Kicking off Sustainable Brands ‘15 San Diego this morning was an informative workshop on evaluating product chemicals and the most useful tools for doing so. Consumers have recently become hyper-aware of chemicals used in their products, but the way they receive that information and the way the information is gathered differs according to the tools brands use. The panel discussed chemical hazard, exposure and risk capabilities, software usability and other factors to consider when deciding which framework or software solution best meet a company’s chemical assessment needs.
Tony Kingsbury, of TKingsbury Consulting and a former Dow Chemical engineer, began the workshop by sharing his evaluation of 32 tools for screening and prioritizing chemicals, including US EPA’s DfE, GreenScreen, GreenSuite, GreenWERCS, SciVera, GoodGuide and Cradle-to-Cradle. He also cited Target and Walmart’s development of sustainable product standards. There are hundreds of tools available, but choosing the right one depends on a few key factors.
“You need to understand what your intent is and what you want to get out of these tools and pick the right tool accordingly. You can come up with very different answers depending on what tools you use… very different,” said Kingsbury.
Kingsbury’s findings were published in Integrated Assessment and Environmental Management (Gauthier, A.M. et al., 2014) in an article called, “Chemical Assessment State of the Science: Evaluation of 32 decision-support tools used to screen and prioritize chemicals.” He saw a clear opportunity to improve exposure tools, data gaps and the review process as only four tools received the maximum score for hazard and exposure.
He used the example of biocides, which are found in cleaning solutions, paints and shampoos, and prevent microorganisms from growing in the product. Some screens red-light biocides, but if removed, it creates a lot more harm than good because now there is bacteria or mold growing in your shampoo that you could then inhale, ingest at far greater cost. Even though they fail the screen, it’s important to look at the context the chemical is used in and at what dosage.
Tim Greiner, Managing Director of Pure Strategies, went on to discuss how software tools can help integrate and streamline chemical evaluations. His goal was to help companies think about what they want out of Sustainable Chemical Management software. The main business priorities fell into three categories: reducing risks, increased efficiency and reduced costs and improved customer reputation and relationships. He cited SC Johnson, which created its own assessment tool — GreenList — and Seagate, which requires full materials disclosure from its suppliers and provides REACH assurance to customers in two business days rather than weeks or months for others.
Greiner highlighted the five most important components of Sustainable Chemical Management software: inventory chemistry data (helping to understand data gaps); screen against restricted substance lists (RSLs); assess chemicals against hazard endpoints (can be automated or individualized); assess exposure potential; and identify less hazardous alternatives.
“We’re moving from a place of asking to tools to do compliance to now using them for product and design,” Greiner noted.
Ann Mason, Senior Director of the American Chemical Council (ACC), closed out the workshop with several key takeaways. Firstly, that not all tools are created equally.
Framework tools such as GreenScreen provide the method by which a professional would analyze the tools, whereas list-based tools are more black and white: Are you on the list or are you not on the list? Depending on which tool you use, you may get very different answers.
Mason spoke about two pilot projects conducted by the ACC, which were created to determine whether consumers make decisions based on science or perception. In the course of their projects they found a large difference in hazard ratings between list-based and data-based tools. For example, caffeine was seen as low-risk by list tools, but high risk by databases. She emphasized Kingsbury’s point that you must match the tool with the question you’re asking; product use is supremely important, as well as who is doing the using and what they’re using it for.
She used water as an example. It is essential to life but if too much is drunk too quickly or if it’s inhaled, it can be fatal. Mason reiterated that toxicity is natural — toxic evolutionary adaptations in nature are defense mechanisms.
“It’s not chemophobia that should reign,” said Mason. “It’s the dosage and the method that makes the poison, not the chemical.”