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  • Chemical Footprinting: Companies Take Stock of Their Toxic Impact

Chemical Footprinting: Companies Take Stock of Their Toxic Impact

  • Posted in Default
  • By Alana Fichman and Candace Pearson
  • Date September 17th, 2015 15:55
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  • Harmful chemicals are more difficult to quantify than carbon emissions but are equally destructive. Now you can track manufacturers’ chemical footprints.

    By Alana Fichman and Candace Pearson


    Carbon emissions and water use have giant-sized foot icons to represent their impact, but hazardous chemicals haven’t, until now. The Chemical Footprinting Project (CFP) is one effort to help manufacturers measure their toxic impacts and make this information available to the public.


    Clean Production Action (creator of the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals), BizNGO, and the University of Massachusetts–Lowell all partnered to create the tool, which is designed to complement other frameworks like life-cycle assessment and corporate sustainability reporting.


    In order to receive a Chemical Footprint, a company must answer 19 questions that judge the extent to which they have inventoried the chemicals in their products, sought safer alternatives, publicly disclosed chemical information, and aligned chemical management with their business strategy.


    The CFP technical team analyzes these responses and cross references reported chemicals with the California Candidate Chemicals, a list of about 2,300 chemicals complied by the Department of Toxic Substances after the passage of California’s Green Chemistry Law in 2008. Chemicals on this list are not necessarily known chemicals of concern but are considered “potentially hazardous.” A company is then given a score from zero to 100, with a higher score indicating a more favorable chemical footprint.


    There is no requirement to publicize a company’s score, and the tool’s focus is on potentially harmful chemicals used in production at one company, so it may potentially miss harmful chemicals used to make the materials that arrive at the company’s door.


    The focus is also on inherent hazards, so there’s no exposure assessment involved as there is for some tools, like product certification Cradle to Cradle. That means chemicals that don’t actually appear in the final product or are unlikely to have human health impacts during normal product use (see The Five Hazard Warnings You Can Usually Ignore) will affect the score. On the other hand, the tool provides a broader life-cycle approach than something like the Health Product Declaration (HPD), which looks only at ingredients present in the finished product.


    The tool is also unique in evaluating whole companies rather than individual products. That might make more of a strategic statement to the public and to shareholders (see UN: Manufacturers Turn Blind Eye to Hazardous Chemicals At Their Peril).


    Chemical impact is difficult to address because “chemicals” are at once potential cures and poisons. What might be harmful in one context is necessary in another. It’s not all gray territory, however, and measuring chemical impacts can begin to provide clarity in an industry with an undeniably large footprint.


    Proponents of chemical footprinting argue that measurement will lead to safer practices. Photo: myfuture.com. License: CC BY-ND 2.0.


    Republished with permission from BuildingGreen.com

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