Are “green” products declining?

by on April 22, 2011 at 9:18 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

The number of household cleaners with green claims introduced in 2008 was 144, up from 29 in 2007. By 2009 that had dropped to 105, according to Mintel, a research firm. Green dishwashing liquid followed a similar pattern, with 14 introductions in 2007, 85 in 2008, then 58 in 2009.

The story (1/20) is here, and it is adequate to stick with that quotation above (not worth one of your twenty).  Some of this switch is due to the recession, but I wouldn’t assume that green products will make a big comeback with better times (there is related comment here).  Consumer brand stickiness is legendary, altruistic trends need a big oomph to get off the ground and they need to be seen as cool and up-and-coming, and consequently there is no reason to favor a Whig interpretation of history in this matter.  Possibly the bubble has been burst.

1 Lou W April 22, 2011 at 9:25 am

Or perhaps it is now assumed? There might no longer be a perceived competitive advantage to bragging that you are green.

2 Rahul April 22, 2011 at 10:55 am

Great point. “Green” has been over-hyped and a cliche now.

3 Jim April 22, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Precisely so. The use of the terms “carbon footprint” and “greenhouse gas” are also way down, now that the Global Warming cat is out of the bag. It’s more common to hear a reference to a generic “footprint” with the carbon tag gone down the memory hole.

Somewhat related: For years, those spam pop-ups for refinancing said “Obama Unveils New Plan to Help Homeowners!!” but just yesterday they switched to “The President…” instead. Even the spammers are abandoning Barry. Sad, sad days for a once-great Messiah.

4 Erik April 22, 2011 at 9:30 am

I believe that the issue is that the “green” offerings from the major brands amount to greenwashing and opportunism. They charge a premium for the green versions because they think they can. The marginal “green” consumer, in times of plenty, will pay this extra charge to go green while sticking with a familiar brand, and abandon that product when they want to conserve money.

People who really are conscientious consumers, however (core “green” and not marginal “green”) eschew the major brands, including their green offerings. They go with niche brands that truly care about their product claims beyond the bottom line increase in sales (Method soap, for example).

Many completely opt out and make their own. For example, rather than using an antibacterial kitchen spray, I mix a little bit of liquid soap with tap water and tea tree oil (an antiseptic). It cleans just as well, has antiseptic properties without being too aggressively antibacterial (superbugs), and I don’t pay to ship a bottle of water across the globe. Best of all, each bottle costs pennies.

I would gladly see Clorox and its competitors take their green products off the market because I think their marginally green product offerings can be very confusing (and costly) to the marginally green consumer who has enough impetus to act impulsively but not enough to invest in really learning about the subject.

5 Eric April 22, 2011 at 10:16 am

Core green v. marginal green — how awesomely pretentious (as is DIY signaling).

Do you have any real complaints about the specific products on the market, other than the cost?

6 anon April 22, 2011 at 10:37 am

If it costs more to produce, what makes you think it uses less resources?

7 Hasdrubal April 22, 2011 at 3:32 pm

It may use more resources, but if those resources are renewable, or their production and use is less harmful to the environment, you might still be able to reduce your environmental impact. You can certainly shift your consumption away from impacts that you care about and towards impacts that you don’t care about/don’t see.

At least, think that’s the reasoning behind green products.

8 Rahul April 22, 2011 at 11:23 am


Have you ever tried estimating your per-capita energy consumption? Now, does that metric make you core or marginal?

You can wax endless about Clorox and soap but are those really the “core” of your energy consumption?

9 Erik April 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm

No, and I never claimed them to be the core of my energy consumption. I live in high-density housing, keep my thermostat down, take public transportation or walk, use high-efficiency lighting, have a kill switch on my power outlets, buy most of my food from sources that are less than 100 miles away, and try to make only conscientious purchases. Now before anyone pictures me as a pretentious granola hippy, I want to say that I live an otherwise perfectly normal life. I just try to be conscientious of what I spend my money on and to whom it goes.

As far as the products go, take CVS’s “green” version of Windex. What they have done is removed the bleach and phosphorous. They have made it better than the “real” thing, while making it streaky and less effective. It’s not really green, it’s designed to make people feel like they are doing something good. It’s psychographics and niche marketing. What I meant by “marginal” was to refer to people that would grab that product, and feel that they have done their part, either for their family’s health or for the planet. They people that feel like they should be doing something, but basically stop thinking there and then make emotional purchasing decisions. What I meant by “core” is, regardless of a person’s actual purchasing behavior, someone who tries to behave in a consistently conscientious manner.

I don’t DIY as a signaling behavior. Which part of “I don’t pay to ship a bottle of water across the globe. Best of all, each bottle costs pennies.” did you not understand?

10 Tatyana Deryugina April 22, 2011 at 9:32 am

The number of toothpaste products is also down, apparently (original source is WSJ, not Colbert, but I couldn’t find the article):
It could be that variety as a whole is declining – it would have been more informative to report it as % of products introduced. For all we know, new product introduction could be down across the board.

11 Clinton April 23, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Exactly what I thought when reading the post. If introduction of non-green cleaners is also down then it’s not about green. What % of them are no longer manufactured versus % of non-green introductions no longer manufactured over the period. Consumer brand stickyness is legendary, but that obstacle is also faced by non-green product introductions.

12 Mike Giberson April 22, 2011 at 9:34 am

Perhaps fewer green product “introductions” were needed because many green products were already on the market?

Wouldn’t sales of green products be a better indicator of the advance or decline than new product introductions? Perhaps introductions are one indicator of the strength of the market segment, but seems too limited to support the suggested conclusions.

13 Phil April 22, 2011 at 9:58 am

This refers to the introduction of NEW green products. If the older green products are still around, maybe it’s just that the market is saturated. The market share of green products overall could still be increasing, perfectly consistently with the above quote.

14 Phil April 22, 2011 at 9:59 am

Er, didn’t see the other comments before I posted. Shame on me.

15 Erik April 22, 2011 at 10:17 am

I read the article this morning and was thinking about it before this post, so I accidentally responded to a portion that wasn’t included in the post. Sales are also declining:

“Sales have gone south, too. In the 12 months through March, sales of Nature’s Source Scrubbing Bubbles all-purpose cleaner have dropped 71 percent, to $589,614, according to the SymphonyIRI Group, which tracks sales at mass-market United States stores, excluding Wal-Mart. Nature’s Source Windex dropped 35 percent, to $1.8 million. Nature’s Source Scrubbing Bubbles tub and tile cleaner dropped 61 percent, and Nature’s Source toilet bowl cleaner dropped 78 percent.”

I do think that one other factor here is supermarket shelving strategy. Because shelf space, particularly the best, eye-level shelf space, is limited, and spots are coveted, the major manufacturers strategically introduce new product lines and extensions just to capture additional space and keep out rivals. The beer companies do it with their “microbrew” strategies where they have a sister line of separately branded “microbrews” to keep out the actual smaller breweries. Chemical companies are doing it with “green” lines as a defensive move against brands like Method. However, it is a costly strategy, since many of these SKUs would not survive on their own business cases alone. When times get tough, consumers pull back, but so do the brands, so it’s a double-whammy if you look at the sales statistics. In marketing terms, both the “pull” and the “push” are dialing back enthusiasm.

16 Bill April 22, 2011 at 10:20 am

1. The number of brand introductions per year declining (the derivative) is not the same as the number of brands in total increasing each year, ie, fewer brands introduced each year still means the number of brands are increasing.
2. Income elasticity of green products probably is high, but if you look at it from one manufacturers perspective, you might also be looking at greater competition from new brand introductions.
3. As more green products get introduced, the premium on green declines.
4. FTC scrutiny on green claims may also effect product introductions, claims and product withdrawals over this period.

The real question I would ask would be did the non-green formulations of products change so that they would become closer to green.

17 Bill April 22, 2011 at 10:23 am

The other problem with the article is that it didn’t control for the normal occurence of brand formulation withdrawals that happen to all new products and brand variations.

18 Bill April 22, 2011 at 10:45 am

Also, if you are a multinational food or cleaning supply company, you have to be thinking green for, say, Western Europe, and once you’ve done the formulation and product positioning, you can replicate elsewhere.

19 SteveX (formerly Steve) April 22, 2011 at 11:02 am

In the marketing world, is there a predicted life expectancy curve for any new strategy (i.e. a hook or gimmick) such as “green”, “less-filling” or “super-sized”? Wouldn’t a lot of the “fashionabiity” of any particular advertising strategy be just as sensitive to buyer interest fatigue as the product itself?

20 Bill April 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Think low fat.
Yet it remains a significant segment.

21 J. Daniel Wright April 22, 2011 at 10:21 am

What if this result is because green products are inferior to pre-existing non-green products? For example, the Wall Street Journal published an article last month about how the trend in Consumer Reports’ ratings of washing machines has been affected by regulation to make them more green and efficient.

22 Bill Harshaw April 22, 2011 at 10:45 am

The Prius just passed 1 million in sales. But one can display your superior taste much better with a Prius than with green household products.

23 Dean Sayers April 22, 2011 at 11:09 am

What percentage of net cleaning products did these figures represent? How many of them are still on the market? These numbers could just as easily represent a near-complete saturation of the market of cleaning products, to the point that green products are “everywhere” and there is nowhere else to introduce them.

24 Edward Burke April 22, 2011 at 11:10 am

Tried a “green” toilet cleaning product last year. “Green enzymes”, the label declared, would freshen the toilet bowl at least as effectively as the bleach-laden blue stuff I formerly squeezed in. On the surface efficacy seemed commensurate, but vigorous brushing was required with both products, so I defer judgment there. However, the bubbly froth residue from the “green enzymes” circulated in the water after as many as three flushings. So while the product may be less offensive chemically, in terms of water consumption, I found it not an attractive product and have since returned to the bleach-laden blue syrup, which offers a distinctly cleaner smell, too, not an inconsiderable olfactory merit.

25 Gene Callahan April 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm

If you had a septic system, Edward, you would be destroying its workings with bleach as well.

We can get away some of our behaviours only because the cost can be passed on to the city water system, or the users of the ocean, etc.

26 Jesse April 22, 2011 at 11:23 am

I agree with @Erik. The very first clause of the NYT article — “When Clorox introduced Green Works” — made me think greenwashing. Nowhere in the rest of the article (or in a supermarket) is there a definition of “green” — but since 2008 when the article says green got big, consumers have brought their smart phones along to the market. Part of shopping green these days IMHO is second guessing the brand and/or trying to find out what their green claims really mean. Consumers may be defining green for themselves, which makes it harder for market analysts to quantify.

27 RR April 22, 2011 at 11:50 am

The green in my wallet has certainly been declining.

28 Dan Weber April 22, 2011 at 1:19 pm

I forget the citation — possibly NYT — but green cleaning products have saved companies money since they are less harsh, and so cause less injury to the cleaning staff.

You still have to pull out the big guns every once in a while, though. A month ago I couldn’t find anything else and used Soft Scrub to clean the stovetop, and my wife saw it later and said “wow, thanks for cleaning.”

29 Josh April 22, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Instead of always posting “1/20” I think you should start the month with 1/20 and then increment the number every time you reference NYT throughout the month… because it wouldn’t do for you to suggest that more than 20 articles per month are “worth one of the twenty”

30 Anonymouse April 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Perhaps I am guilty of insufficiently investigating all of my consumer purchases, but the heuristic I’ve always used was the assumption that new ‘green’ cleaning products were inferior than the traditional products at their core task, that is, cleaning. If they were superior at cleaning /and/ better for the planet, wouldn’t they have driven the traditional products off the market?

I don’t care to pay a premium for an inferior product.

31 Gimlet April 22, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I believe there has also been an increase in governmental regulations/scrutiny of green labeling claims at the federal and state (particularly California) levels in that time period.

32 mulp April 22, 2011 at 3:33 pm

If oil is cheap, “non-green” cleaners based on petroleum processing are cheaper than green biologics, but as the high oil prices filter into cleaner prices, enzymes become cheaper alternatives.

And enzymes are better at many kinds of stains and dirt because they are what nature designed to really break down the offensive organics. Petroleum based solvents and surfactants along with the organics they pull into solution must be broken down, and they are broken down by enzymes. And let’s remember, oil is an organic.

The effluent from household cleaners derived from petroleum along with the other household chemicals like fertilizer have been polluting waterways where enzymes break them down, but the factories producing those enzymes are undesirable algaes which deplete the waters of oxygen and kill off the wildlife that many harvest and sell to put food on your dinner table.

Visiting Maryland, I found the politics of green pitting one commercial group against another. Builders want farmers to clean up so they can poor septic nitrogen runoff into the Chesapeake watershed. The chicken farmers want the builders to stop development and the cities to improve their water treatment. The taxpayers want the EPA to back off and let them pollute. The fishermen want the EPA to clean up the bay, but the government to stop limiting their catch which is way down from the pollution.

But hey, don’t make households clean up their act, but why isn’t government making fish and crab prices lower, and ensuring clean water for swimming and safe and abundant wildlife for fishing, crabbing, and clam digging.

33 camh April 22, 2011 at 5:23 pm

We definitely need a “spongeworthiness” scale for the 1/20 articles.

34 TheCrankyProfessor April 23, 2011 at 4:35 am

Well on my college campus Green has been replaced by Sustainable. You know, like the Sustainable Trajectory of Tuition Increases. But I joke – sustainable is the new green.

35 Rahul April 24, 2011 at 3:54 am

On our Campus Renewable is the catchword. Never figured out how, if at all, that is different from sustainable and green…….

36 Doc Merlin April 23, 2011 at 5:06 am

Most green I have tried products simply suck. They perform so poorly compared to other products than I now am statically biased against them, and don’t buy products with a label that indicates greenness. Others I have talked to say the same thing. Its no longer “green” if you have to end up using several times as much.

I am reminded of my friend who bought a green liquid dish detergent only for it to turn moldy.

37 Marc April 23, 2011 at 10:38 am

Yes i think Green Products are decling in recent times, but in a same time we are talking about about “Green”. I had used Green Products but didnt found it as powerful as toxic ones.

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