Once upon a time, retailers were the agents of manufacturers. Manufacturers created products and sold them to retailers, who sold them to consumers, the downstream recipients of the system.
Now, consumers tell retailers what they want, both intentionally and through their participation in data collection largely controlled by retailers, and retailers pass the consumer’s voice along to the manufacturer, pressing demands upstream.
This has been good for the issue of chemical safety.
As long as manufacturers were the custodians of chemical safety, consumers’ concerns about the use of toxic elements in household products were balanced against the cost of doing without those chemicals and the equation didn’t add up to a benefit for suppliers. Natural product brands were small; they could offer consumers an alternative, but they coudn’t affect the larger picture. Government regulations were often used to support decisions against greater chemical safety by providing an outer limit with no rewards for reducing toxic chemicals beyond what the law required.
Enter Walmart. In 2008, Walmart began using third-party screening of chemicals used in products. The GreenWERCS Chemical Screening Tool tests for thousands of chemicals, and Walmart began pushing for safer products.
Greenbiz reports that over 150,000 products have now been screened with GreenWERCS. Suppliers whose products are screened are then given the opportunity to make changes to their products in order to improve their scores.
Walmart’s pressure — and support — have resulted in broad changes in chemical usage. Where manufacturers could treat natural niche products as a small side issue, the sheer magnitude of Walmart’s influence makes it more cost-effective to innovate and change production as a whole to meet Walmart’s standards.
Walmart’s customer-centric culture and game-changing influence are creating higher levels of chemical safety for consumers today and for future generations. Suppliers who embrace the change and figure out how to make it happen now will be ahead of the game.