Green Cleaning: Whole Foods Eco-Scale Rating System

Whole Foods’ New Eco-Scale™ Rating System Ranks its Household Cleaning Products 

Do you know what’s in your cleaning products?

Since cleaning product ingredient transparency isn’t currently required by the U.S. government, consumers are typically kept in the dark on what they’re spraying into their indoor air, scrubbing onto their sinks, and pouring onto their floors.

But Whole Foods Market aims to change that reality with its new Eco-Scale Rating System, which was announced on Earth Day 2011 and goes into effect this weekend on Earth Day 2012. The company plans to announce that 90 percent of the cleaning products it sells now meet its Eco-Scale criteria.

Under Eco-Scale, all cleaning products sold at Whole Foods stores will be required to list every single ingredient on product packaging. To ensure compliance, all products are being audited through an independent third party for verification.

The rating system evaluates products based on specific sets of environmental and sourcing standards and assigns them an Eco-Scale color—green, yellow, orange, or red. Those products falling into the red zone will not be sold at Whole Foods.

Banned ingredients include chlorine, phosphates, and some preservatives. Eco-Scales top “Green” rating goes to products made entirely with plant-based ingredients.

Cleaning Green Magazine checked in with Whole Foods’ Eco-Scale guru Errol Schweizer, its senior global grocery coordinator, to learn more about the highs and lows of this grand undertaking, one that will change the face of the cleaning supply industry for good.

Cleaning Green: When will the Eco-Scale System be fully launched in all Whole Foods stores?

Errol Schweizer: We announced the Eco-Scale System on Earth Day 2011, but it’s been an ongoing process to work with our vendors to help them meet these new strict standards. Ninety percent of our suppliers have already been certified, and the other ten percent aren’t far behind. We’ll continue to work with our smaller vendors to help them go through the certification process.

CG: Was this a major undertaking?

Schweizer: Yes, it was a big initiative for the company. Eco-Scale was in the works for four years before we formally announced the program, so it required a huge amount of research and planning. Once the rating tiers were established, we worked closely with our vendors to evaluate every cleaning product on our shelves for environmental impact, safety, efficacy, source, labeling, and animal testing to determine the appropriate Eco-Scale rating and ensure third-party verification.

CG: What was the internal impetus behind this initiative?  

Schweizer: We launched Eco-Scale to provide more transparency in the marketplace, and to help our shoppers make smarter, greener choices in the cleaning aisle.Our shoppers trust us, so it’s important for us to share exactly what’s in the products that are on our shelves and how they compare to other cleaning options available.

CG: What are the tangible benefits of the Eco-Scale system for A: the consumer and B: the cleaning products industry.

Schweizer: From a consumer perspective, we’re able to offer more solutions for eco-conscious shoppers and help them make smarter, greener choices in the cleaning aisle.  With this increased transparency, shoppers can be confident they are choosing safer alternatives for their households for their homes and the planet as a whole.

In terms of the cleaning industry, Eco-Scale encourages producers to create better, greener products and raises the bar for transparency.

Fast Fact: A whopping 73 percent of Americans mistakenly believe that federal law requires ingredient disclosure on cleaning products’ labels.

Source: Harris Interactive study conducted for Whole Foods.