Can a company be half green?

March 16th, 2008

I’ve been thinking about that Green Works post I did at the end of February. And about the Clorox buying Burt’s Bees post.

The problem I have, and that a lot of people who write about the environment have, is what to think of Clorox and similar companies that are suddenly going green. And are they really going green?

The environment aside, chlorine bleach is bad for you. Of course it will kill you if ingested, but it can also irritate your lungs just from breathing it. People with chronic heart disease and asthma are advised to avoid it. Does this sound like something that should be used to clean laundry or bathrooms or anything?

And Clorox is proud of their bleach. But, now they own Burt’s Bees. And they got Sierra Club to endorse their new Green Works line of cleaners. So, is Green Works greener than cleaning with bleach or with some of the chemical-laden cleaners out there? Yes, it is. Does that mean you should support Clorox?

That’s the trouble. If they think this Green Works is so great, then why still make the other stuff? My really smart husband told me that he thinks a company can’t be half green. They should be environmentally responsible in every way if they claim to be green. And I have to agree. There are lots of all-green companies that sell green cleaners. Here’s a list of some recommended brands of cleaners:



Seventh Generation

Bon Ami

If you can’t find these products in your store, ask your grocer or other store manager to order the products. Don’t want to hunt down the manager? When they ask you at the checkout, “Did you find everything you were looking for today?” say no. That’s when most stores call the manager for you. Or do it by phone, or use the Internet. Many companies now have surveys you can fill out online.

Over at Big Green Purse, you can find recipes to make your own green cleaners. These are simple ingredients like vinegar, baking soda and salt.

My co-blogger Jennifer over at Tree Hugging Family did a great post about natural green cleaners — 25 Safe, Non-toxic Homemade Cleaning Supplies. Speaking of natural cleaners, ammonia for cleaning bathroom mirrors really is overkill. I actually get the same results with just water! End of rant.

So, do you agree that a company can’t be half green, or do you think all us green hippies should just shut up and praise Clorox for trying to turn a new leaf?

18 Responses to “Can a company be half green?”

  1. Jennifer on March 16, 2008 5:31 am

    Great post. An issue I’ve been thinking about, (as you know). Overall I agree. Being half green is sort of half %$@ no? I think so. It’s sort of like the big architect debate among green builders, LEED, and traditional builders. What the green architects are saying is that it’s stupid to even have to say “green building” and that we don’t need LEED, that is if we were being responsible in the first place.

    We know the green building materials and technology is out there. If we know it’s there, why use any other options? It makes no sense. This is the same deal, we know there are green options, Clorox NOW knows this, yet all their toxic products remain on the shelf. It’s irresponsible. If you don’t have green knowledge that’s one thing, if you have it and don’t fully use it, it’s lame.

  2. Peggy on March 16, 2008 5:47 am

    I didn’t realize some architects didn’t like LEED. I like it since it provides a third-party verification. You can’t always trust builders.

    I’ve only talked to three architects about it, and they were all USGBC members, so of course they love LEED.

    Thanks for commenting. I guess I didn’t address the thing about whether or not to still buy Burt’s Bees. That’s somewhat different since Clorox isn’t also making toxic lip balm!

  3. Emily on March 16, 2008 6:19 am

    Hi! Found you on the blog thread at Absolute Write. The last time I was at the store for cleaning supplies I chose several products from the Green Works line, and though I thought they worked well and I was encouraged that Clorox is TRYING to go greenish, I agree with you that a leopard trying to change only half his spots isn’t satisfactory.

    Your post reminds me of something I read on another forum about Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign. Yeah, it’s nice that they seem to be encouraging women to stop hating themselves for all the wrong reasons, but Dove is owned by Unilever, who also makes the Axe colognes, and the Axe commercials are terrifically sexist and misogynistic. So one can only conclude that the company as a whole cares about the bottom line, and anything to sell more products, any bandwagon they can jump on, is a-okay. Or perhaps there’s one or two lonely employees with consciences who are trying to make a difference while making a living.

    In any case, thanks for a thought-provoking post. Lately I’ve been twinged more & more with how wasteful and un-green my lifestyle is. I may have to bookmark your blog!

  4. Peggy on March 16, 2008 6:33 am

    Emily, thanks so much for visiting and commenting. I hope you do bookmark me or another green site. It’s well worth it to go green. It can also actually save you money in some instances and is better for your health.

    I didn’t think about Dove being owned by Unilever. Hmm. I’m guessing that an ad agency came up with that whole Real Beauty campaign anyway. They probably based it on market research, focus groups. I hate to be cynical, but something tells me it’s not the people at Dove who pushed for it. I could be wrong though.

  5. Sam on March 16, 2008 3:32 pm

    I don’t think all you green hippies ( 😉 ) should just shut up, but I still have to dissent a bit. Bleach is an effective and relatively safe (emphasis on “relatively”) killer of viruses. It helps to prevent the spread of disease. If I were to ever start shooting up and sharing needles, I’d be all about the Clorox! And none of that “alternative” stuff, either. Real bleach. Hours of soaking in it.

    Another thing to consider is that baby steps are still steps. I think that an all or nothing view of companies who are taking small steps is counter-productive to encouraging those steps. I’d be more inclined to view it from the notion that every little bit helps.

  6. Peggy on March 16, 2008 4:28 pm

    Hi Sam. I tried to visit your site a few weeks ago and I thought it had moved or gone away. Maybe I did something wrong. It’s so nice to see you!

    Hmm, I think baby steps are good for people, but with big companies, they can do more. Another reason I was thinking about it so much is because they offered to sponsor a contest for GW starter kits at another blog. You have to decide — is this a company I want to promote? I couldn’t do it.

    Again, great to see you!

  7. Sam on March 16, 2008 5:21 pm

    No, Peggy, you didn’t do anything wrong. My blog moved from TypePad to a self-hosted WordPress installation. I guess I could’ve handled the transition better, but I’m glad you finally showed up!

  8. Peggy on March 16, 2008 8:33 pm

    Sam, I’m glad you chose WordPress. I like it much better than Blogger.

  9. badhuman on March 17, 2008 12:22 am

    I think Clorox is crap and my real problem with it is that uninformed consumers are going to think that it is a lot greener then it actually is and since they recognize the brand name they are more likely to choose it then something like Seventh Generation or Ecover which they have never heard of.


  10. Peggy on March 17, 2008 12:30 am

    Hi badhuman. I do think you are right about Clorox counting on brand name awareness to lure customers to Green Works.

    I am encouraged that I see other brands like Method in stores like Target. The only problem is that Method is more expensive than Green Works. That’s one reason I tend to promote natural cleaning like in the links to Jennifer’s post at THF and at Big Green Purse. It’s cheaper!

    Thanks for coming by.

  11. Karen-bob on March 17, 2008 6:07 pm

    Oooooh…great post and great question. Part of me wants to say (and I will) that if you compare my feeble attempts at being greener to a large company, we’re pretty much the same. I take it one observation, one lightbulb moment at a time. But I’m sure we don’t know what goes on in the boardrooms at companies like Clorox. Perhaps it’s only a money decision…”What will make us the most money? How can we make money out of this whole “green” movement thing?” Or maybe there’s a whole boardroom of “them”, and this one lonely environmentalist who is thinking, “Hey if only I can get my co-board members to see that they can make money at this, maybe they’ll eventually pull Clorox off the shelves.”

    In the first case, it ticks me off and I don’t want to support Clorox products. But then again, if it’s the second scenario, then I want to support that one lonely person and buy the product to show Clorox that green is better and there is a market out there. Who knows?

    I tend to think things to death. And that doesn’t work for these kinds of issues. Eventually, you just have to make a decision until another piece of information comes out and you have to change it.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post! ~Karen

  12. Peggy on March 17, 2008 10:45 pm

    Hey Karen. I’m glad you liked the post. Thank you.

    I guess I’m cynical because I don’t envision one lonely person fighting for green at Clorox. I kind of envision them wanting to get in on the green product hype to make more sales.

  13. Dan on March 18, 2008 2:36 am

    I think that was a great question you posed, “Can a company be half green?” There are always two sides to every story. And the flip side to this story is the Clorox bleach is actually a life saving agent if used properly. Our children are becoming more exposed to viruses and bacteria everyday. MRSA, C-Diff, HIV, Hepatitis B. These new green products on the market include GreenWorks do not kill these viruses and bacteria. While everyone wants to be more green, I think we need to move slowly so we don’t push the pendulum to far to the other side.

    Another question to ask is “Can we be too green?” The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you use Bleach to disinfect surfaces. If we neglect this fact in our schools and in our homes we are doing more harm then good. We need to clean for health not clean for green. I don’t want you to think that I don’t believe in green products, I use them everyday. I just think that there is still a place for traditional products.

  14. Peggy on March 18, 2008 3:45 am

    Hi Dan. Thanks for coming by and commenting. I agree that Green Works doesn’t kill the viruses and bacteria you mentioned. And I would not want my hospital to clean with it alone. For a little mess in my kitchen though… it’s fine.

    Some alternatives to chlorine bleach: What about chlorine-free bleach that usually contains hydrogen peroxide? Also, vinegar has been shown to kill germs. Some companies are also having great success with proving that some natural cleaning combos do kill germs. For instance Cleanwell’s hand soap is shown to kill 99.99 percent of germs and it uses all-natural ingredients like thyme!

    I can see your problem though. Since you are in the cleaning industry you need some good hard facts and EPA seals of approval. I hope that the cleaning market continues to grow in the more natural way and more tests are done to prove the disinfecting value of many natural ingredients like thyme and others. And vinegar (though it is smelly).

    Thanks again for visiting and for your comment.

  15. matt on April 9, 2008 11:25 pm

    Hi there – found you through Best Green Blogs 🙂

    I’m solidly against Clorox, but still can’t imagine not using Burt’s Bees. I suppose our family is addicated. That said, while I do feel that companies are either green or not, there is a process of going green that has to take place. Specifically with older, more established (and perhaps more historically polluting) companies.

    I only see benefits in more companies going Green – I think this is the area of most growth, and best opportunities to see change effects. Otherwise, we’d have a small, but growing number of purely green companies only.

  16. Peggy on April 9, 2008 11:45 pm

    Hi Matt. Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

    There is a difference I suppose in Green Works and that misleading Palmolive eco dishwasher detergent. They call it eco, then don’t disclose the ingredients. There’s a warning near the bottom though — it has chlorine bleach. Nice.

  17. Carolyn Erickson on April 14, 2008 7:47 am

    It isn’t cynical to think that companies want to make money. That’s what companies do, including environmentally friendly companies.

    Now, I don’t think we need to give Clorox credit for trying, because what they’re trying to do is keep their market share. But I don’t fault them for selling the old stand-bys. If they did NOT keep their other products on the shelves, they would go under. It’s going to have to be a gradual transition, spurred on by consumers and public opinion.

    Another point to think about is that when Clorox started making bleach, did anyone really know much about the environment? In other words, I don’t think they started out saying, Let’s be a big old terrible company that makes money and kills trees. That’s purely conjecture though. 🙂 I could be wrong.

    My bias: I LOVE bleach. There, I said it. I completely agree with Dan that we can’t abruptly eliminate products that kill some very resistant and sometimes life-threatening germs!

    But I also think ammonia is overkill for cleaning bathroom mirrors! And I like using natural, non-toxic cleaners for the majority of cleaning projects.

    So, I’m about half-green, I guess. 🙂

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    […] would make a nice quick stocking stuffer for a natural kind of girl. IF you don’t mind the Burt’s Bees and Clorox deal. Warning – small rant coming right about now… Personally, I’ve been thinking […]

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