What Women Really Want in Green Products

For those who read the recent New York Times article about the fall in sales of green products, and in particular, green cleaners offered by companies such as Clorox and Arm & Hammer, I offer a silver lining.

Eco-capitalist Tom Szaky aptly speculated that the reason for Clorox's fall, while independent green brands such as Seventh Generation and Method remained unaffected, was because Clorox appealed to "light green" consumers who don't prioritize the environmental benefits of their cleaner. Meanwhile Seventh Generation and the like appeal to the "dark green" consumers who remain steadfast in their sustainability commitments.

Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of Shelton Group, also responded to the NYT piece as well as a more recent article by GreenBiz Executive Editor Joel Makower, who declared green marketing dead. While Shelton acknowledged that marketing products with an "it'll save the planet" message is dead, she added: "Very few Americans have ever bought stuff because they want to save the planet. As I've hammered home in this blog countless times, people buy green products for a host of other reasons -- to feel more comfortable, to gain peace of mind, to limit the chemicals their families are exposed to ..."

It's important to make the distinction between environment and health as consumer motivators. People may not buy a product because of the amount of plastic or kilowatts of energy saved, but they are willing to buy a product they know will protect their health. Contrary to the belief that "green marketing is over," I see an opportunity for companies to capture a larger slice of the dark green consumer market, grow the green leanings of the average consumer and empower the customer to make wise decisions, which would help the sector across the board. That opportunity is women's health.

Women make 95 percent of the household purchasing decisions in U.S., and are more likely to be green homeowners. Women have a longer list of satisfaction criteria -- that is, if you're able to satisfy a woman with your product, you're almost guaranteed to satisfy a man. Women also still do over 70 percent of the household work, despite women's lib. And, 89 percent of professional cleaners in this country are women.

Women are also uniquely influenced by chemicals in cleaners. Chemicals like phthalates are contained in certain conventional cleaners, and have been linked to higher rates of breast cancer, infertility, endometriosis and hormone disruption -- afflictions that disproportionately affect women. Additionally, women are the first environment for the next generation. Many chemicals stored in a woman's body are passed onto her child during pregnancy and later through breast-feeding.

This makes women especially vigilant about toxic chemicals in her environment and potential health hazards -- and they are taking action.

In 2007, Women's Voices for the Earth released a report, "Household Hazards," citing the numerous chemicals that are contained in cleaning products -- everything from drain cleaner to air fresheners. The public uproar and media pressure around this report and subsequent ones have spurred thousands of women to make their own nontoxic cleaners, and numerous corporations to change their ways. SC Johnson has started their "What's Inside SC Johnson" bilingual website, listing all chemical ingredients (except fragrances). Clorox has removed phthalates and synthetic musks, which can impair the body's defense system against other chemicals, from their products. All are great efforts to make cleaning products safer and more mainstream, yet none have prevented their sales from falling.