Chemical Footprinting: Identifying Hidden Liabilities in Manufacturing Consumer Products

Lindsey Konkel

Environmental Health Perspectives
 
In an unassuming low-rise in the Boston suburbs, Mark Rossi tinkers with a colorful dashboard on his laptop screen while his border collie putters around his feet. Rossi is the founder of BizNGO and Clean Production Action, two nonprofit collaborations of business and environmental groups to promote safer chemicals. He’s also the creator of tools that he hopes will solve a vexing problem—how to get a handle on companies’ overall toxic chemicals usage.
 
Consider the screen of Rossi’s laptop. Chances are the company that manufactured the product has crunched the numbers on the total amount of carbon, water, and land associated with getting it into the office—from the manufacturing of the electronic components to the packaging and transportation to retail outlets. But the total amount of toxic chemicals that contributed to the screen’s design and production might be a more difficult question to answer.
 
“There’s a huge gap in sustainability metrics surrounding chemicals and health. We’re trying to fill
 that gap,” Rossi says.
 
Corporate chemicals management policies have traditionally revolved around compliance with government regulations—making sure certain chemicals don’t exist in products over a mandated threshold. But simply being in compliance may not be enough to protect a company from hidden chemical liabilities in products as regulations shift and consumers, advocates, and investors demand increasing levels of transparency, Rossi explains. New frameworks are now emerging to assess a company’s chemical footprint.