Global Aquatic Ingredient Assessment™ (GAIA)

What is GAIA?

Your safety and the safety of our planet is our priority. Our scientists work tirelessly to continuously improve the impact of our products in the environment while at the same time delivering the best possible outcomes for families that use our products every day. That is why a few years ago, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health, in collaboration with outside experts and a wide range of stakeholders, created and patented a tool we call the Global Aquatic Ingredient Assessment™ (GAIA) protocol. GAIA helps us assess the potential environmental impact of ingredients in our products to inform better choices.

What makes GAIA unique and distinct from other assessment tools and models is that it aggregates data from a multitude of internal and external sources, including scientific peer-review studies and government databases. This patented tool is a breakthrough concept that enables a comprehensive look at both ingredients and product formulations that allows us to continuously improve our products -- unlike many models that sometimes just looks at one or a few aspects of products when they assess environmental impact.

There is also a common belief amongst the general public that all-natural ingredients are good for the environment and all synthetics are bad for the environment. This, of course, is a generalization. At high levels or in the wrong places, even natural substances, such as heavy metals or microorganisms, also present environmental concerns. And in many cases, lab made materials can be designed with superior environmental properties and performance. That’s why GAIA focuses on properties and not preconceptions.

How is GAIA used?

GAIA analyzes the impact an ingredient might have on an aquatic environment, focusing on the fish and plant species that live there. It scores ingredients on a scale from 0-100, with 100 representing the best environmental score. Ingredients that score 80 or above mean that they have minimal potential impact on our wetlands, rivers, lakes, and coastal estuaries, while ingredients that score 60 to 79 mean that they have low potential aquatic impacts. Ingredients with scores below 60 require additional review, risk assessment, and in some cases additional environmental testing.

We have scored almost all of our ingredients using the GAIA tool, and are working to finish scoring the remaining ingredients. In some cases, GAIA scores have helped guide decisions about what ingredients to remove from our portfolio, and which ones require more information in order to feel good about using in our products. This process supports a wide array of safety, stewardship, and sustainability programs. For example, GAIA helps our formulators make smart decisions about the best ingredients that help to create more environmentally friendly formulations. When we assess ingredients as part of our continuous product improvement, we use GAIA to identify areas for environmental risk assessments and related policies for current and future products. GAIA also helps us respond to your questions related to the environmental performance of our products and their ingredients.

To maximize our improvement of the environmental impact of our products we also share GAIA data with our suppliers on their ingredients, commercial or in development, so that they too can play an important role within the context of our innovation platforms and supplier collaborations.

GAIA and its approach is a transparent way for us to not only share with consumers what goes into their products and into the planet but it is also away for us to share with the rest of the industry the best thinking of our and external scientists on how we can all work together to improve and reduce our impact on the planet.

How does GAIA work?

The GAIA process calculates an ingredient score using what we know about the persistence*, bioaccumulation, and toxicity (PBT) properties of an ingredient, using intrinsic chemical properties so that scores are consistent over time, regardless of supplier.

Data for P, B, and T properties exist for a large number of our ingredients, so GAIA makes it possible to make direct comparisons and encourage formulators to choose the best ingredients when all else is equal. This information comes from various sources including industry and public resources like the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s TOXNET and the European Chemicals Agency database.
Data for each of the P, B and T properties are converted to a 100-point scale, and then combined to create an aggregate PBT score for the ingredient: 50% from persistence, 25% from bioaccumulation, and 25% from ecotoxicity. Persistence is weighted higher because rapid degradation limits the effects of bioaccumulation and ecotoxicity.

The final score is a single number between zero and 100. A higher score means more favorable environmental safety characteristics.

In some cases, published data are not available, and so we use modeled data, and scores are reduced for uncertainty (e.g., when in silico models are used to fill gaps in the empirical data).

Beyond ingredients, GAIA uses a mass-weighted average of all the ingredients in a product to generate the Finished Product Score (FPS). The 100-point scale is used to guide decisions about whether to release the product.

Persistence refers to the time it takes for something to break down. If something is easily biodegradable, then it is quickly broken down bio microorganisms in the environment (or wastewater facility.) Some things may also breakdown when in air (oxidize) or when exposed to sunlight. Minerals and things like sand may get smaller, but they do not change their chemical composition, therefore they are generally considered persistent. This is why we also look at other aspects like bioaccumulation, which is a measure of whether an ingredient is taken up at a higher rate than it is metabolized or excreted. Some chemicals will build up in an organism over time, and this can magnify as you move up the food chain. If those chemicals are associated with toxicity, then the problem gets worse over time, and the toxic does is passed on to other organisms. This is why typical PBT assessments look at different ecological levels – model organisms are algae, a small aquatic crustacean, and fish.