In the News: Target Announces Sustainable Product Standards

Last month, Target announced a new program in which it will rate products based on their transparency, ingredients, and environmental impact.  According to Target’s website, the 100 point system will be implemented first on personal care, beauty, household cleaning, and baby care products.

Given how big of a reach Target has, this is big news: zillions of customers, average Americans (as opposed to the average Whole Foods shopper), with more sustainable and less toxic affordable products at their fingertips.  

Looking at the breakdown of the ratings, Target has hit all the important factors:

Ingredients (50 points)  Ingredients are checked for health concerns with “authoritative regulatory lists,” which I am pleased to see include California Prop 65 (stuff that causes cancer), two lists from European agencies including one on endocrine disruptors, the EPA’s list of persistent bioaccumulative toxins, and a list of chemicals of high concern to children.  A maximum of 25 points are docked if the list includes “generic” ingredients, such as one of my favorites, fragrance. The ingredients in fragrances aren’t required to be listed by law, and they often include nasty toxins.

Transparency (20 points)  If every ingredient isn’t listed, including the components of fragrances, risk assessment is a whole lot more difficult for both Target and the consumer. Hopefully encouraging producers to disclose ingredients fully will also prompt them to avoid chemicals of concern.

Environmental Impact (30 points)  This section includes animal testing (5 points), packaging (20 points), and water quality (5 points). Of note is the requirement that packaging be recyclable by a majority of people and properly labeled with recycling instructions.  So many containers I buy have a recycling symbol but no directions or resin code and ugh I get so mad.

This rating system sounds awesome to me, basically the equivalent of the the EWG’s Skin Deep database on cosmetics but for everything sold at Target.  However, it’s not clear how Target plans to use these ratings, and who will get to see them.  From their website: “Following the full-assortment assessment, Target will recommend best practices.” So… to who?

Target has mentioned that they hope to make their rankings available to the public in the near future.  Hopefully in the meantime they will use the information to help them choose what products to advertise and sell. As a highly concerned consumer, I’m not likely to walk into a Target and trust that everything on the shelves is “safe” like I might do at my local co-op. I would appreciate direct labeling on the shelves themselves right next to the price tags with rating information so that I can make my own informed choices, weighting risks vs. cost, without having to pull out my phone to look up ingredients.

According to this article on Target’s new policy, a recent survey revealed that 70% of Americans want to shop more conscientiously, but have a hard time knowing how. (Wish I had a the primary source for this.) One way that Target could take advantage of this is by printing products’ sustainability scores right next to their prices, maybe even coding them in a simple green, yellow, or red, rather than making decisions on what to sell behind the scenes.  Letting the buyer chose the product with a green score rather than a red one would give the buyer power, knowledge, and satisfaction without feeling like Target is “telling us how to live our lives.”  For those who are not already sustainably minded, picking the less healthy product would also have to be a conscious choice.

It’s refreshing to see that consumer demand (dare I even say grassroots?) can change Big Business, rather than vice versa.

What do you think? Will Target be able to put their sustainability index to use successfully, or will it be silenced by those with low ratings?



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