Clorox & Sierra Club: The Good, The Bad, The Green

We’ve talked a bit here about Greenwashing and the importance of honesty and accountability in Green marketing campaigns. I came across an interesting case study that has some celebrating success and others crying foul.

As was reported in January, Clorox was granted permission to use The Sierra Club’s name and logo to sell its “Green Works” line of cleaning products, in exchange for Clorox paying an undisclosed percentage of sales to the environmental group.

The campaign brought with it both controversy and cash for Clorox.

AdAge reported yesterday that “Green Works sales are estimated at $20 million and the product with the Sierra Club tie-in has gotten exposure on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ and ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show,’ resulting in Clorox raising its volume forecast five times.”

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club has been slammed by members and non-members alike. Four Sierra Club chapters actively and publicly opposed the deal, which, according to some accounts, resulted in 27 leaders’ expulsion from the group.

In fact, a quick search turns up many blogs by angry Sierra Club members decrying the partnership. In the political blog Counterpunch, former member Karyn Strickler insists the Sierra Club sold out to Clorox. And, Tim Hermach, also a former member, writes in his Green Change Blog that The Sierra Club has become “just another corporate front.” He goes on to say, “They are whoring the environment for financial gain, they’ve lost their mission and lost their way.”

Betsy Roberts, a former chapter chairwoman, and Karen Orr, a former chapter political-committee chairwoman, blasted the suspensions in blogs and online environmental publications, arguing it happened as the national group pursued “its unsavory new focus on lucrative revenues from corporate donations.”

Green Works’ brand manager, Mark Kohler dismisses the criticism as “misinformation” and says the negative press has been “frustrating” for Clorox.

Amid protests and Sierra Club suspensions, Clorox sought to reassure customers that its environmental claims were genuine, and not just hype or Greenwashing with PR messages in various blogs, in “guest essays”, and interviews, as well as publicity stunts like representatives from Clorox and The Sierra Club jointly ringing the bell to open trading.

Still some environmental experts questioned the Sierra Club’s decision to back Green Works without a standardized review process that applies to other products, too.

“It sounds risky both to Clorox and the Sierra Club,” said Scot Case of the group EcoLogo, which sets environmental standards for products. “I would want to know exactly how the Sierra Club made its determination. Unless they are going to publish the standard that products have to meet, it sounds like a form of greenwashing.”

As Green marketing continues to grow and more brands hop on the bandwagon, this Clorox case study should be a lesson to us all. An argument could easily be made that sales are up, so who cares if there is criticism. But, it will be interesting to see what kind of backlash continues and how/if that impacts the overall brand.

Similarly, with the Sierra Club bearing the brunt of the backlash (the notion being that of course Clorox did this, they’re corporate; but a trusted environmental group should have known better), it’s highly doubtful this group and others of its kind will be quick to offer product endorsements in the near future.

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