Beldon Fund

Final Impact Assessment: Legacy #5

The Beldon Fund:
Final Impact Assessment

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Beldon helped shape the field of environmental health, leading to significant shifts in public awareness, corporate behavior, and government policies.

“Beldon put environmental health on the map.”

Beldon’s leadership in the field of environmental health is one of its strongest legacies, and the body of work it seeded continues to expand, long after Beldon’s exit. Its decision to focus on the intersection of human health and the environment was driven by two goals: to address the issue of toxics in the environment and to engage the new voices that were needed to strengthen the environmental movement.

“It’s amazing what Beldon did. They took an issue that was really on the margins. It is now breaking through mainstream America. It’s there in the ‘mommy blogosphere.’ ...the strategy has worked very well.”

The primary focus of Beldon’s environmental health strategy was aimed at advancing policies to regulate the use of chemicals at the state level, based on the assumption that states would drive federal policy makers to act. Five years ago, progress in states was being made, but there was little evidence that federal policy makers were prepared to address the issue. Today, a significant piece of the political landscape has shifted. In 2013, a bipartisan group of congressional leaders proposed legislation to reform the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. Many point to this as a major milestone and an indication that Congress is finally poised to act. Environmental health advocates drew a direct line between this development and Beldon’s early and sustained investments in environmental health, particularly at the state level.

“Overall the Beldon strategy worked. They were investing to create the preconditions and pressure points to force people to the table for comprehensive chemicals policy reform.”

While the Beldon Fund is closely associated with this state strategy, it was not the only funder, nor was state policy the only driver of progress. Beldon partnered with several other foundations, most notably the John Merck Fund, whose executive director also served on Beldon’s board. The two foundations pursued complementary funding strategies, which included activating different constituencies and investing in consumer and market campaigns. The interplay between the policy and market campaigns played an important role in the overall effort.

The public may have little awareness of the developments in Congress or even in state legislatures, but recent moves by corporate giants have been prominently featured in mainstream media and reflect a multi-faceted strategy supported by Beldon and partner foundations. Last year, Walmart announced that it would require its suppliers to reduce or eliminate ten chemicals in consumer products. Target Corporation announced that it would monitor its suppliers’ use of certain chemicals and give incentives to those who use safer alternatives. And both Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson are reformulating some of their products to eliminate several toxic chemicals.

These developments are voluntary corporate responses to increased public awareness and pressure from consumers. But those on the front lines of state policy battles point to the critical connection between policy and consumer strategies. As states adopt new laws, companies doing business in those states need to comply with a multiplicity of regulations governing the use of chemicals in consumer products. Many point to Washington state as an example of how action in one small state can ripple throughout an industry. A chemical disclosure law in Washington had implications for the entire supply chain of companies operating in the state, adding pressure on industry giants Target and Walmart to respond. Stricter regulation of chemicals in the EU adds to the complexity that companies face, since most operate in global markets.

Five years after Beldon’s grantmaking ceased, there is clear evidence that its strategy is continuing to have an ongoing positive impact.

“As we've seen before, wins in one state can encourage other states to adopt their own versions of these policies. And once there is a critical mass of state victories, the federal government starts to take notice and take action. We wouldn't have a federal phaseout of decaBDE flame retardants, or a FDA ban on BPA in baby bottles, without strong precedents from the states.”

“... state strategy, without a doubt, is a significant driver not only to make progress in certain states, but also in ripening the moment for federal reform. When Beldon was investing early on, it was more of a hypothesis that has now been proven.”

Many interviewees observed that the investments Beldon made five and ten years ago have now brought everyone to the table with the shared goal of overhauling federal polices regulating chemicals. The question now is whether Beldon’s former grantees will have sufficient influence to shape the ultimate policy in a way that is acceptable to the constituencies they represent. Since much of the momentum for congressional action has been driven by different state regulations, it is no surprise that lawmakers are considering a policy that preempts the states. The untimely death of Senator Lautenberg, the Senate’s leading champion for chemicals policy reform, has led some to observe the Shakespearean elements of the debate. Beldon can take credit for helping to set the stage, but the final act has yet to take place.