Late last month, Target announced a new strategy to remove certain chemicals from consumer products sold in its many stores. The approach focuses on increased transparency, proactive chemical management across the supply chain, and innovation of safer alternatives. As a part of this new chemicals strategy, touted by many as the most comprehensive of its kind for a retailer, Target has pledged in its first set of announced goals to:

  • list all ingredients in all owned and national brand products by 2020;
  • formulate beauty, baby care, personal care, and household products without phthalates, propylparaben, butyl-paraben, formaldehyde, formaldehyde-donors, and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs) by 2020;
  • remove added Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) and added flame retardants from textile products by 2022; and
  • invest up to $5 million in green chemistry innovation by 2022.

Consumer product safety groups, especially those that have advocated for increased disclosure of chemical additives and decreased use of certain substances in consumer products, praised Target’s announcement. This strategy is directly in line with the ever-growing “green chemistry” and “naturals” trends that have swept the consumer product space.

Importantly, companies must be very careful when marketing such claims. Recent legal challenges have shown that products in the “green chemistry” and “natural” space may be vulnerable to consumer complaints as to their effectiveness and/or labeling. For example, natural-product company The Honest Co. has faced a number of consumer complaints and lawsuits alleging that its all-natural sunscreen allowed severe sunburns. Similarly, Seventh Generation has faced false advertising lawsuits alleging that its laundry detergent contains synthetic chemicals that the company said it does not contain. Companies pursuing policies of transparency and green chemistry may need to innovate around these hurdles—by exploring alternative chemicals that are not just safer, but are also effective.

Target’s new “Chemicals and Goals” Policy can be found here. The Company plans to monitor and report on its progress in this regard in its annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report.