Fast Company

Green Washing

I enjoyed reading your excellent article about the Sierra Club's endorsement of the new Clorox Green Works line ("Cleaning Solution," September). As marketing professors and researchers, my colleague Cathy Hartman and I have been studying environmental nonprofit-corporate "green alliances" since the mid-1990s, and one of our early case studies focused on a similar arrangement between Loblaws (a Canadian grocer) and Pollution Probe (a Canadian environmental group). Pollution Probe endorsed Loblaws's private line of household products and received a small royalty to cover lab testing and certification costs. Many Pollution Probe contributors, members, and staff viewed the partnership as a "corporate sell-out." Worse, Greenpeace found fault with the products. The controversy ultimately led to the termination of the endorsement deal and the tarnishing of Pollution Probe's reputation. The key lessons: Environmental group -- corporate relationships must be transparent, and the nonprofit cannot be seen as benefiting financially.

The Sierra Club's primary expertise is in public-policy issues, not chemistry; other nonprofits, such as Green Seal, could have provided Clorox with a better and less-controversial certification-endorsement relationship. Your article notes that Green Works qualifies for the EPA's Design for Environment label, and this should be promoted by Clorox. Government approvals such as Energy Star and USDA-certified organic labels have become respected in the marketplace, and Clorox could build a better competitive advantage by educating the public about this lesser-known EPA label's meaning. This strategy would have allowed both Clorox and the Sierra Club to avoid this entire "green wash" controversy.

Edwin R. Stafford
Logan, Utah

It's hard for me to decide which partner has the more pathetic motive for the shotgun marriage between Clorox and the Sierra Club. Is it Don Knauss, who seeks to buy street cred with consumers by paying a sales commission to a nonprofit to use its logo? Or is it Carl Pope, who claims that Sierra Club's decision to license its identity for undisclosed compensation stems from an organizational change of direction with a new mandate for "making good things happen"?

Tony Infante
Brighton, Michigan

Add New Comment

0 Comments