Clean Production Action  [Printer-friendly version]
June 27, 2006


New report highlights six companies, including Dell, H&M and Kaiser
Permanente, and their journey to safer chemicals use

[Rachel's introduction: Clean Production Action has just released
a new report showing how six companies are making the transition to
least-toxic manufacturing.]

New York -- Each of us carries as many as 200 industrial chemicals in
our bodies -- chemicals that were invented over the past 75 years.
These chemicals aren't only found in 55-gallon factory drums or
bottles under your kitchen sink. They may be in the shirt on your
back, the computer you are staring at, or the chair in which you are

Yet we know almost nothing about what chemicals are in everyday
products and therefore little about the hazards they may pose. Where
do these products come from and who's producing them? If we raise
awareness about them, will companies change their practices?

That's why Clean Production Action (CPA) has filed the report "Healthy
Business Strategies for Transforming the Toxic Chemical Economy,"
which highlights six case studies: Avalon Natural Products, Dell Inc.,
H&M, Herman Miller, Interface and Kaiser Permanente. The studies
illuminate how these companies embraced the use of comprehensive,
environmentally friendly strategies for eliminating toxic chemicals
and materials in their products and building materials.

CPA's research director, Mark Rossi states, "Our report draws
attention to how each of these companies has embarked on the journey
to green chemistry and healthy materials. Each shows us in their own
distinctive way that it's important to work towards a cleaner future
by taking action today."

The report highlights a cross-section of products including famous
Herman Miller ergonomic, yet sleek office chairs, H&M's affordable
fashion-forward clothing, and the non-toxic carpet specially
commissioned by Kaiser Permanente for its hospitals. CPA hopes that by
showing a broad range of company products and innovative approaches to
using safer chemicals other companies will adopt similar practices
such as conducting internal hazard assessments, investing in plant-
based materials, applying green chemistry and green engineering
principles and making safe chemicals research and production a
priority within their supply chains.

Each company in the report shows leadership initiative in its efforts
to ban hazards from its products, and investment in protecting and
enhancing its brand.

According to Mark Newton, Dell Senior Consultant for Environmental
Policy and Global Requirements, the company's chemicals management
system is the first step in a long journey towards responsible
chemical management: "We and the others in our industry realize we are
at the beginning of a long journey. As a relatively young industry
we're learning quickly how to meet both business and environmental
goals and how to effectively manage these issues with our supply

All of the companies' investments are paying off in different ways:
from cost savings and the creation of new sub-markets to product
differentiation, reduced reputation risk and improved quality. For
companies seeking similar results, their efforts show a clear path for
corporations to better manage chemicals in their supply chains and

According to Interface director of environmental management, Wendy
Porter, who helped design a plant-based office fabric using safe dyes
"Our unique knowledge gives our salesperson an edge over the
competition. We even get inquiries from our competitors, who want to
know if certain chemicals are okay to use."

Cleaner products make for healthier homes and families. Avalon Vice
President Morris Shriftman explains, "We want our customers to be
conscious of what they put on their skin. We want them to understand
that it's not just about the small amount of a chemical in a single
cosmetic. It's about the cumulative risk for a woman applying and re-
applying cosmetics 15, 20, even 25 times in a single day -- shower
cleansers, toners, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, mascara,
lipstick, deodorants, creams with penetration enhancers, and so on."

The report also highlights the importance of partnering with companies
that share the same commitment. When Kaiser Permanente decided it
needed to use carpets that were both PVC-free and met its criteria for
hospital use it discovered that no such carpet met its demanding
specifications. Not willing to compromise, Kaiser Permanente decided
to develop a new product that not only met its needs, but was also
manufactured by a company that would fulfill the environmental
commitments that Kaiser Permanente had made. Tom Cooper of Kaiser
Permanente's Standards, Planning, and Design team emphasized,
"Partnering is about dialogue, finding shared interests, and moving
forward with better products."

"Rather than continuing to take an approach that is problem-focused
(for example, eliminating mercury or PVC), we want our work to be
solution-focused," emphasized Lynn Garske, Kaiser Permanente's
environmental stewardship manager. "Our aspiration is to provide
health care services in a manner that enhances the environment and
communities now and for future generations."

If you tell the world your product does not contain a chemical, you
cannot compromise. H&M stayed true to its progressive chemical policy
when they had to pull a highly marketed item during the company's 2002
Christmas underwear campaign. With a marketing campaign using famous
models posing in H&M underwear already underway, the company found
that the sequins used to decorate some underwear products contained
PVC. Chemists and quality control had missed the 100 percent PVC
sequins because, up until that point, all PVC uses were in soft
plastics. H&M's Corporate Responsibility department convinced the
company to drop the product.

Herman Miller's products remind us that the real opportunities for
safe products begin at the design stage. "Only by incorporating
environment into design," explains Don Goeman, executive vice
president for Research, Design and Development at Herman Miller, "can
we create value rather than cost." This company has made Design for
Environment a priority since 1953 and has continued to push the
boundaries of corporate responsibility by demanding full and
transparent chemicals data from their suppliers to developing their
own rigorous scoring and grading system for materials used in their
many furnishings. The company intends to maintain its trajectory by
setting itself a goal that 50 percent of all sales in 2010 must be
from products that meet their Design for Environment and green
chemicals protocol.

These six well-known companies are proof that safer chemicals use in
products is a goal whose time has come. As our case studies show
different tools and approaches can be used but as with all journeys
fraught with difficulties and set backs there must be commitment that
the effort will be worth the price. The effort is indeed worth the
price. Companies can no longer neglect the great opportunity they have
to stop the ongoing assault of hazardous chemicals into our common
environment. Consumers are waking up to corporate responsibility and
the prize will increasingly go to those companies who show leadership
and commitment to safe chemicals use in their products. In 10 years
time, we hope to look back on the many companies that saw and met the
challenges of chemical hazards, and celebrate the successful
transition to a healthy materials economy.

To request an interview or comments from Clean Production Action, the
report authors or any of the case study companies please contact Jene
O'Keefe at 212-245-0510 or

Copyright 2006 Clean Production Action