SAN DIEGO — While brand developers have multiple software tools to evaluate the chemicals in their products, their focus should be on overall risk rather deciding solely on a material's hazard profile.
An extensive study of 32 decision-support tools from industry, academia and governments evaluated the software in five categories: screening and prioritization, database utilization, hazard assessment, exposure and risk assessment and certification-labeling.
“Scoring on the basis of 100, the highest was 77,” Tony Kingsbury reported at a June 1 workshop during the Sustainable Brands '15 conference in San Diego.
“Only four tools received the maximum score of 10 for assessing both hazard and exposure,” said Kingsbury, founder and president of consultancy TKingsbury LLC of San Ramon, Calif.
One tool was evaluated after completion of the broad technical review. The Lens-brand chemical safety assessment platform from SciVera LLC of Charlottesville, Va., “would be at the top if it was evaluated among the 32,” Kingsbury said.
“As tools differentiate themselves, they will improve [and] become more rigorous. Some will fall by the wayside.”
Twelve authors contributed to the 13-page paper, which was published in the April 2015 edition of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry's Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management journal.
In understanding context about potential toxicity, a product design may include biocides that are needed for controlling microorganisms or titanium dioxide, which is “in everything white such as paper, golf balls and paint,” Kingsbury said. Without this kind of consideration, the selection of an alternative chemical “can be worse.”
In a generalization, Kingsbury pointed out, “A sustainability über tool does not exist yet.”
The American Chemistry Council's value chain outreach committee and San Francisco-based ChemRisk LLC, a unit of environmental services firm Cardno Ltd., funded the evaluation. Cardno of Brisbane, Australia, acquired ChemRisk in 2012.
Another workshop presenter, Ann Mason, senior director of the Washington-based ACC's chemical products and technology division, agreed that not all tools are created equal and that an analysis must match the tool to relevant questions about a product's end use.
Mason noted two ACC pilot projects now in process. One involves a screening comparison of seven chemical hazards. “The outcome depends on the tools used in the screening process,” she said. “Some tools are not transparent.”
The second project relates to a comparative analysis of life-style exposure tools in conjunction with the independent non–profit National Academy of Sciences.
To make a point, Mason displayed the list of a product's chemical composition and drew several concerns about the acceptability of a couple of environmentally-suspect chemicals. After audience input, Mason disclosed that the product was blueberries and that the chemicals in minute quantities performed critical safety roles.
Rather than the chemical itself, Mason pointed to the dosage and method of application as key steps in whether a product becomes poisonous.
Mason has more than 40 years of experience in regulatory and legislative issues and value chain initiatives.
Government regulations, retailer policies and stakeholder pressures are drivers for increased sustainability focus, said workshop participant Tim Greiner, managing director of consultancy Pure Strategies Inc. of Gloucester, Mass.
Greiner observed that cleaning supplies maker S.C. Johnson & Son of Racine, Wis., created its own Greenlist-brand tool to identify better solutions and that data storage firm Seagate Technology plc of Cupertino, Calif., can respond to environmental inquiries in two days now versus weeks after requiring full material disclosures from its suppliers.
“It is critical that vendors pass on information,” Greiner said.
He noted that not all software tools include all capabilities. A Pure Strategies review of 11 vendors' sustainable chemicals management software programs worked through screening of restricted-substances inventories, hazard and exposure assessments and identification of alternatives.
Greiner suggested the need for product design involvement at early stages to avoid what he called “some regrettable substitutions” in products.
Greiner has experience as a material science engineer, was formerly in the semiconductor industry and co-founded Pure Strategies in 1998.