What are the "greenest" brands in the U.S.? Until we can define "green," there's no meaningful way to answer that question. Of course, that doesn't stop people from having, and expressing, opinions.
Last summer, a group of agencies owned by the giant marketing and communications company WPP -- the PR firm Cohn & Wolfe, branding experts Landor Associates and pollster-consultants Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB) -- joined with Esty Environmental Partners, a consulting firm run by Yale prof and author Dan Esty, to survey about 5,000 consumers around the world about green products, companies and brands. This Friday, the agencies will host a lunch in New York where I'll moderate a panel (see below) to talk about the survey, called Green Brands, Global Insights.
The survey produced all sorts of interesting results -- would you believe that 38 percent of consumers in Brazil are willing to spent 30 percent or more for green products? -- but what jumped out at me was the list of the U.S.'s greenest brands. Here goes:
1. Clorox Green Works
2. Burt's Bees
3. Tom's of Maine
4. SC Johnson
To which I can only say: I would never, ever have predicted that list.
On the bright side, I'm impressed that some Americans know that SC Johnson and Ikea are among the most environmentally responsible companies in the world, although I wouldn't have thought of SC Johnson, which makes Windex, Raid and Saran Wrap, as a brand.
Seeing Clorox's GreenWorks line atop the list doesn't surprise me. I'm told the company spent $30 million (a figure I can't confirm) to promote the new brand, so it looms larger in the minds of consumers than, say, Seventh Generation and Method, competitors whose ethos strikes me as deeper green. I've never bought a GreenWorks product but I happily spend my money on Seventh Generation and Method.
Toyota presumably gets credit for the Prius, which overshadows its gas-guzzling trucks and minivans.
Walmart, we could argue about. The company would definitely make my list.
The names that surprised me are Disney and Dove.
Disney, it turns out, has a slew of environmental initiatives underway, but few have crossed my radar screen, perhaps because my kids outgrew the Disney world some years ago. The company announced targets earlier this year to reduce emissions, waste and fuel use. Maybe movie-goers give Disney credit for the Wall-E movie, an environmental cautionary tale. On the other hand, Disney operates a couple of cruise ships that spew thousands of tons of greenhouse gases and it sells an awful lot of junk (food and souvenirs) at its theme parks.
Dove is more of a puzzle. Greenpeace International ran a campaign against Dove in 2008 because the company that makes it, Unilever, is said to be the world's largest consumer of palm oil. Palm oil cultivation is a major cause of deforestation To its credit, Unilever, which has been an environmental leader for a decade or more, agreed to strongly support efforts to halt deforestation. But it's hard to see how that makes Dove a green brand. It may be that Dove's path-breaking and praiseworthy Campaign for Real Beauty led consumers to believe that a company that wants to free women from beauty stereotypes is also likely to be "green."
All of this points to the need for independent standards to help guide consumers–who do care about the issues–through a thicket of environmental claims. Wal-Mart's sustainability index can't come soon enough.
In the meantime, we'll dig deeper into the survey on Friday. I'll be joined by Mark Penn of Penn Schoen & Berland, consultant and author Dan Esty, Russ Meyer, the chief strategy officer of Landor and Annie Longsworth, who leads the sustainability practice at Cohn & Wolfe. The event is by invitation only but feel free to email me (marc.gunther -at- gmail.com) to request an invitation.
GreenBiz.com Senior Writer Marc Gunther is a longtime journalist and speaker whose focus is business and sustainability. Marc maintains a blog at MarcGunther.com. You can follow him on Twitter @marcGunther.