Target, Wal-Mart and Their Supply Chain To Select Chemical, Other Projects to Tackle

By Pat Rizzuto

Oct. 3 — Target Brands Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and companies throughout their beauty and personal care product supply chains are meeting by phone this month to begin to identify projects they will undertake to translate ideas about sustainability into measurable results, officials from both retail chains recently told Bloomberg BNA.

Kate Heiny, senior group manager of sustainability at Target, and Robert Kaplan, director of sustainability at Wal-Mart, spoke with BNA Sept. 26 to describe what they will do to follow up on a Beauty and Personal Care Products Sustainability Summit the two companies sponsored Sept. 4 in Chicago.

Target and Wal-Mart have worked together through the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Heiny and Kaplan said. Still, such collaborations among the two retail competitors are uncommon, they said.

“We brought together companies across the supply chain to create trust,” Heiny said. “That's the first step. We're excited to change products within this industry for the better and meet our guests' expectation for more sustainable products.”

Target's customers, or “guests,” are demanding sustainable beauty and personal care products, she said.

Target sales of natural and organic products in that category grew 17 percent last year, she said. That rate is 1.5 times faster than industrywide growth for natural and organic product sales, she said.

Spectrum of Companies Participated 

More than 80 participants attended the summit, Heiny said.

Groups and institutions represented included chemical manufacturers, cosmetic and personal care manufacturers, the Environmental Protection Agency, nonprofit organizations, packaging companies, other retail companies, standards organizations and the waste disposal industry, according to a conference report posted online by Forum for the Future, which facilitated the summit.

Companies represented included Berlin Packaging LLC, DuPont, Revlon, Walgreens Co. and Waste Management Inc.

Joel Tickner, director of the Green Chemistry Commerce Council (GC3), attended the summit and said the participation by Target and Wal-Mart's vice presidents “put a clear stake in the ground” as to how serious the companies are about sustainability.

The message the companies delivered, he said, was that suppliers who do not help the two retailers stock sustainable merchandise will be left behind.

Participants focused on three topics identified ahead of time through preconference research, including a survey and interviews:

  • priority chemicals and disclosure of chemical content,
  •  waste and packaging, and
  •  consumer behavior.
Ideas to Be Fleshed Out 

Meeting participants broke into groups that brainstormed and came up with nine ideas that will be combined, refined and fleshed out through three or four follow-up conference calls starting in October, Kaplan and Heiny said.

For example, several groups emphasized the need to have science-based criteria to define what sustainability means for beauty and personal care products, Kaplan said.

The emphasis on clear criteria included the concept of adopting or developing a standardized way of sharing ingredient information up and down the supply chain, he said.

Other groups and organizations already have been working on supply chain communication, Heiny said.

Summit participants do not want to reinvent the wheel, but rather identify what approach or approaches may be most suitable for this sector, she said.

Preservatives: Problem and Opportunity

Another aspect of sustainability suggested by several groups included encouraging the development of and the use of sustainable chemical preservatives in beauty and personal care products, Heiny said.

Tickner said GC3 hopes to take on the issue of preservatives as one of its contributions to the summit's goals.

Preservatives are important ingredients in cosmetics that prevent microbial growth to protect consumers and to maintain product integrity, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The problem, said Tickner, is that a number of preservatives are chemicals of concern.

Yet if fewer preservatives are available to be used, that increases the risk that microbes could become resistant, he said.

The problem—of fewer preservatives due to concerns, but increased risk posed by their diminishing number—provides an opportunity for companies across the beauty and personal care product supply chain, Tickner said.

Companies can work together to identify alternative compounds or, perhaps, alternative ways of dispensing products that could achieve the desired function of preventing microbial growth, Tickner said.

Reducing Water, Increasing Recycled Content

Heiny said other ideas participants want to explore involve ways to reduce water use throughout the supply chain and ways to increase the recycled content of products.

“There's a lot more work to do to flesh out what these ideas mean and identify possible areas of action,” she said.

Both Heiny and Kaplan declined to speculate on how much time it will take to select ideas and begin to implement them.

“We started a journey. We don't necessarily know what our final destination is, but our collaboration is powerful and that will move forward,” Kaplan said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

The summit report and related information is available from Forum for the Future at http://tinyurl.com/mux46tv.