Because the Consumption of Green Cleaning Supplies Isn't Very Conspicuous

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We recently did a Marketplace segment on “conspicuous conservation” — behavior meant to show off one’s environmental bona fides, like driving a Prius or mounting a personal windmill. In the Times today, there’s an article on how the recession has hurt the sales of less-conspicuous green products. Nothing in here that will surprise a reader of this blog, but it’s interesting throughout. Note especially the final line in the excerpt below. It’s a lovely, concise summary of the difference between declared and revealed preferences — and why, if you’re at all interested in describing how the world actually works, you should put all your energy into chasing the latter and ignoring the former.

When Clorox introduced Green Works, its environment-friendly cleaning line, in 2008, it secured an endorsement from the Sierra Club, a nationwide introduction at Wal-Mart, and it vowed that the products would “move natural cleaning into the mainstream.”

Sales that year topped $100 million, and several other major consumer products companies came out with their own “green” cleaning supplies.

But America’s eco-consciousness, it turns out, is fickle. As recession gripped the country, the consumer’s love affair with green products, from recycled toilet paper to organic foods to hybrid cars, faded like a bad infatuation. While farmers’ markets and Prius sales are humming along now, household product makers like Clorox just can’t seem to persuade mainstream customers to buy green again.

Sales of Green Works have fallen to about $60 million a year, and those of other similar products from major brands like Arm & Hammer, Windex, Palmolive, Hefty and Scrubbing Bubbles are sputtering. “Every consumer says, ‘I want to help the environment, I’m looking for eco-friendly products,’ ” said David Donnan, a partner in the consumer products practice at the consulting firm A. T. Kearney. “But if it’s one or two pennies higher in price, they’re not going to buy it. There is a discrepancy between what people say and what they do.”


I don't think it's a total disconnect - you give me a green product at the same price and I will buy it EVERY time. I want to buy green, but with the extra expense - I can't afford it.

It's not as simple as a disconnect because, all things equal, I would do exactly what I say I want to do and that is to buy green.

But the extra dollar or more hurts me in ways that affect my economic survival and my monthly budget - which means I have no choice but to buy cheaper when I do want to help the environment and buy green. That still stands but my choice is involuntarily altered by things I can't control easily - like my income in a bad economy.


Right.Buy a Toyota Pious and show the world your creds. Buy green cleaning products and you've internalized the feel good component so if it costs more or doesn't work as well or smells funny it's easy to backslide since no-one will know. Revealed preference is always the right measure - that's why opinion polls are basically worthless and easy to skew.


I was a consumer for a while of "green" laundry detergent, dishwasher soap, and a few other products. In my experience none of these products worked anywhere near as well as the generics. The dishwasher soap even left the dishes unclean and smelling like rotten eggs. Maybe there are new brands and I should try them again, but my decision to switch was not price based.


Allison, there are some amazing products out there (and yes - I sell them). There are not in stores. I didn't come on this website to find 'customers', I was actually doing some research about 'green product popularity' for my own benefit. Nontheless, I do sell some great stuff, it's certified green and good for the environment. It also comes with a 6 months 100% money back guarantee. So ... let me know and I'm happy to set you up with some samples. :)


When I first tried these products I was willing to pay more per unit (normally fluid ounces) for the green products. I stopped buying green cleaning supplies when I realized that I had to use regular products to actually get something clean.

Consuming a green product in high quantity and a regular product to achieve the same result can't be greener than just using what works in the first place.


What about brands that are perceived to be more trustworthy? Method comes to mind. I buy Method (and other similiar brands) products because with other brands I feel like I need to do research before I know I'm not just buying into Clorox' greenwashing.


Maybe consumers are wising up a bit and realising that you can actually just clean your whole house with vinegar, and all those cleaners are a load of crock?

john McP

Same occurs daily on any interstate highway, just watch which of the vehicles is moving fastest. Gas prices have not altered behavior to any measurable point yet. People may whine and moan but they keep their foot to the floor. I am passed while driving the speed limit by all manner of 5000lb+ vehicles requiring $100 bills to fill their tanks. They simply do not find gas expensive.

As an economist myself, i simply watch how money moves and do not listen to the vox populi.

Gary L.

Most people haven't changed, but some have. For years I drove with a lead foot on the highway, but I've been slowing down, particularly over the last couple years. That said, it took comparing my fuel consumption over several months to finally convince me to drive at (or at least, near) the speed limit.

I was regularly doing 70 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. Now I stick to 58 - 60. An average auto is 15-20% more efficient at 60 MPH than 70 MPH. I figure I'd go out of my way to buy gas if it was 10% cheaper, I should be willing to drive a bit slower to achieve similar savings.

Have horse, will tilt.

I've built my windmill, and I've got a deposit down on the horse.

paul o,

Even if green cleaning products cost the same, the regular cleaning products are a better value since they are more concentrated.

If I was looking for a weak cleaning solution, I'd just use vinegar which is much cheaper than the green products.


Maybe so, but I wonder how sales compare at companies that weren't just jumping on the green wagon... like Seventh Generation? I tried some Greenworks products, but Clorox's motivations to create the very same fad they now decry seem obvious. I'll stick with the company that's been doing it all along.


"Go green" is heard everywhere in India too but very few actually follow it here! I worked in a construction project for an American software developer in India, where the original project was supposed to be a Platinum rated green building. But because of the recession, it was slowly dropped to gold and then silver rated. Finally when went for LEED certifcation, they could get only the basic LEED certification, not even silver!!
Thats the impact of "recession on green"!!!



Some commenters have already mentioned the possibility that people who discover expensive "green cleaners" have moved on to truly green cleeners like vinegar or lemons or baking soda, which are cheaper than any cleaners.
They say sales of Greenworks have fallen, but how does that compare to sales of traditional cleaners? If they have risen by about the same amount, then the theory holds, but if they have stayed flat, or dropped too, then there might be other forces at work.

Ms Marshall

The article ALSO mentions that non-mainstream brands like Seventh Generation and Method are GAINING market share in relative proportion to crappy mainstream cleaning products. I call them crappy because they are low-end, made for the masses, with scents that are composed of known carcinogens, yet completely unregulated (scents) because of claims of propriety.....blah blah blah. So, what I find to be interesting is that there is the working poor (who are also obese and disease ridden) spent a few extra pennies when it was fashionable, but now it is fashionable to save every penny, with complete disregard as to the externalities of crappy mainstream products (not that the green-washed mainstream products were any better, like the joke "Green Works", but I digress). So, the growing numbers of people who understand that their health is their wealth are preferring the products that are better for their individual and family health are buying more and more of the good stuff. That is what *should* be looked at....otherwise, who cares about the poor who do not care about themselves. Let them eat cake....or more rancid oils in their pre-packaged foods and have another cigarette/beer~



As the one responsible for cleaning, food shopping, I have to say, lots of households just like mine still use green products, but focus on self made cleaning solutions using vinegar, baking soda and other natural ingredients. Why would I pay 10 times as much for store bought?

Ms Marshall

Why should you pay more for store bought?.....because you are an American...and therefore a resource or a consumer. Making your own is un-American and bad for our economy. How selfish of you. There is an entire global economy built on American's consuming patterns. So you are not only selfish but also undermining the dominant paradigm. Shame on you.


Maybe the problem here is that real eco-conscious consumers know that you can clean your house with baking soda and vinegar, so what's the point in buying some stupid Clorox product?


I market for manufacturer of green products who has had tremendous growth over the past few decades. These products are safer for your body, your environment, and the earth. They work incredibly. AND they often cost less than what is currently out on the market today. If you haven't found great green products that you can afford, keep looking! They're there. I tell people about them everyday.


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