NY Times Says Green Sales Are Down, But Misses the Real Point


Image: Stephanie Dillingham via flickr

The New York Times has a story today about how the recession has caused consumers to stop buying green products, citing plummeting sales of mainstream brands' green products as a sign that "consumers' love affair" with green has faded like "a bad infatuation."But the story takes a weirdly narrow view before making such a sweeping generalization: it focuses primarily on the performance of Clorox's Green Works brand—which has been accused of greenwashing for years—and mentions falling sales of the green products that other major brands have put out, including Arm & Hammer, Windex, Palmolive, Hefty and Scrubbing Bubbles.

The crux of the story, however, is that while sales of major brands' green products are down, independent brands are faring just fine. From the same NY Times story:

The market share of the independent brands, like Method and Seventh Generation, is starting to increase relative to the shares of traditional brands' green products in categories where they compete.

And Amazon, which recently compiled and released consumer purchasing data, found that sales of green products, from garden-to-table to green toy and baby items, have been up nationwide.

Maybe the real story is that greenwashing efforts are failing, while legitimate efforts to go green are faring well—despite the recession?

The Back Story to Green Works
The Green Works line, the main focus of the Times story, is the perfect example to look at a little more closely. Clorox received the endorsement of the Sierra Club, but rather than convince people of the green goodness of Clorox products, that partnership instead raised doubts about both entities.

Take a look at what Green Inc. author, for example, told TreeHugger in 2008:

Many of the marketing agreements - such as the Sierra Club's endorsement deal with Clorox Co. - are not subject to any product testing or comparisons.

Sierra Club, for instance, didn't do any testing to find out Clorox's line of environmentally-friendly household cleaners are better than other products on the market before agreeing to Clorox's offer.

A Fast Company story digs a little deeper:

Jessica Frohman, the volunteer cochair of the [Sierra Club]'s toxics committee, says her panel never took the standard vote on the Clorox products: "The Green Works proposal said CONFIDENTIAL all over it. My committee never saw it. My cochair and I did ask [Clorox] a lot of questions -- we wanted to know what was in the product." ... "the people who serve on these committees are more policy wonks than chemists. There isn't anyone in the Sierra Club who's going to guarantee anything about those products. If it were up to me, I would have done a lot more investigation down that path... . It doesn't make me thrilled, to be perfectly honest."

The Times story would make a stronger case if it had looked more closely at brands that started out as green from the start, and gave consumers a little credit for not buying the ones they don't believe in.

It might not be a bad infatuation so much as consumers waking up to what's really green and what's not.

More on greenwashing
In Green Inc., Christine MacDonald Explores Seamy Underside of Green Non-Profit World
Know When a Company Is Green And When It's Just Good at Green Imaging?
Burt's Bees is Purchased by Clorox

Tags: Cleaning | Consumerism | Greenwashing

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