In April 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed the GlaxoSmithKline Annual Report 2019 which contained a section on the environment. Ethical Consumer also viewed a number of pages on the company's website under the heading 'Environment'.

An environmental policy was deemed necessary to report on a company's environmental performance and set targets for reducing its impacts in the future. A strong policy would include two future, quantified environmental targets, demonstration by the company that it had a reasonable understanding of its main environmental impacts, be dated within two years and have its environmental data independently verified.

GlaxoSmithKline discussed carbon (including disclosures on scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions) , water, plastic, paper, palm oil, waste, climate resilience and pharmaceuticals in the environment. However, the company had also received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for toxic chemicals which meant it was not considered to have demonstrated a reasonable understanding of its main impacts.

The company had the following targets all set from a 2016 baseline:
- Reduce our operational carbon emissions (Scope 1 and 2) (15% by 2025 and 20% by 2030).
- Reduce our value chain carbon emissions (Scope 3) per £ billion revenue (25% by 2030).
- Source electricity from renewable sources (45% by 2025 and 60% by 2030).
- Reduce our total water use at each high-risk site (20% by 2025 and 30% by 2030).
- Waste repurposed for beneficial use (80% by 2025 and 100% by 2030).

Although its carbon reduction targets had been accredited by the Science Based Targets Initiative, the report did not appear to have been independently verified.

As GlaxoSmithKline had a report dated within two year and at least two quantitifed targets but was not considered to have demonstrated a reasonable understanding of its main impacts and did not appear to have had its report independently verified, it received Ethical Consumer's middle rating for Environmental Reporting and lost half a mark under this category.


Annual Report 2019 (2019)

In April 2020 Ethical Consumer searched the GlaxoSmithKline website for the company's policy on the use of the hazardous chemicals parabens, triclosan and phthalates.

Some forms or uses of these chemicals are banned or restricted in the EU or the USA.

Triclosan is an antibacterial and is a suspected endocrine disruptor. Parabens are also endocrine disruptors and have been linked to breast cancer and are used as preservatives. Phthalates, usually DEP or DBP, are used in fragrances and are endocrine disruptors.

A strong policy on toxics would be no use of these chemicals or clear, dated targets for ending their use.

The company had a document called "Hazardous Chemicals Management" which contained vague statements about hazardous chemicals in general, but nothing could be found that specifically mentioned these three chemicals.

Therefore GlaxoSmithKline received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for toxics and lost a whole mark under the Pollution and Toxics category.


Website (1 May 2019)

In March 2020, Ethical Consumer searched GlaxoSmithKlein’s website for the company's policy on the use of microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers. The most recent documentation in relation to microplastics was in 2016, in GlaxoSmithKline’s Responsible Business Supplement 2016. This stated: “GSK does not use such microbeads in its products and we have no plans to do so in the future. As an additional step, we are evaluating our portfolio to determine reformulation opportunities for products that use other inactive plastic ingredients. We have identified a small number of products that we plan to reformulate. These initiatives will take approximately three years to complete and phase into the market.”

According to Beat the Microbead, there are more than 500 known microplastics ingredients that can be found in our personal care products such as toothpastes, face washes, scrubs and shower gels. They are tiny plastic particles that are added for their exfoliating properties, but sometimes purely for aesthetic purposes only.

A recent report by Code Check found that non-biodegradable liquid polymers were also prevalent across a wide range of cosmetic products. Like microplastics, these materials degrade with a similar difficulty in the environment and may cause similar harm.

In 2018, the UK government banned the use of microbeads in toothpastes, shower gels and facial scrubs. However, some products classified as “leave on” were not subject to the ban, this would include lotions, sun cream and makeup, as well as abrasive cleaning products. This ban did not extend to non-biodegradable liquid polymers.

Given that the company’s policy was not clear about whether the company would remove all microplastics from all of its products, nor did it address the issue of non-biodegradable liquid polymers, the company lost half a mark under Pollution & Toxics.


GSK website (4 November 2019)

GlaxoSmithKline, the UK-based pharmaceutical owner of brands such as Sensodyne, Parodontax, Lamisil and Physiogel, was one of the world’s 30 biggest cosmetics and personal care companies investigated by Greenpeace East Asia (GEA) in a report dated July 2016, which ranked the companies on their commitment to tackling the issue of microbeads in their products.

Microbeads are a type of microplastic that can be found in our personal care products such as toothpastes, face washes, scrubs and shower gels. They are tiny plastic particles that are added for their exfoliating properties, but sometimes purely for aesthetic purposes only.

The four main criteria used by GEA were:
1. Commitment & information transparency: Did the company have commitment on microbeads? Was it publicly available and easy to access?
2. Definition: How did the company define microbeads for their commitment?
3. Deadline: When would the company meet their commitment?
4. Application scope: Did the commitment cover all products in all markets?

Each company was scored by GEA based on their responses to a Greenpeace survey, as well as any publicly available information. Each criterion was weighted equally and scored out of 100, to give a final maximum score out of 400.

GSK had claimed, privately, to be in a process of evaluation, but considered itself to be microbead-free according to its own definition: “micro-plastic particles with a maximum diameter of 5 millimeters that are synthetic, non-biodegradable, solid forms that retain their defined shapes during life cycle and after disposal, and are used to exfoliate or cleanse or scrub in a rinse-off product, except for a microbead composed of biodegradable plastic; and any intentionally added, 5 mm or less, water-insoluble, solid plastic particle used to exfoliate or cleanse in rinse-off personal care products.” It did not statewhat it planned to use as alternatives.

In allocating GSK a score of 190 out of 400, ranking 10th in the report, GEA said that whilst GSK had not yet formally adopted a commitment to end the use of microbeads, their current working definition fell short of an acceptable standard and placed them low in the ranking. This was because:
- It narrowly applied to microbeads designed for a certain function - exfoliate, cleanse or scrub - rather than for all functions;
- It applied to certain products that were designed to be rinsed-off only, rather than all product types;
- It was limited to only non-biodegradable plastic, rather than all plastic types.

GSK had made a further restriction in that microbeads must retain their defined shape during their lifecycle and disposal, rather than include beads of all shapes.

GSK lost half a mark under Pollution and Toxics.


Global Cosmetics & Personal Care Companies' Microbead Commitment Ranking (July 2016)

Forest 500, ‘the world’s first rainforest rating agency’, is a project of the Global Canopy Programme. In 2019, it published its fifth annual ranking. It ranks 350 of the biggest companies in forest-risk supply chains and the 150 biggest investors in these companies.

Tropical rainforests cover 7% of the earth, but contain 50% of global biodiversity. Their ecosystems regulate global water systems and the climate, and they directly support the livelihoods of over a billion people. The social and economic benefits of these services are estimated to be in the trillions.

Over two thirds of tropical deforestation is driven by the production of a handful of commodities including; palm oil, soya, timber, paper and pulp, beef, and leather. These commodities are in products we use every day and are present in more than 50% of the packaged products in our supermarkets.

Companies and financial institutions had been assessed and ranked in respect to their policies addressing potential deforestation embedded in forest-risk commodity supply chains. The 2018 report stated that "the Forest 500 methodology was updated in 2018 to better distinguish between companies who have set commitments, and those that have taken the next step towards implementation. This new methodology has meant that many companies have received lower scores this year." A document on the 2019 methodology stated that had been updated again to better align with the guidance of the Accountability Framework, a set of norms and guidance on ethical supply chains developed by a coalition of civil society partners. Three new indicators were added and two indicators were updated.

The Forest 500 ranking and analysis will be repeated annually until 2020, to help inform, enable and track progress towards deforestation free supply chains.

Each company was rated from 0-5, across five categories:

GlaxoSmithKline was one of the 350 companies rated in the 2019 report.

It received an overall score of 2. Its scores in each category were as follows:
Overall Approach 3 out of 5

Commodity Score (palm, paper & pulp) 2 out of 5

Commitment Strength 3 out of 5

Reporting and implementation 1 out of 5

Social Considerations 2 out of 5

The company was a Consumer Goods Forum member but had not signed up to the following collective commitment: New York Declaration on Forests signatory.

As it had scored under 4 overall, it lost half a mark under Habitats and Resources.


Forest 500 - 2019 ranking (2019)

In November 2019 Ethical Consumer searched for information on GlaxoSmithKline's policy in relation to palm oil sourcing.

The company was listed as a new member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil on that organisation's website. It had submitted an Annual Communication on Progress for 2018 but it did not contain figures. It did, however, contain this paragraph:

"Our external goal is to be using 100% sustainable solutions for palm oil and palm products by 2030. In 2015, started investigating materials used in its products that contain palm oil or palm oil products. In 2016, GSK and the Rainforest Alliance co-developed a sourcing standard for palm oil materials. GSK set its targets for sustainable palm oil sourcing which includes book & claims as an option. Since then, GSK engages with suppliers of palm oil, palm oil derivatives and palm kernel to understand if they have responsible sourcing standards in place. In 2017, GSK joined the RSPO and in 2018 started purchasing book & claims credits. In 2019, we contracted 4% mass balance physically certified glycerine and 100% segregated palm oil. This year, we are working internally to increase our maturity level and moving towards a higher percentage of physical certified material for glycerine. If we are not able to meet our 100% sustainable solutions targets via physically certified materials due the inability of finding enough physically certified material to cover our volumes for example, we will use certificates to cover the gap between physically certified materials and our total purchases."

A document on its website was found titled "Deforestation-Free Sourcing", dated November 2018. It stated:

"GSK uses approximately 30,000 tonnes of materials made of palm oil in a variety of products, a very small amount of this comprises pure palm oil; the vast majority of our use is palm oil derivatives. Of this, 80% is glycerine, with the remainder being oleochemicals used in a variety of products... Our aim is to ensure that all palm oil and its derivatives used in our products are free from deforestation. This is an ongoing challenge due to the complex nature of supply chains; however, we are gradually moving towards its realisation. We regularly assess our supply chain against our internal sourcing standard, developed in conjunction with the Rainforest Alliance. To date, our analysis has found that the majority of our palm oil materials are sourced from suppliers with sustainable sourcing policies in place. For those that don’t, we work with them to ensure that they develop improvement plans. If the supplier does not show satisfactory progress, we may take additional action such as finding an alternative supplier."

While GSK appeared to be attempting to tackle the issue, overall it was still using uncertified palm products and was at a pretty early stage of dealing with this. It thus received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for palm oil sourcing and lost a whole mark under the Palm Oil category.

Reference: (16 April 2020)