Are people so fed up with greenwashing that they're giving up entirely on non-toxic cleaning products? Last month's New York Times article entitled "As Consumers Cut Spending, 'Green' Products Lose Allure" seems to be a downer at first. Sales of Clorox Greenworks and other "green" cleaning products from big brands have dropped precipitously over the past few years—perhaps because of cost or simply because consumers don't care about environmental responsibility during a recession. Commence rending of garments.
But buried in the article is this:
Sales held up at smaller, and more expensive, brands like Method and Seventh Generation, Mr. Powers suggested, because those customers tended to be more affluent and more wedded to environmental causes. Both companies say they had double-digit growth in 2010 after a flat year in 2009.
That may be only part of the story. We had the chance to visit Method's offices earlier this week, where cofounder (and occasional Fast Company contributor) Eric Ryan explained his side of the issue. "It's not that clean products are failing by any means... it's that the players that have gone into the green space are not doing it in an authentic way," he says.
Ryan likens the "played-out" eco-friendly cleaning product trend to what we have already seen with food, "where the nonauthentic brands that tried to put a proposition of health and wellness out there failed, but the authentic brands are doing great." What would you trust more for your health: Natural Cheetos or Kashi crackers?
Ryan acknowledges that the big players—Clorox Greenworks, Arm & Hammer Essentials, and so forth—did help grow the eco-friendly cleaning product category through low prices, but ultimately "they brought in people who weren't committed to moving towards the cause of sustainability."
So while we can't begrudge companies like Clorox for making non-toxic cleaning products widely accessible, they aren't winning out. It may be more of a credibility problem than anything else. If these companies want to bring in repeat customers, they have to convince them that it's more than just branding—and they can do that by making customers care about what they're buying.
[Image: Ariel Schwartz]