GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals is Science at its Best: Open source and Transparent

GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals is Science at its Best: Open source and Transparent

5/26/2015 Bev Thorpe Blogs Bulletins

We live in an age of increasing transparency.   The public expects more online information and company reporting.  Consumers are asking companies and retailers about the safety of the chemicals in their products.  They want to know if the paint on their children’s toys and the plastic nap mats that their kids sleep on in daycare are safe.  Companies who wish to prove themselves as leaders in transparency and safety are responding because they realize increased disclosure makes good business sense.  Earlier this month Wal-Mart and Target brought together a group of stakeholders to discuss how to achieve more chemicals information and disclosure from their suppliers.  Some companies are better at giving chemical information disclosure than others and they should be lauded. 
Transparency through negative labeling only goes so far. BPA-free labelled products are not necessarily safer.
But even if a buyer or consumer or worker gets hold of chemical ingredient names, it is hard to then research and understand the hazards of a chemical particularly when most chemicals lack full environmental and human health information.  This makes it difficult for product designers to choose safer chemicals or for workers and consumers to understand how safe a chemical might be.  As consumer concern grows around hazardous chemicals such as BPA, product manufacturers are labelling their products BPA-free.  However that doesn’t necessarily mean the alternative is safer.  Another example is drycleaning.  Some drycleaners advertise that they don’t use ‘Perc’ – a common drycleaning solvent that is associated with cancer.   But one alternative non-perc solvent, labelled ‘Green Earth’ is highly toxic and associated with reproductive, developmental and nervous system harm. In order to fully trust product brands, consumers, particularly institutional buyers, want to know that companies are screening their chemicals in a responsible manner and eliminating chemicals of concern. Company leaders are responding by establishing concrete chemicals policies with clear goals and timelines to move to safer chemicals but getting full chemical information from their supply chain is an ongoing problem and screening hundreds or thousands of chemicals is a daunting task, particularly for smaller companies who lack resources or expertise. 
GreenScreen® is the world’s leading open source and transparent chemical hazard assessment tool
This need for more complete and easy to understand chemical information is one reason why companies and regulators are increasingly using the GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals. This chemical hazard assessment tool not only gives environmental and human health information about a chemical but also identifies where important chemical information data is missing.  Even better, it does this in a fully open and transparent manner which has made GreenScreen the world’s leading open source and transparent chemical hazard assessment tool.  There are no hidden ‘black box’ criteria that go into categorizing a chemical into one of the four GreenScreen benchmarks ranging from Benchmark 1 – chemical of high concern to Benchmark 4 – preferred chemical.  The method is entirely available on line at no cost.  Admittedly there is a lot of expertise and database researching that needs to go into a GreenScreen assessment --which is why many people choose to pay a GreenScreen profiler to screen their chemicals for them, and it’s also why firms are building up their in house expertise by sending representatives to become trained GreenScreen Certified Practitioners.  
The GreenScreen hazard assessment table – making a chemical’s profile very colorful
GreenScreen shows the hazards of a chemical by clearly laying out the results of a GreenScreen assessment in an easy to read table. Hours of research are made easy for the reader by designating a chemical’s hazard (Low, Medium, High or Very High) in letters and colors, as well as identifying its data gaps (DG).  If a chemical has too many information gaps it is given a designation U, for Undetermined. How a chemical scores against each of the 18 categories, or endpoints, will determine its overall benchmark score.  
Triclosan scored a GreenScreen Benchmark 1 – Avoid: Chemical of High concern

C    =  carcinogen

M   =  mutagen

R    =  toxic to reproduction

D    =  developmental toxicant

E    =   endocrine disruptor

AT  =  acute toxicity to humans

ST   =  systemic toxicity to humans

N    =   toxic to nervous system

SnS =  skin sensitizer

SnR =  respiratory sensitizer

IrS   =  skin irritant

IrE   =  eye irritant

AA   =  acute aquatic toxicity

CA   =  chronic aquatic toxicity

P     =   persistence in the environment

B     =   bioaccumulation

Rx   =   reactive

F     =   flammability

The GreenScreen benchmarks:  helping companies avoid costly ‘regrettable substitutions’  

After the chemical hazard assessment is done and the table filled in, a chemical will fall into one of four GreenScreen benchmarks – unless it lacks too much information in which case it becomes a Benchmark U (Undetermined).  Establishing a chemical’s benchmark is described in the open and transparent GreenScreen method documents, all of which are available online.

Hewlett-Packard instructs their suppliers to screen their chemical ingredients and reformulate to meet Benchmark 2 criteria or higher. 

Most companies establish a Restricted Substances List of chemicals which they give to their supplier but this does not assure informed substitution with alternatives that are transparently safer.  The danger is that formulators simply could use another chemical that is not listed but that has similar hazards leading to a ‘regrettable substitution.’  When Hewlett-Packard began using GreenScreen in 2007, they wished to remove chemicals and materials that were likely to be regulated in future as well as improve the chemical footprint of their materials.  But they also wanted to ensure that any replacements did not have the same hazard profiles as the materials they targeted for substitution. HP conducted GreenScreen trainings with their suppliers to gain feedback and to help their suppliers meet the new HP procurement specifications that materials must now meet Benchmark 2 or higher.  Engineers and formulators appreciate the clarity of what is being asked of them and this is now creating innovation in materials design. Many PVC-free polymers that meet Benchmark 2 or higher have now been approved and HP has extended this practice to flame retardants and all resins.    

“The more you know about what you are putting into your products, the more likely you are to make better choices in product development” - Jonathan Plisco, PolyOne – supplier to HP

So what about Confidential Business Information?

The lack of chemical ingredient disclosure from their suppliers is an ongoing problem for downstream users of chemicals, particularly product designers and brands.   Often suppliers do not want to disclose their chemical ingredients or they themselves simply do not have this information from their tier 2 suppliers.  This leaves companies with insufficient assurance that their chemical ingredients are safe for human health and the environment.  Some companies deal with this problem of disclosure and assurance of safety by relying on third party eco-labels and eco-certifications such as Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification to promote the safety of chemicals in their products.  However no eco label or certification will be as transparent as a GreenScreen assessment.  In the case of a C2C assessment, there is no open disclosure of a chemical’s hazard or its data gaps.  Only the C2C assessors  see the ingredients and know the chemical hazards; they then look at the exposure potential of hazardous chemicals and use a criteria to classify the outcome of a chemical score. C2C gives information about their chemical scoring online but they do not reveal all their criteria for decision making. Other chemical assessment schemes, such as Target’s Sustainable Product Standard, do not disclose their exact scoring methodology.   

The value of GreenScreen is that it provides full transparency of ingredient information and to meet demand, we are building a repository of  assessments online.   Our 2014 report on GreenScreen assessments of Triclosan and Triclocarban demonstrates how a full hazard assessment can allow regulators and companies to make informed decisions.  However suppliers may not wish to give full disclosure of their chemical ingredients so buyers and suppliers can enter into a Non Disclosure Agreement to keep these CAS numbers confidential.  This still allows buyers to request a complete GreenScreen hazard table from their suppliers -- with redacted chemical CAS numbers.

Recently the US Green Building Council introduced credits for both material disclosure and optimization and GreenScreen assessments can now be used for credits toward LEED certification.  Architects who wish to know if the products they choose are free of GreenScreen Benchmark 1 chemicals can give preference to suppliers who meet this credit.

Before we benchmark:  Is the chemical necessary at all?

Sustainability is big picture thinking and leading companies are now asking if the problematic chemical’s function is needed in a product at all.  Although theGreenScreen Benchmarks 2 and 3  advocate ‘use’ while searching for safer substitutes, this does not mean GreenScreen necessarily and literally recommends that a Benchmark 2 or 3 chemical should  be used.  For example when we screened triclocarban, a chemical similar to triclosan, it scored a comparatively better Benchmark 2 in relation to Triclosan which scored a Benchmark 1. However both these biocides used in personal care products and soaps are highly hazardous in the aquatic environment and deemed unnecessary according to both the American and Canadian Medical Associations. In this case CPA and allies recommended that regulators and retailers avoid the use of triclosan and triclocarban altogether and assess alternatives if biocides are shown to be necessary in specific applications.  Similarly, retailers and furnishing manufacturers are phasing out the use of flame retardant chemicals due to  new California flammability standard, which is helping to move the market to non chemical flame retardancy.  

Sustainability is a multi-faceted goal.  The GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals can help companies achieve a clear understanding of their chemicals impact against 18 environmental and human health endpoints, including the amount of data gaps associated with that chemical.  Companies that hold comprehensive information about the chemicals in their products, can then make informed decisions and confirm the ongoing use of their chemical ingredients or the need to find safer substitutes.  GreenScreen results also facilitate informed and easy dialogue with a company’s supply chain and GreenScreen benchmark requirements can be built into a buyer’s procurement specifications, as practiced by Hewlett Packard.


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