Earth Day Not Yet on Retail Calendar

Apr 25, 2011
Tom Ryan

While many consumers are scrambling to get their hands on a Prius
and crowding farmers’ markets, the economy appears to be outweighing
eco-consciousness when it comes to other buying decisions around green products.

article that ran last Friday, Earth Day, in The New York Times noted
that sales of many eco-friendly household products launched around 2008 to
great fanfare have fizzled over the last two years. For instance, Clorox’s
Green Works cleaning line launched in 2008 with a vow to "move natural
cleaning into the mainstream" reached $100 million in its first year.
Last year, its sales dropped to $60 million. Arm & Hammer’s eco-friendly
Essentials line has been pulled from the U.S. market three years after its

A large part of the overall decline was attributed to penny-pinching
consumers, even as prices for many mainstream green items have become more
competitive. For instance, a 32-oz bottle of Green Works All-Purpose cleaner
costs $3.29 at Stop & Shop versus $2.89 for the same-size bottle of Fantastik,
according to the article.

At the same time, the article
found major manufacturers deemphasizing green efforts not only by introducing
less eco-friendly items over the last two years, but not supporting existing
ones with marketing. According to Kantar Media, more than $25 million was spent
advertising Green Works in both 2008 and 2009, but just $1.4 million in 2010.

the green mainstream brands apparently aren’t reaching the most-desirable green
customers. Sales of independent, more-expensive brands like Method and Seventh
Generation resumed double-digit growth in 2010 following flat growth in 2009
as "those customers tended to be more affluent and more wedded
to environmental causes," the article states.

Several surveys arriving
around Earth Day pointed to still a halfhearted commitment to green causes
by many Americans:

  • The "Green is Universal" online survey for 2011 from NBC Universal
    found 91 percent of respondents agreed that if they don’t take care
    of the planet, future generations will suffer. But only 27 percent had actively
    boycotted a company due to its lack of green policies or products (still
    up from nine percent in 2009).
  • A study from L’Oréal USA found that shifts in attitudes and
    more eco-conscious behaviors are slow to come, particularly among mature
    segments of the population.
  • A survey from Ogilvy & Mather found while 82 percent of Americans have "Good
    Green Intentions," only 16 percent are "Dedicated to Fulfilling
    These Intentions." The ad agency claims that while the cost of going
    green is one issue, existing green marketing is either irrelevant or even
    alienating most Americans. The study found half of Americans think eco-friendly
    products are marketed to "Crunchy Granola Hippies" or "Rich
    Elitist Snobs" rather than "Everyday Americans."


Discussion Question: Is the green movement at retail losing steam?

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8 Comments on "Earth Day Not Yet on Retail Calendar"

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Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
10 years 17 days ago

In a world of increasing gasoline and food prices and other mounting consumer concerns, the green movement and eco-friendly products have been slightly marginalized. Many consumers must now prioritizing their purchases. That tends to modify the zeal for costly eco-friendly products.

Max Goldberg
10 years 17 days ago

When the economy tanks, consumers look for value. Too often green products do not provide that value. As a result, sales suffer. Manufactures of green products need to find ways to reduce costs. When proven green products are the same price as non-green products, many consumers will opt for the green.

Paul Hepperla
Paul Hepperla
10 years 17 days ago

The momentum around “green” is absolutely losing momentum!

The reason for this in my opinion is that, absent of moral imperatives or doing things for the “right reason,” most companies shepherding “green” have failed to show a benefit to the consumer or to connect to buying reasons.

There has to be a benefit to any consumer of “green” for it to reach mass appeal. That has not happened. Coupled with the current economic reasons, buying a product because one may “feel better” about the purchase is a luxury. Luxury goes out the window when they’re worried about being able to pay a mortgage, find a job, etc.

“Green” marketers have frankly failed to do their jobs. They’ve rested on the moral imperative argument without addressing the economics of it. To do so with any product, green or not, is never a long term strategy for success.

Gene Detroyer
10 years 17 days ago

If Clorox really meant their vow to “move natural cleaning into the mainstream,” they would not have introduced a separate Green Line of products, but converted all of their products to Green. The fact is, they really didn’t mean it.

Green marketing and traditional CPG marketing are contrary. CPG companies would rather add chemicals and unheard of and unpronounceable ingredients than make a simple Green product. Green products are about taking out of the products what the CPGs have spent time and money adding in. The marketing mantra of these two positioning is completely different. Can one imagine the next CPG product, “introducing a new laundry detergent with absolutely no astounding additives”?

The growth of the independent, more expensive brands throws out the idea that price is an issue.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 17 days ago

Was there ever a green movement at retail? Or, was it simply a flood of new “green” products pushed to the stores by the knee-jerk reactions of manufacturers to environmentalists’ spurious claims and rainbows & unicorns worldview? When added to the consumer confusion over the definition and supposed benefits of “green” and the linking of the term to failed and doubtful alternative energy projects in the media, the movement was bound to run out of gas.

Warren Thayer
10 years 17 days ago

Agree with the basic thrust here, but one thing not yet mentioned: from my own experience, whenever I try to use the “green” cleaners, things don’t get clean and I have to finish the job with Clorox or ‘nucular’ Brillo. Wish it weren’t so, but it is.

Lee Peterson
10 years 17 days ago

This issue is like the green building initiatives in that sooner or later, we’ll stop calling it “green” because it’ll be code; manufacturers and builders will just have to comply to a higher standard.

But for now, the reason green building has moved faster is that it can actually save money. That’s something anyone can get behind. “Green” CPG cannot claim that yet or, haven’t quite figured that out, i.e: what are the benefits for me…saving the planet? …A little vague.

Other massive reasons aside from cost, I suspect, are believability and effectiveness. Have you ever tried a truly ‘green’ dish washer detergent? I rest my case. A product has to work well and you have to believe that you are receiving the benefits described. And so far, for most products, neither are very clear.

Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 16 days ago

I am reminded of an earlier discussion where I talked about timing. “Green” and the cost of “green” are not in sync with today’s economic conditions. Not that “green” is not important. It is. But the “perfect storm” of “green” and the economic downturn might just sink the “green” ship. That will be a shame.


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