A Green Makeover for Personal Care?

By Marc Stoiber, Maddock Douglas | March 31, 2010

Sustainability is not always a thing of beauty. In January, Maddock Douglas released a study that tracked the actual versus the perceived sustainability of more than 90 leading U.S. corporations. The results were eye-opening, to say the least.

In the Maddock Douglas study, there were entire sectors, such as electronics, that consistently led the way, and others, like airlines, which consistently lagged. But the big surprise was the number of corporations that are engaged in sustainability without receiving consumer reward for it.

Personal care product companies fell into this category. Avon, for example, scored 51 on actual and 34 on perceived. And L’Oréal scored 67 on actual, and only 37 on perceived (see chart next page)!

This is interesting because companies with lines in personal care, as well as household, such as Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, scored significantly higher in perception—despite having virtually the same “actual” scores as the personal care product companies.

Climate Counts is an established non-profit that yearly measures hundreds of leading companies in the area of climate action—Do they acknowledge they have a climate impact? Do they measure their impact? Do they declare their intentions for lowering their impact? And finally, are they taking action? Maddock Douglas partnered with Climate Counts to track the actual scores of 97 companies in 10 sectors.

Angus Reid Public Opinion is a leading consumer research company. Maddock Douglas partnered with Angus Reid to do an online poll of more than 2,000 U.S. consumers to capture the “perceived” scores. The consumers were asked to rate the companies provided by Climate Counts on their “leadership in the area of climate change.” Margin of error was +/- 2.2%. Results were statistically weighted to ensure a truly random sample.

Once we had all the “actual” and “perceived” scores, we plotted out the companies on “actual/perceived” graphs, to provide a graphic representation.

What Consumers Understand

Creating a green consumer brand entails implementing green that consumers can understand, appreciate and reward. Does acquiring a green brand help? Colgate-Palmolive’s acquisition of Tom’s of Maine may have created an aura of green in which the master brand could bask. The same could be said for Clorox’s purchase of Burt’s Bees or Kellogg’s purchase of Kashi.

What about creating a green brand from the ground up? Clorox created Green Works two years ago, and today has more than 40% of the natural cleaner market. Aveda was founded on environmental and health principles, and enjoys an incredible consumer perception as a forward-thinking green company.

The key to Aveda’s success, however, is in positioning. There are hundreds of green personal care brands in the market. Aveda stands apart because of its decidedly forward-looking, innovative stance. New ideas for packaging and formulation are wedded with sleek windmills and cool, clean European imagery. The brand stands for performance and innovation first, and green second.

Hospitality Industry Lessons

This brings us to an interesting parallel with another industry. The hotel category, like personal care, is struggling with green. Although most major hotels are engaged in green activities, they are not reaping the rewards from consumers. Could this be because consumers believe green in hotels equates with frugality? It’s well documented that consumers use approximately twice as much energy at a hotel than they do at home. This points to their need to pamper themselves and take a break from their environmental concerns.

The same could be said for the personal care industry. Consumers are loath to abandon shampoos with thick suds, because they equate suds with efficacy and luxury—not sodium laureth sulfate agents.

Could the innovation here be in repositioning green not as a sacrifice, but as a step forward? Could eco-conscious celebrities be used to tout green personal care, as they have eco-tourist destinations?

Innovation Opportunities

Companies such as Clorox are living proof that there is tremendous room for profitable innovation. But where’s the lowest-hanging fruit?

Education: Personal care is chemistry. Helping consumers understand which ingredients are considered good, and which are considered bad is just the beginning. Which personal care company will revolutionize this process? And which companies will create simple education tools to provide consumers information on packaging, energy and resource use? If personal care companies don’t do it, Walmart’s consumer sustainability index will!

Feedback: One of the hottest trends in personal care and household cleaning is Do-It-Yourself formulation. That is, blending ingredients yourself, and using essential oils for fragrance. Could personal care companies provide open feedback forums for consumers to find a territory between store-bought and home blended? Could a whole new semi-home-crafted industry spring up?

Drugstore: Like eco-tourism, green personal care is still relatively elitist. There is a huge opportunity for the company that produces green personal care products at a drugstore price.

Look beyond formulation: Aveda has scored huge points for innovative, sustainability-focused packaging; i.e., reusable lipstick tubes, 100% post-consumer waste packs, waste wood chip resin plastics. Which personal care product company will take this to the next level, introducing new ways of refilling, recycling and reusing?

A Clarion Call

Consumers have indicated that they will buy green, if the product is comparable in price and quality to non-green products. It’s a simple equation, with tremendous upside for profitable innovation. It’s time to bring the chemists together with the marketers, and create products that deliver on both personal and planet care.

About the Author
Marc Stoiber is vice president Green Innovation at Maddock Douglas. He helps clients apply a green lens to their innovation projects. Maddock Douglas is a leading innovation agency, delivering new products, servibusiness models from mind to market. More info: Marc Stoiber,604-738-8080; Website: www.maddockdouglas.com
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