes that their customers really care about their products. They view that as special so I think that Apple recognizes that if they're not on top of these issues they can they can be subject to pretty rigorous critiques or campaigning from many organizations or NGOs.
And in fact about 10 years ago, Greenpeace ran a campaign called Green My Apple, which was a campaign, challenging Apple to take responsibility for the environmental health impacts of their supply chain.
So I certainly think that coupled with the brand liability that Apple faces has really motivated them to develop a world class safer chemicals program for major electronics brand and retailer. We think that it serves as an important model for other major manufacturers and retailers of electronics and other formulated household products. So I think it's really that brand vulnerability that has been an important driver, coupled with the fact that they have been a target of NGO campaigns in years past.
At the same time, I think that the people who work at Apple that we've met with a really want to do the right thing. I genuinely think that people that work in the sustainability department and in their chemistry division within Apple, they are really trying to ensure that they can source the safest or safer ingredients as possible. So definitely give them kudos. And I encourage consumers to check out our RetailerReportCard.com. You can click through to learn how Apple fares across our criteria.
Again, this is not to say that these are perfect ratings. There's still plenty of opportunities and challenges that they can improve upon. We're really looking forward to seeing how we can collaborate with Apple to continue to improve in the years to come.
In contrast, there's opportunities for other major retailers of electronics companies like Amazon, for example, to catch up. Certainly, a company like Amazon can learn a lot from Apple, particularly in how Amazon addresses the sourcing of chemicals and plastics and ingredients for their own private label products.
That’s one of the reasons why we have our campaign and publish our report, as a way to compare and contrast companies that are leaders, compare and contrast those that are lagging behind, and identify opportunities for improvement. We don't take any joy out of getting any company a low grade.
We're hopeful by grading companies, and calling them out publicly, that will help both the brands and retailers to innovate and improve and meet the rising consumer demand for radical transparency, safe and healthy products.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: Well I think this retailers report card is so helpful, and it's definitely re-prioritizing where I shop. Just taking drug stores, for example, I have three different options within a block of where I live. And because of this Retailer Report Card, I'm now going to shop at CVS as much as I can.
I was relieved to hear that Whole Foods got at a pretty good grade of a B+ because I also spend a lot there. I'm wondering if their private label options are maybe safer because they do have more control over the supply chain. Do you have an opinion on whether a retailer that does have a private label, if that tends to be a safer bet if you're not really sure; like at Whole Foods, I know they have the products that are private label, like olive oil and butter, I don't know about personal care products, like lotions, but, in general, would you say it might be a safer bet to go with a Whole Foods brand?
Mike Schade: I definitely would say so yeah. They have a pretty extensive product evaluation criteria for both their cleaning products as well as their personal care products. They have what they call an Eco Scale rating system, and they also have their body care quality standards. For their cleaning products, they actually have a rate system of red, orange, or yellow. So they have different scales by which some of these products are rated so those that are of course treated more favorably have a greater list of chemicals that are restricted in them.
For example, if you look at a cleaning product that is yellow rated, sold by Whole Foods, there are 134 chemicals that are banned. If you look at a green rated cleaning products, sold by Whole Foods, there are 326 chemicals that are banned, almost twice as many.
In the case of personal care products, they also evaluate ingredients in their personal care products. They have a more stringent standard, called their Premium Body Care line of products for personal care are rather restricted over 400 ingredients. Whole Foods has actually a pretty impressive program to evaluate ingredients in their personal care and cleaning products.
From my recollection, I'm not 100 percent sure, but I'm almost certain that this criteria applies to both the private label as well as the brand name products they sell. It's been a little bit since I've looked at their criteria. But folks can go to RetailerReportCard.com. One of my colleagues did the evaluation for Whole Foods, which is why don't 100 percent remember whether or not it applied to brand name. But, certainly, they have very stringent standards for their private label cleaning and personal care products, and I definitely would feel pretty good about shopping there.
For a lot of retailers, we do see that private label is an area where they can begin. And now that Whole Foods has been acquired by Amazon, we're hopeful that Amazon will take a close look at how Whole Foods evaluates ingredients in their private label cleaning product as well as their private label beauty and personal care products, and looks for ways that Amazon could incorporate that into the private label products they sell because Amazon has been developing their own private label products that they've been slowly rolling out.
They've been increasingly rolling them out in recent years, from laundry detergents to clothing to even electronics. One piece of good news that’s in our report among others is that Whole Foods is not only one of the top scoring companies that we evaluated, but Amazon is now developing a safer chemicals policy for the first time. And given the fact that Amazon has acquired Whole Foods, we were really interested in looking at how can Amazon learn from Whole Foods.
At the same time, how could other grocery chains learn from companies like Whole Foods. Some of the largest the grocery chains in America include Kroger, Albertson’s, and a large owner of a number of stores around the country that own stores like Stop and Shop. How can those companies learn from Whole Foods. Again, this is one of the reasons why we like to publish this report is a way to incentivize companies that compete with one another to look at, OK we got an F, and one of our biggest competitors got a B. What are they doing that we're not doing, and how can we improve for next year when the Mind the Store campaign publishes their report card we can find ways to improve?
One of the things that I think is really useful about this report is you can actually click through and look at companies in a sector, whether it's a grocery store, or drugstore, and see how different companies compare and contrast with one another. So we really make it easier for consumers to understand who the leaders are and who are laggards in any one key product space.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: This transparency is… I'm just blown away, because this wasn't an option when I first became a mother and became concerned. There was just no way to navigate our consumer products to identify safer options. And this is tremendously helpful. I didn't even know that whole foods had a rating system for things like cleaning products that and the reading is published on the product.
Mike Schade: I personally shop at Whole Foods all the time. I love Whole Foods, and I'm really excited to see them continue to lead in this space. I hope to see other major grocery chains, even Trader Joe’s, catch up. Trader Joe's is a company that in contrast got a pretty poor score sadly. We’re hopeful that this valuation will incentivize Trader Joe’s to improve.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: Well it should. This is again this is hugely helpful. And consumers can help put the pressure on retailers by letting retailers know that consumers appreciate what the leaders are doing, and let the laggards know that consumers care, and we do want for retailers to offer safer products and ban the more dangerous ones.
Mike Schade: Absolutely.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: How else can consumers support what you’re doing?
Mike Schade: One easy way consumers can help support this effort is to go to our website, and click the Act Now button. We've set up a really easy e-mail petition that one can go to. And your just fill out a little form with your contact information, and by click of a button you'll immediately send an e-mail to all 30 of the retailers that we evaluated, encouraging them to continue to improve and encourage them to consider the recommendations that we have developed in our report card.
I can't tell you how powerful that can be. Just in the last several weeks, over 12,000 people have taken action for our website, calling on America's top retailers to step up on toxic chemicals. Time and time again, we hear from companies that the reason they developed a policy or initiatives is because they're hearing from their customers. The companies that we shop at really do care what we think. I used to be a pessimist. I thought that these big corporations don't care, they're greedy, which is often true, but they do really listen to what we have to say because it's an incredibly competitive space, especially with companies like Amazon coming in and eating up market share. So these retailers really care what we all think. So the more we can speak to them, it's really important.
Another way you can help out is by sharing content on social media. We actually have it set up on our website that you can easily share content on Facebook and Twitter. That's really a great way to help out. And if there's a certain company that you shop at, and you don't like their store, or you'd like to thank them, you can actually go to any one company and immediately send them a tweet. And that's another really great way that you can help out.
Finally, next time you go shopping, ask to see to the store manager and tell them why this is an issue that matters to you as a consumer, whether you're a grandmother or whether you're a dad or whether you're pregnant and expecting your first baby. It can be really powerful just to have a conversation with the store manager and let them know why you care about toxic chemicals in the products and packaging that you buy for your family, and how you'd like to see that company to either continue to improve, or to catch up, and to join the growing market moving toward safer chemicals and healthier products.
So raising your voice is really an incredible way that you can get involved, and also get involved by just going to our website and signing up and taking action and that again is really powerful way to send a message to all 30 retailers. Again, over 12,,000 people are taking action, and we're really hopeful to grow those numbers in the weeks to come.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: This conversation has me so much more optimistic about our consumer choices. I'm wondering, how is your level of optimism towards stronger laws.
Mike Schade: It really depends on which year you ask that question. If you asked me that question last September, I think I would probably have a different answer than I have right now just given where we are at politically at the federal level.
At the state level, I’m incredibly optimistic. States are really the laboratories of democracy, and with the federal government asleep at the wheel when it comes to protecting American consumers from dangerous chemicals in the products we sell, cities and states are increasingly stepping up to fill this regulatory void we have a federal level, and enacting new laws that increase the transparency of chemicals ingredients and products.
States are stepping up to restrict some of the worst of the worst chemicals that we find in products, even in states that are controlled by Republicans.
We don't view this as a bipartisan issue. Cancer affects everyone, whether you're a Democrat or Republican. At the federal level, the Trump administration, the Trump EPA, has a very anti-regulatory approach to chemicals management, and they've really been turning back the clock when it comes to looking at ways in which the federal government addresses chemicals.
We worked for years to get Congress to pass new legislation.
It was passed by both houses last year last summer that for the first time in a generation gives the EPA finally the power to regulate chemicals and products. Previously the EPA couldn't even ban asbestos when they tried to do so. So we worked for years to get Congress to pass new legislation.
It was passed by both houses last year, signed into law by President Obama. Since January, or since then I should say, the EPA has begun to implement this new law. Last year, right before the Obama EPA left office, they announced that they were proposing to restrict some of the worst of the worst chemicals on the market. Chemicals that are known to cause cancer, like methylene chloride, which is a known human carcinogen, which is found in products like paint strippers. They also propose to regulate MNP (?), which is a reproductive toxicant also found in paint strippers. These are really bad actor chemicals. Methane chloride is in fact deadly.
There was just say a mom who lost her son in Tennessee earlier this year, back in June, from using methylene chloride paint strippers. It is a deadly product because it can actually kill you, if inhaled at sufficient levels. So we were really happy when the EPA proposed restricting these chemicals and paint strippers last year.
Right now it's really uncertain whether or not EPA is going to move forward on these restrictions. Since January, I think something like over 60,000 American citizens and families have contacted EPA, supporting this proposed ban. And right now the EPA is considering whether or not to move forward on that. So I would say that we're really concerned.
That's why we think it's more important than ever for retailers to step up and enact sensible protections to safeguard children's and public health from harmful chemicals. We think it's really critical moment for retailers to step up.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: For someone who is listening, who is kind of new to this idea of toxic chemicals in our consumer products, what are two or three easy ways they can enter this path of trying to make more mindful choices that are healthier for them?
Mike Schade: Yeah that's a really good question. Certainly, there are important challenges, given how chemicals of concern are widespread in products that you buy for families. A couple of bad actor ones to look out for. I would say, one, take a close look at the cleaning products that you buy for families, and shop for cleaning products that need credible third party standards, like Safer Choice, Made Safe, and EWG-verified. Those are important standards that you can use to find safer cleaning products for family. Especially the EPA’s Safer Choice program. It is a really strong third party program, and we're increasingly seeing it on the label of products sold by retailers all across the country. Even companies like Wal-Mart or Amazon and Amazon are selling EPA-certified, Safer Choice-certified products.
Two, I would say avoid toxic flame retardants whenever possible. These are chemicals that are commonly added to products with foam, and they're sometimes found in certain infant and children's products, like car seats, for example, and infant products that have polyurethane foam in it. So if you're shopping for infant or children's products, reach out to the manufacturer, or retailer, and ask them whether or not those products contain flame retardants.
The same is true for furniture if you're going to be buying furniture for your family, look on the label. If you look at the back of the furniture, it should have a label on it, and it should tell you whether or not it contains added flame retardants. If it does, I would avoid that product, and reach out to the manufacturer, express your disappointment.
Third, I would say is avoid the plastics of greatest concern. There are some plastics that we're really concerned about. Two of the worst are polystyrene, the number six plastic; and polyvinyl chloride, the number three plastic. Those are two of the most toxic plastics on the market.
So if you're buying something, ask the company if it contains PVC or polystyrene. If it does, I would avoid shopping for those products.
So those are three steps that you can take to begin going down the path of safeguarding yourself from chemicals of concern in everyday products. There are certainly more steps you can take. I think that influencers like yourself can really play an important role in educating consumers about simple steps we all can take to protect our families from exposure to unnecessary dangerous chemicals and products.
The other thing I would say is, again, while there are important steps we can take, we can’t shop our way out of this problem, and that's why we think it's critical for retailers to step up and use their power and influence to get poisonous chemicals out of products that they sell to us and our families.
Sophia Ruan Gushée: Thank you, Mike, for this conversation, and for the work you do to protect our environment and public health.
Mike Schade: Thank you so much for the opportunity and really appreciate all the work that you're doing to inspire and educate and motivate families and consumers to make smarter and healthier choices for their families. So thank you for all the great work you do to protect public health and empower consumers to live healthier lives.
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