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Speaking Sustainably

Does Green Really Work When It Comes to Dishwashing?

So here’s a consumer conundrum:  Which is greener -- using a greener dishwashing detergent that requires running the dishwasher two to three times because it doesn’t really get dishes clean the first time, or washing dishes by hand?

Therein lies a perfect example of why 64 percent of the population says they’re searching for greener products yet far, far fewer are actually making green product purchases. They don’t know the answer. In fact, neither do I. And, it would appear, neither does Proctor & Gamble.

In a recent NPR report about this topic -- that phosphates have been banned in 17 states so makers of dishwashing detergents have begun taking them out of their formulations -- a consumer, upon complaining directly to P&G that her dishes were coming out of her dishwasher unclean, was told by a company rep that “…maybe you should wash your dishes by hand.”


In reality, washing dishes by hand uses far more water than washing dishes in the dishwasher. Makers of dishwashers have done a masterful job over the years of figuring out how to get dishes clean using less and less water.

But there is this little problem of greener detergents -- whether it be all natural varieties from Seventh Generation or conventional products that now lack the miracle ingredient that would get stuck-on food off plates and keep it off -- not cleaning as well.

Expect that consumers will be confused and angry. We Americans value cleanliness and we value comfort and convenience way more than the environment (see our Eco Pulse study for lots of findings on this). So we won’t like that our dishes aren’t clean and we won’t like the inconvenience of having to wash some things by hand. And, by doing more hand washing, we’ll actually be making a negative impact on the environment.

The companies that get in front of this issue -- that lead the education of consumers -- will be the winners in the end. Consumers don’t like surprises. So they won’t like buying their Trusted Brands and suddenly realizing they don’t work as well.

We’ve preached this here before, but honesty truly is the best policy. Let consumers know what’s going on and why and what they can do to partner with you, get their dishes clean and still have some modicum of convenience.

The original version of this post appeared on the Shelton Group blog and is reprinted with permission.

Images CC licensed by Flickr users mastrmaq and jenny downing

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