Vantage Point

Vol. 26 No. 4

Andrea Rimer is the issue editor for the Spring 2012 issue of Natural Resources & Environment.

When most people think about companies that are significantly impacted by environmental laws and regulations, they don’t immediately think of the retail sector. However, retailers have increasingly become the subject of regulation, agency investigation, and enforcement based on both the products they sell and the manner in which they conduct their businesses. Given the increasing number and variety of products and services offered by retailers, a growing percentage of the typical retailer’s inventory has the potential to be subject to environmental regulation at one or more points during the retail cycle. For example, this issue features two articles focused on the impact of state and federal hazardous waste laws on waste materials generated in retail and/or pharmacy operations—which in both cases may be the result of common situations such as customer returns, damages, or the expiration or recall of products. As discussed in those articles, retailers across the country have been the subject of significant enforcement action based on regulations that were not written with the unique challenges of the retail sector in mind. Retailers have, therefore, faced challenges in developing sustainable compliance programs that fit within the retail environment, and they are increasingly looking to the federal government for regulatory solutions.

Similarly, retailers and the manufacturers of the products they sell are subject to numerous environmental regulations regarding the content of their products and the claims made about them on product packaging. Two of the articles in this issue illustrate the potential challenges associated with such product claims—both in the context of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and in the context of environmentally positive, yet questionable, claims that may rise to the level of “greenwashing.” New legal requirements are also being continuously discussed at the state, federal, and international levels. One of these, the California Green Chemistry Initiative, is explored further by one of our featured authors.

Given the multitude of environmental and other regulations applicable to products, and the increasing customer demand for more sustainable products and processes, many retailers have taken proactive steps such as developing sophisticated sustainability programs and placing a greater burden on their suppliers to provide more sustainable, environmentally compliant products. This issue features an article exploring this phenomenon from both the retailer’s and supplier’s perspective. Our featured interview also provides insight into the retailer’s perspective on compliance and sustainability from one of America’s retail giants, Wal-Mart.

Finally, this issue includes articles that explore other aspects of sustainability, such as green building standards (which many retailers are successfully using), reclaimed water usage, and from an international perspective, the impact of the United Kingdom’s Carbon Reduction Commitment on many industry sectors, including retail.

Many of the articles reflect challenges and opportunities experienced by my own retail clients in recent years, so I have particularly enjoyed working on this issue of NR&E. I hope that this issue will provide our readers with greater insight into the environmental issues being addressed by this very large but often overlooked sector of the regulated community.

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