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If going green is so great, why don't these retailers want to talk about it?

Article-If going green is so great, why don't these retailers want to talk about it?

When I received a press release back in May 2014 from an environmental group called As You Sow praising the approval of shareholders of Mondelez International (formerly Kraft Foods Inc.) to use less plastic and more paper in a bid to rid the world's oceans of plastic, I was skeptical. The release from the environmental group said that 28.4% of the large snack company's shareholders had voted in favor of the proposal to change its food packaging from "unrecyclable" plastic film to cardboard.

I subsequently received press releases from the same group regarding other corporations, such as Kraft and Procter & Gamble. On May 8 of this year, As You Sow reported that it had "received the support of 29.2% of shares voted at the giant food manufacturer's annual shareholder meeting," according to data released by Kraft. "The shares favoring the proposal have a market value of more than $9 billion," said As You Sow. The proposal asked the company "to assess the environmental and operational risks associated with continuing to use non-recyclable packaging and to develop a timeline for phasing it out.

As You Sow noted in the Kraft release that in October 2014, Procter & Gamble, the global consumer goods company, "agreed to make 90% of packaging recyclable by 2020." In the release, Conrad MacKerron, Senior VP of the environmental group, said, "If P&G can do it, why not Kraft? We hope the company will recognize the risk to its brand posed by throwaway packaging and act to develop recyclable alternatives."

Another environmental group, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, (SC, HF) successfully convinced Home Depot to phase out phthalates in the vinyl flooring it sells by the end of this year. The April 22, 2015, release from SC, HF noted that of the 65 flooring tile samples tested 38 (58%) contained phthalates. Lumber Liquidators agreed to stop selling vinyl flooring containing reprocessed PVC due to phthalates and lead found in vinyl flooring. "As of September 1, 2015, Lumber Liquidators has also required its suppliers to eliminate the use of ortho-phthalates in all vinyl flooring purchased," said SC, HF in the release.

One important factor in the testing of vinyl flooring is the country of origin of the test samples. When I tried to obtain that information from SC, HF, I was told they did not know the manufacturers or the country of origin. They could only tell me where the sample vinyl materials were obtained. Obviously Home Depot and Lumber Liquidators are retailers and do not manufacture the flooring but purchase it from various manufacturers. Knowing the problems that many OEMs encounter in obtaining products from China, including the presence of toxins such as lead, cadmium and other chemicals in products, which U.S. manufacturers do not use, I needed to know which samples came from Chinese/Asian manufacturers and which came from U.S. manufacturers, and the differences in the levels of these toxins in the samples.

Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director for SC, HF, replied to my inquiry regarding country of origin for the flooring samples: "[T]his information was not included because most products were not fully labeled for their country of origin, making it hard for consumers to know where vinyl flooring is being sourced from. has country of origin information for about 25% of the flooring products tested. All of the products were purchased in the United States."

I know for a fact, however, that if you ask any of these big box home improvement stores such as Lowe's, Home Depot or Lumber Liquidators where certain products are made, they can tell you. They know from which manufacturers they purchase products and where those manufacturers are located. (You have to ask for the manufacturer not just the distributor—a big difference!)

While Home Depot might have made a commitment to phase out phthalates by the end of 2015, they will have to closely monitor their suppliers—the manufacturers of the vinyl flooring—in order to ensure that phthalates are no longer being used as plasticizers. Ongoing testing is supposedly being done by both Home Depot and Lumber Liquidators to ensure that the various chemicals used in the manufacture of flooring complies with the commitments they have made to consumers.

One thing I find interesting is that these organizations like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, as well as another group, As You Sow, always send out the releases and make the big announcements about the compliance of these large OEMs and retailers to the environmental agenda of these organizations. Yet, other than sustainability reports from these companies, I cannot find releases from any of them regarding the proposals presented or the shareholder votes.

If what they are doing to comply with the proposals presented to shareholders is such a great thing, you'd think they'd be shouting it from the rooftops! Getting comments from these companies is impossible. Calls and e-mails sent to media relations personnel at companies like Lumber Liquidators, Home Depot and even flooring manufacturers go unanswered. The silence speaks volumes.

As for my question to SC, HF about the country of origin of the test samples, I'm still waiting for an answer.

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