Target Corp. is stepping up its efforts to remove potentially harmful chemicals from products and to push suppliers to disclose ingredients with a sweeping new chemicals policy that lays out deadlines for the first time.
Under the new policy unveiled Wednesday, the Minneapolis-based retailer said it is committed to ensuring its textile products will be free of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and flame retardants by 2022.
Such chemicals can sometimes be found in products ranging from kids’ uniforms and tablecloths to sleeping bags and rugs. In addition, it has pledged to remove six chemicals, including phthalates and formaldehyde, from beauty, baby care, personal care and household cleaning products by 2020.
“These are definitely ambitious goals,” said Jennifer Silberman, Target’s chief sustainability officer. “It will be a lot of work … but we are fully committed to working to achieve those goals within those time frames.”
She added that the initial goals are the first in a series that will be rolled out in coming years.
The commitments cover not just Target’s private-owned brands, but also the national brands it carries on its shelves.
They also cover all of the company’s operations — from the products its employees use to clean stores to the chemicals factory workers are exposed to during the manufacturing process.
In addition, Target will work with suppliers toward the goal of having a full list of ingredients used in their products, including what the generic terms like “fragrances” mean.
This has been a particularly difficult nut to crack as cosmetics firms have said those ingredients could be trade secrets.
Target has set a deadline of 2020 as a goal for having all of its beauty, baby, personal care and household cleaning goods reach full transparency.
“We fully understand that it’s important to respect confidential formulations,” Silberman said. “There are options for how those companies can disclose the information, whether they give us full disclosure or if there’s a black-box type of disclosure.”
The term fragrances, said Beth Kemler with the advocacy group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, can include dozens to as many as 100 ingredients, some of which could be toxic.
“If using their market power, Target can get big brands to disclose what’s in their ingredients, that would be really huge,” she said.
She added that Target and Wal-Mart have been leaders among major retailers in pushing for more transparency from suppliers and getting rid of potentially harmful chemicals.
Both retailers were given a “B” grade in the report card her group put out in November, the highest grades given to the 11 companies it rated. Costco and Amazon were given an “F.”
Target’s announcement is also significant in that the company is putting some time frames around its goals, said Kemler.
“The deadlines are huge in showing they are committed as a company and are not just paying lip service to it,” she said.
In July, Wal-Mart asked its suppliers to remove formaldehyde, triclosan and six other substances from their products.
The changes have come as customers have voiced more concerns about chemicals used in products.
Target’s new policy unveiled Wednesday is its latest step after working on this issue for several years.
In 2013, it set up a sustainability index to internally score products on the toxicity of chemicals used in the products and in packaging. Those grades have helped guide which products Target stocks on its shelves.
As part of that process, Target and Wal-Mart, which has a similar grading system, have been asking suppliers to disclose all of the ingredients.
Target has used the index to fuel rolling out new initiatives such as its Made to Matter collection, a curated group of exclusive and better-for-you, greener products from national brands.
The retailer also said Wednesday that it will help suppliers find safer alternatives to replace some of these potentially harmful chemicals.
It has pledged to invest up to $5 million over the next five years in green chemistry innovation.
Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113