With its exclusive tiered rating system, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods requires something the U.S. government doesn’t—full disclosure of ingredients on all household cleaning product labels. According to a 2011 Harris Interactive® survey conducted for Whole Foods Market, nearly three out of four (73 percent) consumers mistakenly believe that the government requires household cleaning suppliers to list all ingredients on product packaging.
“We launched Eco-Scale to help shoppers make smarter, greener choices for their families and the planet and provide a way to know exactly what ingredients are in their household cleaning products,” said Jim Speirs, global VP of procurement for Whole Foods.
Whole Foods requires all household cleaning products to be extensively evaluated and audited to its own standards by an independent third-party certifier before they are rated and labeled on shelves. Products are rated—red, orange, yellow or green—according to the specific set of environmental and sourcing standards each product meets, making it easy for shoppers to spot each product’s rating at first glance. Each tier represents an incrementally higher set of criteria, with green being the highest rating a product can achieve.
To make the cut, each cleaning product must meet—at minimum—Eco-Scale’s baseline (orange) standard, which in addition to requiring full ingredient listings, means no intentionally added ingredients with significant environmental or safety concerns like chlorine, phosphates or formaldehyde donors, and no synthetic colors or thickeners. Yellow-rated products meet even higher standards, with green-labeled products topping the tier. Red-rated products are not sold at Whole Foods.
While nearly all of the retailer’s household cleaning products already have been Eco-Scale rated, new product labels will be trickling onto shelves over the next six months as suppliers switch to new packaging. By not mandating that suppliers re-package products immediately after certification, Whole Foods is helping suppliers work through current inventory, keeping hundreds of pounds of plastic and other packaging materials from going to waste. During the transition, shoppers can look to suppliers’ websites for full ingredient listings.
“No one else in the industry has attempted to launch a set of standards as strict as Eco-Scale, so we knew we were asking our suppliers to enter uncharted territory,” said Speirs. “We’re so inspired by the commitment our vendors have made in eagerly taking on the challenge of getting certified. Together, we’re changing the meaning of green cleaning for the whole industry.”
Whole Foods now sells more than 275 Eco-Scale-rated products—from liquid laundry detergents and fabric softeners to all-purpose, glass and toilet bowl cleaners. The lineup includes picks from Better Life(TM), Ecover®, Greenshield(TM), Dr. Bronner’s, biokleen, Earth Friendly, Seventh Generation(TM), Mrs. Meyers®, Naturally Its Clean(TM) and Method®, as well as the retailer’s own Green Mission(TM), Whole Foods Market® and 365 Everyday Value® brands.