The Design for the Environment (DfE) Program of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works in partnership with a broad range of stakeholders to reduce risk to people and the environment by prevention pollution. DfE focuses on industries that combine the potential for chemical risk reduction with a strong motivation to make lasting, positive changes. DfE convenes partners, including industry representatives and environmental groups, to develop goals and guide the work of the partnership. Partnerships evaluate the human health and environmental considerations, performance, and cost of traditional and alternative technologies, materials, and processes. As incentives for participation and driving change, DfE offers unique technical tools, methodologies, and expertise.
The program has reached more than 200,000 business facilities and approximately 2 million workers, reducing the use of chemicals of concern by approximately 237 million pounds per year.
The DfE Program uses the unique chemical assessment tools and expertise of the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics to inform substitution and help industry use Green Chemistry in products. DfE multi-stakeholder alternatives analyses have helped industry move to safer flame retardants in furniture and reduce the use of lead in electronics. The DfE Formulator Program partners with manufacturers of chemically blended products, helping them bring to market a wide range of safer products, from all-purpose cleaners and conversion coatings that do not use Chrome 6, to holding tank treatments and zinc-free floor finishes.
The Formulator Program has had especially strong participation from the cleaning product sector and counts among its partners many large, small and medium-sized companies. Over the past year, interest has intensified in the consumer products area, driven by corporate sustainability efforts, including Home Depot's Eco Options program and Wal-Mart's developing challenge to its suppliers to use safer ingredients in their products.
The DfE assessment methodology involves the technical review of each product component, starting with the chemical component’s structure, to determine its key health and environmental characteristics. The review team then compares an ingredient’s characteristics to other chemicals in the same use class, considers possible negative synergies between ingredients, and places the ingredient on a continuum of improvement relative to other similar chemicals. Through its methodology DfE provides information to formulators that helps them select from among the safest chemicals in an ingredient class. The approach is adaptable to changing circumstances and new information, emphasizing continuous improvement as the opportunities for safer formulations grow with chemical innovation.