Ecosystem Approach Screening
The strength of the Ecosystem Approach screening lies in its capacity to go beyond authoritative lists to scrutinize materials and ingredients using modeling, predictive analysis, and available data and literature to predetermine harm before substances are widely deployed into the marketplace. It is comprehensive and uncompromising.
Overall, the Ecosystem Approach is a scientifically rigorous, independent, third-party review that determines if the materials in a given product are, as designed for use, made without substances that are known or suspected to be harmful. For products containing substances of potentially threatened or endangered origin, it also ensures they are made using sustainable and responsible sourcing methods.
As a first step, products are reviewed against our Red List to ensure that ~3,000 of the most harmful substances have been avoided, thereby eliminating the worst hazards found in products. For example, the Red List prohibits known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, toxins (behavioral, developmental, neurological, reproductive, and/or teratogenic), heavy metals, endangered species, hazardous flame retardants, high-risk pesticides, toxic solvents, and harmful VOCs.
This is only the first step in our unique Ecosystem Approach to screening, which is designed to protect people and every resource we rely on for life. After clearing the Red List stipulations, step two of the Ecosystem Approach Screening process begins.
It is here that our approach requires manufacturing transparency as well as disclosure of each substance and process involved in formulation, going far beyond basic ingredient list reviews to assess for broader impact. As part of this comprehensive screening process, companies must also gather and submit extremely detailed ingredient information and adhere to substance level specifications.
This level of diligence allows us to analyze potential sources of pollution as well as harmful impacts on soil, sediment, air, water, and humans, and aquatic and/or terrestrial life.
During this process, we primarily use a hazard-based approach to chemicals because we believe substances should be proven ‘not hazardous’ prior to use. In doing so, we flip the traditional ‘chemicals first, consequences second’ approach used in product manufacturing today:
Traditional Toxicological Framework = Risk-Based
Chemicals are considered ‘innocent until proven guilty’, burdening consumers with any health consequences and the gargantuan task of calling out chemical / manufacturing giants.
Permissive risk-based standards - for every product asking, “How much of this substance can be used before it becomes toxic?” This is problematic because it doesn’t account for cumulative burden. For instance, consumers often use a myriad of products containing the same chemicals, which allows the overall load of a given chemical to become much greater.
Ecosystem-Sound Approach = Hazard-Based
Chemicals are instead considered ‘guilty until proven innocent’. This is the only safe and sustainable approach to substance diligence.
Conservative hazard-based standards say, “If this substance is toxic, it should be avoided.” This is significantly more restrictive because it means: if a hazard exists, do not permit - said chemical should not be permitted or used in products.
This framework is underpinned by an adherence to the Precautionary Principle. Essentially, if we are unsure about a chemistry or if a substance’s potential for harm is unclear, or if there is insufficient data on a new ingredient or material, we take a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ stance and do not permit certification until a thorough, scientific safety review has been conducted. In other words, our Ecosystem Approach requires ingredients to be considered harmful until proven safe. This position differs from other certification programs where new or unknown ingredients are often given a green light without sufficient data to warrant it. In our view, the Ecosystem Approach is a more logical and protective starting point for substance safety consideration.
Whenever the team encounters a new or unique substance, they rely on our Ecosystem Approach to fully vet and consider it for viability, after which point it is added to our proprietary Element360 ingredient database. Element360 is dynamic and constantly evolving, becoming a smarter and more informed tool with every screening. With over 85,000 chemicals registered for use in products today, this is a massive undertaking.
The Element360 database warehouses information on thousands of unique substances. Leveraging this robust data set allows us to quickly review already known substances, to provide guidance, and to request further documentation related to the unique characteristics of any given material (e.g., derivation, manufacturing processes, impurities, use case restrictions, and occasionally, additional lab testing). Our team also works with respected scientists and subject matter experts to screen substances based on the most current available science, further allowing us to close ingredient data gaps.