Chemical footprinting: A business practice that's more than just eliminating hazardous chemicals

Chemical footprinting is about much more than just identifying and eliminating hazardous chemicals. Chemical Footprint Project’s assessment tool focuses on four key elements:

1.  Management strategy: scope of chemical policies, incentives, integration of policies into business strategy and support for public policies for safer chemicals

2.  Chemical inventory: company knowledge of chemicals in products and supply chains and systems for managing chemical data and ensuring supplier compliance

3.  Progress measurement: goals, measurement of progress from a baseline, and assessment of chemical and design alternatives

4.  Public disclosure: public disclosure of chemicals in products and manufacturing disclosure of Chemical Footprint Project participation and ranking, and third party verification of data provided to the project

The tool, accessible via online registration, includes 20 questions distributed across the four key elements, for which project reviewers award a maximum of 100 points.

The project worked with 11 companies to pilot the assessment tool and accompanying technical guidance for its completion. Even those companies that already have strong safer chemicals policies and practices found benefit from the structured analytic, including enabling gap analysis, facilitating conversations across "corporate silos," providing a systematic approach for evaluating chemicals and creating a standard for measuring performance in chemicals management.

One pilot company, GOJO Industries (best known for its Purell sanitizing products), subsequently incorporated in its 2020 sustainability goals a goal of halving its chemical footprint.

GreenBiz has chronicled Walmart’s Sustainable Chemistry Policy. The company first focused on chemicals as one of the core elements of its broad sustainability initiative launched about 10 years ago. The policy has evolved substantially, drawing on an intensive stakeholder engagement process involving national consumer product brands, retailers, chemical manufacturers and environmental health advocates.

Walmart, in reporting progress under its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, incorporates core elements of chemical footprinting, although it has not formally participated in the Chemical Footprint Project.

These include, for example, identifying and ranking the hazards of chemicals in products, establishing goals for reducing chemical hazards and publicly tracking progress towards achieving them, promoting greater disclosure of the chemicals in products and fostering the collaborative work that can be essential to developing safer alternatives.

Walmart uses a commercially available program, UL’s WERCSmart platform, for tracking chemicals in formulated products and ranking the hazards of the chemicals in those products while still protecting suppliers’ proprietary information. The company is able to measure its progress quantitatively because such measures "will adequately inform us about our policy’s effectiveness in achieving our goals of increasing ingredient transparency and advancing the safer formulations of products."

The company recognizes the importance of deadlines and collaborative efforts to drive substitution of safer chemicals: "When suppliers are unable to remove HPCs, we ask them to develop time-bound action plans to reduce, restrict and eliminate usage as well as to engage in broad stakeholder initiatives to work toward industry-wide solutions."

The company has not yet publicly disclosed the identities of its high priority chemicals, although it reportedly will do so later in 2016. Once these identities are released, they can be an important driver for safer chemical use by other retailers and consumer brands.

Walmart is also driving chemical ingredient disclosure by its suppliers: "We also asked national brand suppliers … to list product ingredients on their own websites, giving access to this information in multiple locations, so customers can make more informed choices."

The retailer queried its suppliers about their online disclosure practices through its broader Sustainability Index platform. Of the 76 percent that responded, "78 percent reported that they disclose ingredients online for all their products according to a nationally recognized standard."

The Chemical Footprint Project released its first report, a review of the chemical footprints of about 25 companies, in April. These companies are voluntarily reporting to the project their chemical footprints via use of the project’s analytical tool, although this first report will just summarize aggregate scores and patterns, not disclose individual company scores.

CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) sent out its first carbon data request to companies in 2003, to which 235 companies replied. Now, reporting to CDP has become a core element of major corporations’ sustainability disclosures. Chemical footprinting can be much more complex than carbon reporting, but hopefully will become part of a "new normal" of corporate sustainability disclosures sooner rather than later.

This will be good for public health, the natural environment and businesses’ long-term well-being.


Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part series by the author in regard to why the chemical footprint movement is good for public health, business, and the environment. Post One: Why the chemical footprint movement is good for pubic health, business, and the environment


Dr. Richard Liroff is IEHN’s Executive Director. Dr. Liroff is author or editor of a half dozen books and more than fifty articles on environmental policy, including numerous articles on the business case for safer chemicals policy. His previous affiliations include World Wildlife Fund, the Environmental Law Institute, and the Brookings Institution. He has worked on environmental issues domestically in the United States and internationally. Immediately prior to founding IEHN, he had lead responsibility at World Wildlife Fund for policy development on hormone disrupting chemicals. Dr. Liroff holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Northwestern University and a B.A. from Brandeis University. For more information, visit

Follow the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for regular updates from the foundation.  


The views expressed by contributors to the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation's blogging initiative, "The Economic Argument for Environmental Protection," are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the foundation. Source: GreenBiz.

< Go Back

© 2012-2023 Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.