Finding The Green

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | December 1, 2011

Being green isn't so black and white these days. But figuring out how to incorporate its principles will benefit your company in the long run.

When the idea of “green” started to trickle into the mainstream, it was easy for stakeholders to get carried away by imagining a world where everyone would drive their electric/gas hybrids (or ride a bicycle) to the store to buy their laundry detergent made with renewable surfactants and their favorite organic shampoo or deodorant in biodegradable packaging. It seemed as if the entire household and personal care market was going green—and if your company wasn’t on board, it would be left behind.

That hasn’t happened, exactly—but it has been impossible to ignore how quickly personal care and household products with a natural, organic or green slant made inroads into major retailers and enjoyed a steady ascent in revenues.

And while a tough economy has tempered the fast-paced growth once enjoyed in many sectors, there’s a more pressing fact that confronts the “green” market today: not every consumer is a hard-core greenie—and therein lies the problem.

According to OgilvyEarth, a global sustainability practice that helps brands harness the power of sustainability through strategic planning and communications, 79% of Americans characterize themselves as “somewhere in the middle” when it comes to living a green or sustainable lifestyle. They aren’t on either fringe of the green spectrum; neither fanatics or non-believers.

Consumers for the most part say they care about sustainability and want to make ecologically friendly choices, but they don’t always follow through with their actions—or more importantly for CPG companies, with their purchases. OgilvyEarth labels that situation the “green gap.” And the firm insists closing that divide is a “necessary step if we are to create a sustainable society.” (For more on how to close the green gap, see side bar below.)

One compounding issue remains the confusion caused by greenwashing companies who continue to tout claims that take advantage of consumers’ heightened awareness of words such as natural and organic. While many natural cosmetics manufacturers insist that their products are green, Organic Monitor research has revealed that the reality is very different from perception. Its Natural Cosmetics Brand Assessment report analyzed the ingredient composition of cosmetic products of more than 50 brands that make natural and/or organic claims—and not all fared well.

According to Organic Monitor, some were brandishing their skin care products as organic just because the formulations contained organic essential oils. Others were putting organic certification logos on product packaging because one major ingredient was certified. Most were making natural claims just because some ingredients were natural. It results in confusion for consumers who are left to navigate and decipher what matters and what’s reality among a slew of labels and claims, according to industry observers.

“In the US, so many brands were jumping on bandwagon just by making claims; the problem still persists in the US,” said Amarjit Sahoata, managing director of Organic Monitor.

But he insisted that the US market is making some headway.

“More and more companies are reformulating their products to substantiate those claims. Part of that is due to lawsuits and retailers like Whole Foods,” Sahoata said. “Consumers are wising up.”

Stakeholders like Sahoata and others say by adopting natural and organic standards, formulators have a clear list of permitted and prohibited ingredients and processes—and that builds consumer trust. Today, US marketers have choices ranging from the Natural Products Association (NPA) and ANSI/NSF standards to the EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE), in addition to those more prevalent in Europe, such as Ecocert and Natrue.Each sees a variety of benefits for companies who adopt their specific standards and carry their label.

“By achieving certification under the NPA Natural Seal, manufacturers help consumers cut through the confusion about what it means to be a truly natural product,” said Cara Welch, VP of scientific and regulatory affairs at NPA. “The Natural Seal also helps the natural products industry stand out in the marketplace. The first and only natural certification in the US, NPA developed the science-based
Natural Seal with a team of manufacturers, suppliers and retailers.”

So far, NPA has earned the support of more than 45 companies, both large and small, according to Welch.

“NPA is the most credible, most prestigious certifier of natural products and ingredients…the bottom line is that brands certified by NPA know the value that the Natural Seal brings to an increasingly competitive marketplace,” she said.

For personal companies trying to stake an organic claim, there’s NSF/ANSI 305, a US standard that defines labeling and marketing requirements for personal care products that are made with organic ingredients.This standard allows the “made with organic” designation for products with organic content of 70% or more that comply with all other requirements.

Like the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) regulations, the NSF standard includes requirements on organic ingredients, material, process and production specifications and labeling. The NSF standard also requires that NOP certified ingredients be used. However, it allows for these organic ingredients to undergo certain chemical processes—methods considered synthetic under the NOP.

Avalon Organics recently earned the NSF/ANSI 305 designation—and will have its completely reformulated line out in stores next year. Achieving the designation, which was part of a three-year process, is a sure sign that the firm wants to be a leader in the organic beauty space. (For more on Avalon’s revamped lineup, be sure to read the January 2012 issue of Happi.)

In the household market, NPA’s Seal can be obtained for green home care products, an area EPA’s DfE program also covers, which also provides certification for products used in the I&I sector.And just last month, NSF and the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute announced NSF/GCI/ANSI 355 Greener Chemicals and Processes Information Standard, which establishes standardized criteria for comparing chemicals and processes that help chemical manufacturers and their customers make greener choices.

How to Go Green

But not every company is—or can be—a Dr. Bronners, Avalon Organics or Seventh Generation. Yet every brand must keep its eyes open to the bigger picture. Experts contend there are ways to incorporate some green into every business model—and that might prove to be the most lasting legacy of the green movement within the household and personal care sector.

Green brand marketing consultant Marc Stoiber insists that while green is important, shifting the brand promise just for green’s sake is “brand schizophrenia.”

“A bad thing,” Stoiber said, “would be for companies to radically swing their brands over to green, especially if they have built those brands on performance, beauty or luxury. Suddenly swinging around and saying ‘we’re not that any more, we’re all green now,’ is crazy. Smart companies realize they need to stick to their strongest brand promise and not confuse the consumer.”

This, he insists, is especially true for brands painstakingly built over years. Leading brands like Nike have been around for decades, long before the idea of being green was part of their lexicon. Today, Nike is a very green company and makes a number of green shoes, including an Air Jordan model.
When the marketing team in Beaverton, OR began promoting that Air Jordan XX3 in 2008, green was the last thing consumers would have heard about. That was, unless an eco-minded friend read about it on a blog somewhere and then chatted it up during his kids’ next rec basketball game.

If being green is such a big deal, why did Nike keep the shoe’s eco attributes on the QT? Rather than shout it from the rooftops, the firm has taken a more stealthy approach to avoid confusing consumers who have come to associate its brand with performance, not use of water-based adhesives. Nike does promote its eco-minded principles and practices (search “Nike Considered” on the internet) but third parties (bloggers and green media) tell the eco side of the story to those who would value it most, and eventually that knowledge should trickle down to other consumers.

Another closer-to-home example cited by Stoiber is Unilever. The consumer products giant had been grappling with the idea of how it could create green brands, according to Stoiber, who has worked with the firm on many occasions. Today, while the CPG giant doesn’t tout so-called “traditional “green brands, it is one of the greener companies in consumer goods, said Stoiber, pointing to its efforts at sourcing sustainable palm oil, as well as its Sustainable Living Plan.

“They are building sustainability into all their products, but without shifting their brand focus,” he said.

Pathways to Green

Stoiber suggests that companies should investigate the multitude of certification standards available to them, but use the criteria as guideposts.

“Sustainability should be key—not because you want to put a green leaf on a bottle,” he said.

Throughout the personal care and household products sector, companies are finding their own avenues to green—some via acquisition, others by product. Clorox and Colgate-Palmolive are parents to some of the most prominent green brands in their marketplaces. L’Oréal’s Garnier Fructis brand touts new Pure Clean shampoo and conditioner, which feature 92% biodegradable formulas. Henkel’s Purex Natural Elements was the first major brand in the laundry care category to receive DfE recognition. Procter & Gamble has introduced sugarcane-based packaging within its Pantene line.
Zotos has wind turbines generating energy for its manufacturing plant in Geneva, NY. SC Johnson, which already sells Windex in bottles made from 50% PCR, is testing Windex Mini, a concentrated refill pouch that uses 90% less plastic packaging than a traditional 26oz trigger bottle.

“Smart brands are building green into their bands,” Stoiber said. He insists that sustainability is a key step in “futureproofing” your brand—especially when CPG companies are operating in an environment where citizen journalists, NGOs and social media can quickly change the tide of consumer sentiment, the prospects of punitive environmental legislation looms large and vital resources are diminishing and/or rising in cost.

“If you aren’t looking up and down the supply chain for green opportunities, you’re missing out,” said Stoiber. According to Stoiber, your partners probably have ideas and practices that can green your product and add great credibility to your brand. “The trick is,” he said, “to approach them with the right questions.”

And yet, there’s a darker side of the story to consider as well.

“If you choose to ignore sustainability in your production, you’re closing your eyes to increasingly punitive environmental legislation and the potential wrath of stakeholders like NGOs and citizen journalists,” Stoiber said.

“You ignore sustainability at your risk,” he continued. “Sustainability is smart business insurance, plain and simple.”

A Guide to Closing the “Green Gap”

In its “Mainstream Green: Moving sustainability from niche to normal” report, Ogilvy Earth’s offers 12 recommendations on how to close the green gap. Here are some of those ideas:

Make it normal

As marketers, our predominant instincts in the sustainability space have been to market green products as cool or different and to confer early adopter status on those enlightened consumers who join in, helping them stand apart from the masses. The great green middle isn’t looking for things to set it apart from everyone else. It wants to fit in.


Make it personal

Ask not what consumers can do for sustainability; ask what sustainability can do for consumers—and then show them. OgilvyEarth maintains that there must be a shift in sustainability marketing from polar bears to people. Messages that are personal resonate more deeply with people than messages that are abstract, lofty and remote.


Create better defaults

If green is the default, people don’t have to decide to be green. Being green often means being faced with complex choices and trade-offs in what often becomes an exhausting effort to do the right thing. What if you make it normal by making the better choice the default? Sometimes the best thing to do in the sustainability space is to remove the burden of complex choices from our overburdened consumers.


Eliminate the sustainability tax

Sin tax is one thing, but consumers shouldn’t have to pay a tax for their virtuous behavior. Governments use taxes to change behavior; they want fewer people to smoke, they put a hefty tax on smoking. In the green products market...we’re taxing people’s virtuous behavior. The high prices of many of the greener products on store shelves suggests that we are trying to limit or discourage more sustainable choices.


Don’t stop innovating. Make better stuff

High performing sustainable choices are key for mass adoption. Consumers are unwilling to sacrifice performance for sustainability. For some marketers, the challenge of overcoming the performance barrier, real or perceived, will come easily. In some cases, sustainability has ridden on the backs of credible brands. But borrowing on brand credibility isn’t always enough. Thanks to a long history of premium pricing for green, the bar for sustainable products is higher. It’s not enough to perform just as well; products have to perform better.


Lose the crunch

Just because a product is green doesn’t mean it must be packaged in burlap. We need to ditch the crunch factor and liberate ourselves from the stereotypes. And the best way to do it may be not to mention the “G” word at all. Communication should embrace the fact that sustainability is a dealmaker, not a deal-breaker, for the mainstream consumer.

Turn eco-friendly into male ego-friendly

Girly green is not a sustainable proposition for the manly man. Carry a tote, give up your 4WD truck, wear hemp t-shirts, compost…It’s true that the everyday domestic choices we need to make in favor of sustainability do not make the NASCAR fan’s heart race.


Make it tangible

Sustainability is harder to follow when you can’t see the trail. If the carbon footprint calculation isn’t easy even for scientists, then what should we expect from consumers at the point-of-sale? We need to simplify mental accounting and translate the murky benefits of sustainability into something immediate and concrete.


Tap into hedonism over altruism

The green space can seem full of self-righteous killjoy moments and people. Help consumers see all the fun they can have on the green side of life. Driving behavior change doesn’t have to be complicated. Humans respond strongly to a few common motivators—most notable pleasure and fun.

More info: www.ogilvyearth.com

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