Can the Cleaning Industry Design a Concentrate People Will Buy?

On July 1, SC Johnson announced the launch of the Windex Mini, a pouch of concentrated Windex solution that can be mixed with water to refill and reuse old Windex bottles. This move is a critical step towards restructuring the environmentally-destructive and just plain wasteful practice of shipping water in disposable bottles, the current standard of the household cleaning industry. 

Concentrates, with their slimmed-down packaging, are both cheaper and easier for manufacturers to produce and ship while saving money for everyone involved. Furthermore, both consumers and manufacturers are able to reduce the use of plastic, waste and CO2 emissions by adding the water at home and not at a faraway factory.

Making concentrates more available to consumers, especially with a product as iconic as SC Johnson’s Windex, is a major step in the right direction. But, to be clear, it is only a step. What we need is a paradigm shift in design if we are serious about making concentrates a viable solution.

The road is littered with bolt-on concentrate ideas, like pouches, tablets and cartridges that ultimately were never adopted by consumers. The industry sees these failures as confirmation that consumers don’t care. However, these solutions only made delivering concentrates easier for the companies and didn’t make it easier for the consumer. 

In Elisabeth Rosenthal’s New York Times Green blog article "Making a Bet on Concentrated Refills," she poses the question, “Will consumers who say they care about the environment rise to the occasion as products like these are introduced?” Given the enormous benefits of mass consumer adoption of concentrates, many are watching and waiting to see if consumers, with a renewed sense of environmental responsibility or an eye for saving money, will step up to the challenge and change their habits.

I think we are asking the wrong question. Instead of waiting for permission from the consumer, the onus is on the industry to make the experience of using concentrates better. When will manufacturers rise to the occasion and rethink their designs to help consumers adopt concentrates?

If big companies are serious about concentrates, they need to improve their designs -- and pouches or vials are not the answer. They will continue to see poor consumer adoption with these bolt-on ideas that do not improve the consumer experience.

In order to reap the benefits of concentrates for consumers, retailers and the environment, the spray bottle needs to be fundamentally redesigned to offer an integrated, seamless solution.

But what cannot continue to happen is for the household cleaning industry to put out inferior-designed products and blame consumers for why they aren’t being adopted. Consumers will change if you give them a good reason to. 

There is no overnight fix to concentrates. It will take serious leadership and a sense of moral responsibility to leave the world a little cleaner than we found it. When we do, concentrates will become the obvious choice for consumers.

Spray bottles image CC-licensed by vinuthap/Flickr