NOT CURRENT YEAR
Ecolab produces/uses 16 highly hazardous substances, but it does not produce any persistent chemicals as the company actually phased one out from its portfolio. Compared to many other companies in the ranking that might seem good, but it is still a portfolio full of problematic substances and a big reason behind Ecolab’s poor score in the ranking. In the other categories Ecolab places itself very much in the middle. It does not really excel in anything, but it is not among the worst performers either.
Opportunities for improvement
- Ecolab should reduce its hazardous portfolio, which currently consists of 16 banned, severely restricted or SIN-listed substances. Chemical pollution has a harmful impact on human health and the environment, and poses a growing threat. Two million people died due to exposure to hazardous chemicals in 2019, compared to 1.56 million in 2016, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Hazardous chemicals are also key drivers of biodiversity loss, putting entire ecosystems in jeopardy. A good place to start the reduction would be the three PIC substances that Ecolab still offers. PIC, short for Prior Informed Consent, is one of the key provisions of the Rotterdam Convention, allowing the export of – often domestically restricted – hazardous chemicals to poorer countries with weaker chemical legislation, as long as the receiving country signs a consent that it understands what it is accepting and has a plan for how to handle it.
- We are pleased to see that Ecolab has acted on two of our suggestions for improvement from last year; it phased out the one persistent chemical from its portfolio, and now presents water- and energy-saving products on its website. We recommend that the company also puts effort into other suggestions from last year: having clear and timed phase-out plans, as well as designing out hazardous ingredients from its innovations.
- Handing out a circularity award – the Circular Accelerator – is nice, but not enough to receive a point for circular activities in ChemScore. Where are the Ecolab products with a circular end-of-life concept, or a circular strategy with clear KPIs and SMART targets?
Ecolab produces/uses 16 highly hazardous substances –16 SIN List chemicals, 3 PICs, and 4 HHPs – 7 of which are included on the EU’s REACH Candidate List. 1 of these highly hazardous substances are either banned or severely restricted, with set dates when production needs to cease (1 Authorisation List substances, and no POPs). The company produces no persistent chemicals.
Please note that there is no available data for the 23% of the company’s production that takes place outside of the EU and US. Lower EU/US production means higher uncertainty with regard to the total production of hazardous chemicals, which will have a negative impact on the company’s score in this category.
Ecolab has a method in place to screen and assess the sustainability of its products and includes the intrinsic hazards of ingredients in the screening process. It does not, however, exclude substances with toxic properties from its new products. Ecolab actively markets safer alternatives on its own website, but not on ChemSec Marketplace. The company has not any true circular products, processes or innovations. Ecolab does not use biobased resources. Nor does it source and treat recycled materials in a sustainable way, which is one of the key elements of a circular economy. Ecolab is actively reducing the hazardous waste it generates.
The American company does not produce only sustainable products, and has no phase-out strategy for hazardous substances that go beyond regulatory compliance. It shares chemical safety information on its website and is following a credible code of conduct standard. Ecolab did not respond to ChemSec’s attempts to communicate around its ChemScore ranking and it does not share any information about what kind of chemicals it produces in regions with low regulatory demands for transparency (e.g. Asia). Ecolab does not have a circular economy program in place, thus lacking objective and measurable circular economy targets.
In 2020, a class action lawsuit was filed against Ecolab in Minnesota, seeking to represent a nationwide group of current or former hospital housekeepers. The plaintiffs alleged that they had suffered severe personal injuries affecting pulmonary and respiratory functions after using the company’s cleaning products. In 2019, the offloading an Ecolab tanker at a wastewater treatment plant in West Virginia caused a blue haze and bleach-like fumes to settle in throughout the city, resulting in mass evacuation. In 2014, a fire and subsequent leak of glacial acetic acid were reported at the Ecolab plant in West Virginia. This prompted authorities to halt trains and evacuate nearby residents as a precaution. Between 2010 and 2020, Ecolab and its subsidiaries paid more than 3 million USD in penalties for 13 environmental violations, according to the violation tracker project of Good Jobs First.Download Controversies Ecolab (PDF, 113 KB)