Either Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) truly had a transformational epiphany of sorts over the last few years, or it has the best public relations team in the world. For years, I’ve railed against the retailer, following highly publicized mistreatment of workers and what I’ve always felt was a group of shady people making policy in an Arkansas basement as deep in the ground as a NORAD facility. This has changed of late as the retailer not only began offering more benefits to its employees, but also began offering these benefits to domestic partnerships of all shapes and sizes, and now a seemingly genuine concern for both the health of its customers and the environment.

Wal-Mart

Today, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) announced that it would begin phasing out ten hazardous chemicals from the fragrances, cosmetics, household cleaners and personal care products at its stores, while requiring more disclosure from its suppliers. No word was given as to which ten chemicals would be eliminated, with the company saying that it needed time to work with suppliers first.

Wal-Mart showing concern for more than the bottom line

They are not alone in this industry shift. In 2012, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) pledged to remove two chemicals, along with formaldehyde and parabens, from its personal care products worldwide. Last week, citing consumer preferences, The Procter & Gamble Company (NYSE:PG) announced plans to eliminate hormone-like phthalates and the antibacterial triclosan.

I’m apparently not alone in my beliefs that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) is beginning to actually care for things outside of its bottom line. “It’s a significant step forward,” says Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, while pointing out the company is actually listening. Because of its market dominance, she says, Wal-Mart can “shift the whole industry.”

Wal-Mart part of an industry wide shift

Andy Igrejas. executive director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, agrees. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT)’s announcement is “unusually substantive,” he remarked following the announcement adding that Wal-Mart has mad a  “meaningful down payment.”

Retailers have taken other steps. In 2007, Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT) and the parent company of Sears Holdings Corp (NASDAQ:SHLD) and Kmart announced plans to join Wal-Mart in phasing out polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from products. In 2011, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) said it would stop using a controversial flame retardant.

While groups like smokers might find these changes laughable given that many of these products aren’t proven carcinogens, the changes are undoubtedly for the best. It’s far more intelligent not to smoke and to rid products of these chemicals whether proven harmful or not earlier rather than later.