Identifying toxins in the supply chain for our cleaners
Martin Wolf, Product Sustainability and Authenticity Director on our toxins identification work:
“Seventh Generation is committed to making products that are safe for people and the environment. For me, this is also a personal goal — defining who I am and motivating my work. I am proud that Seventh Generation is breaking new ground with a project looking many layers back in the supply chain to ensure that green chemistry principles are being followed.
To create our products, we have stringent ingredient criteria; we ensure that our manufacturing partners share our commitment to the highest quality standards; and we test our products regularly. Despite this work, it is still possible that unwanted trace materials are present in minute quantities in our products — or in any formulated product sold in the marketplace. Trace materials can result from naturally occurring raw material impurities, processing by-products, or cross-contamination from processing other ingredients on the same equipment.
We don't want toxics being used or produced at any point in the many steps necessary to create our products. This includes the formulation mixing factories (our Tier 1 suppliers), the ingredient suppliers that supply them (our Tier 2 suppliers), as well as the factories where the primary materials and chemicals are made (our Tier 3 and 4 suppliers). At Seventh Generation, we not only consider the safety of our own products, but that of the entire value chain as well. This includes the use of substances that may affect the health of the workers producing our ingredients and the quality of the air emissions and wastewater effluent at the plants processing our ingredients.
We developed a 2014 goal of identifying all toxic chemicals used or produced in creating our cleaning products. As a first step, we decided to study the approaches commonly used to produce sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) both because it is chemically simple and we use it in a large volume for the surfactants in many of our cleaning products. Palm fruits and coconuts from Indonesia and Malaysia provide the raw materials for our SLS. Coconut and palm kernel oils are processed (bear with me for the chemistry!) into lauryl alcohol and then into SLS, a significant ingredient in our major cleaners. Starting with the agricultural chemicals that might be found on palm or coconut plantations, we examined the chemical inputs, outputs, and impurities that might be problematic. We zeroed in on the use of methanol as a catalyst in the conversion of coconut and palm kernel oils to lauryl alcohol, as well as sulfur trioxide which is used in processing the lauryl alcohol into SLS.
As we discover each point where toxic substances may be used or produced, we will develop a strategy which will link with our other initiatives to use green chemistry. We will then work with our suppliers to do things differently — substituting a different alcohol for methanol, for example. Our goal is to substitute green processes, not only for our own suppliers, but for our industry as well.
We already have experience in identifying processing impurities and working with multiple suppliers to resolve this type of issue. In our 2009 CC Report, we discussed our work to eliminate 1,4-dioxane from our sources of SLS. We had just switched from using sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) to SLS to eliminate the byproduct 1,4-dioxane (there is more background in the CEO letter in our 2007 CC report). We discovered that cross-contamination from improper equipment cleaning was leaving impurities unexpectedly in the SLS. We worked with our own suppliers and others throughout our industry to resolve the issue, thus having a positive impact well beyond our own small supply chain.”