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Target Takes Important Step Toward Sustainable Product Standard

Image credit: Deidre Schoo/The New York Times

Target today announced an important step toward increasing product transparency, which the company says it hopes will lead to more sustainable and innovative products.

The Target Sustainable Product Standard, the latest initiative supporting a growing sustainability commitment at the retail leader, was developed over the last two years in partnership with industry experts, vendors and NGOs.  The goal of the initiative is to establish a common language, definition and process for qualifying what makes a product more sustainable. Using GoodGuide’s UL Transparency Platform, the company will collect information from vendors of thousands of household and personal care products and evaluate their qualities against set criteria.

Kate Heiny, Target’s Senior Group Manager for Sustainability, says the company focused the Standard on household cleaners, personal care and beauty, and baby care products since research shows that Target consumers are most concerned with these chemically intensive product groups that go “on your body, in your body or near your body.”

“Chemicals are a hot topic right now in consumers’ minds,” Heiny said. “Our effort in developing this standard is not only to set out what Target’s perspective is but also to provide a tool that can also be used by our competitors and others, with which we can drive innovation in those industries.”

Beginning this month, Target will ask vendors representing 7,500 products in household cleaners, personal care and beauty, and baby care to complete the assessment. Each product in these categories will be assigned up to 100 points based on the sustainability of ingredients, ingredient transparency and overall environmental impact.

“Currently, there is no widely accepted industry standard by which vendors and retailers can judge the environmental impact and sustainability of products,” said Dara O’Rourke, co-founder and chief sustainability officer of GoodGuide, one of the world's largest sources of information on the health, environmental and social impacts of consumer products. “With the Target Sustainable Product Standard, Target will help push the industry toward consensus on what sustainable standards should be and create incentives for innovation in this highly competitive space, ultimately broadening the sustainable product selection for their guests."

"We were thrilled to be a partner in developing the Target Sustainable Product Standard," says John Replogle, president and CEO of Seventh Generation. "We know more and more Target guests want greater transparency about the ingredients in the products that they’re purchasing. This tool will help us showcase the authenticity of our products while pushing for industry-wide clarity around what really makes a product sustainable."

As the Product Standard rolls out and matures, it will inform Target’s merchandising and product-placement decisions. And, in 2014, Target will develop a standard for cosmetics and will begin assessing products in that category as well.

Target's new standard is the latest in a string of similar efforts by U.S. retail giants to improve the quality of and transparency around the products in their stores: Last year, Walmart unveiled sustainability index scorecards for various product categories, and Whole Foods recently announced that by 2018, all products sold in its North American stores will be labeled to indicate whether they contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]


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