I've written before that the big companies should make enviros the target market. To be enviro, these days, is to be cool, ethical, caring and driven by values. And as people become aware that enviro-concerns are really human concerns, that toxins in our environment mean toxins in our bodies, and that a happier planet makes for happier people, the importance of green products in the marketplace is only going to increase.
Whoever gets there first is going to win in the long term.
I don't say this because I approve of greenwashing, the practice of making products seem green as a cynical marketing tactic. Of course, I abhor the practice and think, from a business point of view, it is an ultimately short term way to work, because it will backfire when customers realize they have been betrayed.
But what I want to say to the designers and product managers who come across this blog is that investment in truly sustainable product design is going to pay off and pay off big. Treating the earth kindly is not a philanthropic exercise but a profitable one (I give a few guidelines, by the way, for what I think will win enviro-customer loyalty, here and here).
And if Clorox's introduction of the Green Works line of biodegradable home cleaners is anything to go by, I'm not the only one to think so. When such a huge consumer brand thinks green is the way to go, you better worry whether it might be the way to go for your business, too.
Back when Clorox took over Burt's Bees, I wrote that I was suspicious of the giant corporation's intentions to maintain the brand's environmental credentials. I wrote that some sort of certification or transparency was needed in order to allow customers to reassure themselves.
Marketing on the basis of environmental ethics requires more than just a product. It requires a way for customers to reassure themselves that you remain true to those ethics. Indeed, I suspect that the skepticism of enviros like me is one reason big corporations have shied away from the market, fearing it could end up working against them.
That the Sierra Club is taking an undisclosed amount of cash for the endorsement is potentially problematic. By profiting from Green Works sales, Sierra Club finds itself in the position of both running with the foxes and hunting with the hounds. And schemes like this can get watered down if they become widespread.
But I still think this is an important step forward.
This partnership between an environmental organization and a corporation big enough to get green products into the mass market means that a huge amount of toxic cleaning products will be displaced and demonstrates that a major corporation can move green out of the niche. The agenda of the environmental organization moves forward, money is made, and all of us end up with a safer water supply and a happier planet.
This a victory all around, and I hope brand managers and CEOs of the major corporations take notice. If you aren't, like Clorox, the first to introduce truly sustainable products to the mass market in a trustworthy fashion, you're going to lose. If you are the first, you'll win.
Meanwhile, here's the Sierra Club's rationale for making the endorsement:
- Until now, a big stumbling block for families who want to live a greener lifestyle has been the high cost of "green" products. However, Green Works is priced anywhere from 30%-50% lower than the price of other natural products currently available.
- Research indicates that people will likely be more willing to give an eco-preferable product like Green Works a try because they trust that the Clorox name means that it will clean well.
- While most consumers do not have access to green cleaning products because they do not shop in the specialized stores where they are distributed, Green Works products will ultimately be found on the shelves of approximately 24,000 stores, giving most of the public access to these cleaners.
PS All the same, out of loyalty and sentimentality, and because it uses fewer plastic bottles and is completely organic and has no chemicals in it whose names I don't understand, I am still sticking with my Dr. Bronner's based cleaning regime.