Target announced a new, more transparent chemical strategy, pledging to list each ingredient in all owned and national brand products — including generics in the fragrance, beauty, baby care, personal care and household cleaning categories — by 2020.
To help meet its goals, Target says it expects to invest up to $5 million in green chemistry innovation by 2022.
Target also says it has new chemical management goals that include formulating by 2020 beauty, baby care, personal care and household cleaning products without phthalates, propylparaben, butyl-paraben, formaldehyde, formaldehyde-donors or nonylphenol ethoxylates, and by 2022 producing textiles without adding perfluorinated chemicals or flame retardants that are potential carcinogens or pose harm to guests, workers or communities.
The chemicals that go into many household and personal care products and clothing make those items easier to use, more palatable or even more effective: They help lotions feel and smell better, for example, extend their shelf life or, when it comes to clothing, helps them retain their colors or makes them less flammable.
This "better living through chemistry" philosophy has also meant that people in developed countries are exposed to many more chemicals in more instances than in previous generations — to the point where many physicians advise limiting exposure to them. Consumers are increasingly aware of the problem, which has boosted the fortunes of brands like The Honest Co., a Target bestseller that last year attracted the interest of consumer products giant Unilever. (Unilever ending up buying chem-free household product company Seventh Generation instead.)
But without many of the chemicals on Target’s list, it can be hard to maintain a product’s appeal or effectiveness, as demonstrated by Honest Co.’s struggles. The company, which promises “safe and effective products for family and home,” faced complaints from consumers that its sunscreen allowed severe sunburns and from advocates that its laundry detergent contains a chemical that the company said it doesn’t contain (and that co-founder Jessica Alba has told people is a toxin to avoid). More generally, it can be difficult for consumers to know what chemicals that many products like fragrances contain in the first place.
Target chief sustainability officer Jennifer Silberman said the retailer will leverage its size and scale to work with vendors like Honest Co. to make both products and operations greener. "We hope our robust approach will accelerate similar efforts across the industry," Silberman said in a statement. "Ultimately, we want to bring all stakeholders together to innovate and champion a consistent, industry-wide approach to greener chemistry.”
The group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, which works to pressure lawmakers and businesses to eliminate toxins from household products, hailed Target's new chemical strategy Wednesday, saying that the retailer is demonstrating a bold commitment and real leadership by setting clear goals with concrete timeframes. Mike Schade, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families' Mind the Store campaign, said Target's move to embrace research and innovation, not just elimination and transparency, is a sign that the retailer is committed to find ways to develop consumer products that really are safe.
“Target's new commitment to invest in research into safer alternatives will also further accelerate the development of safer products for all consumers,” Schade said in a statement emailed to Retail Dive, calling on Amazon, Costco and other retailers to join the effort. The Natural Resources Defense Council also hailed Target's transparency, according to Bloomberg.