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Mike Schade spearheads the Mind the Store campaign for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, which aims to work with the nation's leading retailers on creating comprehensive chemicals policies. He will be speaking at this year’s BizNGO-Chemical Footprint Conference about his recent victories getting Macy’s to commit to phasing out toxic flame retardants from furniture and Home Depot to phase out phthalates in flooring, among others. Clean Production Action (CPA) caught up with him recently to find out what he’s most looking forward to at the Conference.
CPA: What do you appreciate about the BizNGO Conferences?
Mike Schade: It’s always been an incredible space to learn about emerging best practices among leading businesses that are working to identify, disclose, eliminate, and safely substitute chemicals of concern, such as the Hazardous 100+ Chemicals of High Concern. Oftentimes, we’ll learn about new and emerging tools and resources that can help businesses drive the market toward green chemistry solutions. At the same time, what makes BizNGO unique is that it’s a space where business leaders and NGOs can come together to identify common challenges and concerns, and perhaps more importantly begin developing solutions such as the Guide to Safer Chemicals.
CPA: How have you seen BizNGO change over the years?
MS: For one, there are a lot more of us at the table now. There are not only a growing number of NGOs that have been participating and playing an active role in the network, but we’re also seeing more and more businesses across different sectors, including some of the world’s largest Fortune 500 companies. We’re all seeking solutions to these complex problems, and we recognize we can’t solve them on our own. The conversation has also changed at BizNGO, now that we’re seeing more and more sophisticated tools being developed that are helping to drive a transformation toward healthier products, like the Chemical Footprint Project (CFP). Also, we’re no longer looking at just one chemical at a time, but how to craft more comprehensive and innovative policies that really get at the meat of the problem.
CPA: How has your participation in BizNGO impacted your work with Mind the Store?
MS: When we launched the Mind the Store campaign over two years ago, we encouraged the nation’s biggest retailers to develop policies and programs to phase out the most hazardous 100 chemicals, and at the same time to develop more robust chemicals policies. We needed a gold standard that we could point to, to help direct companies, and BizNGO’s Principles for Safer Chemicals immediately jumped to mind. Over the past two years we’ve been encouraging major retailers to adopt policies that are aligned with those Principles. And we regularly come back to the Guide to Safer Chemicals that provides a roadmap for retailers and brands to follow when developing a comprehensive approach for tackling toxic chemicals in their supply chains. These tools have been incredibly helpful for our dialogue and our engagement with major retailers. We’ve also pointed many companies to the Alternatives Assessment Protocol as a model that they can follow to assess and avoid regrettable substitutes, which is an emerging issue that many of us are concerned about.
CPA: How important is the business perspective at BizNGO?
MS: It is crucial. Having companies help develop, pilot and implement these tools provides proof that these ideas are not pie in the sky strategies for addressing chemicals. These are real and practical solutions that can help transform our economy. By having businesses vet these tools it helps legitimize them and shows that they’re workable and implementable and then they also can become a beacon for others to follow. The great thing about BizNGO is that it includes companies that are just beginning to tackle these challenges, as well as those that have been working on these issues for 10 or 20 years and are continuing to find cutting-edge solutions to take them to the next stage.
CPA: Is targeting retailers a faster path to change than working towards policy changes when it comes to phasing out toxic chemicals from products?
MS: Progress in Washington is slow. Often, market solutions can be quicker to achieve. We’ve been working on federal TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act) reform for a number of years now. We’re pleased that progress is being made. All signs point to the fact that we are going to see TSCA reform pass and land on the President’s desk sometime this year. Unfortunately, while some important improvements will be made, they won’t go far enough in terms of comprehensively tackling the tens of thousands of chemicals that are in everyday consumer products that families bring into their homes. Some of these are chemicals that scientists have identified as known to cause cancer and birth defects and other serious illnesses that are on the rise in our country. The sad truth is that today the government has only tested roughly 200 chemicals of more than 85,000 chemicals on the market, making everyone, especially infants and young children, vulnerable.
CPA: Are you seeing a problem with companies substituting toxic chemicals with other chemicals that are equally toxic?
MS: Yes – it’s a problem that we’re all concerned about. Businesses need to leverage their power by working with suppliers to make sure that substitutes are truly safer. We need to continue to work towards real federal TSCA reform and we’ll be working hard in the years to come to make sure that TSCA reform is implemented in a meaningful and substantial way, but policy work is not enough.
CPA: What are you looking forward to at this year’s BizNGO Conference?
MS: I’m interested in learning about various companies’ experiences with utilizing the CFP, what their successes and challenges were, and the lessons for moving forward. I’m interested in thinking about how large retailers can utilize and embed the CFP into their sustainability policies. I’m always really excited to hear about the various case studies that describe different business approaches for managing chemicals. But arguably one of the greatest values of BizNGO is the networking and the people that you meet. It’s a venue where you’ll meet a wide group of stakeholders, from nonprofit organization leaders to retailers and brands and academic researchers. It’s a unique community of people who come together who all share a common vision of promoting the adoption of safer chemicals and materials. I’m also excited to share our perspective at the conference about the work that we’ve done with Mind the Store to engage and encourage major retailers to eliminate and substitute toxic chemicals.
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