The Death of the Eco-product?
Is the eco-product dead?
For years those of us in the green consumer niche have been conscientiously buying eco-products from Ecover, Bodyshop, Natural Collection etc etc – and feeling very self-righteous for doing so. Only problem is, we only represent 5-15% of consumers – the rest are either oblivious to green products or are actively suspicious of them, believing that they’ll be expensive and won’t work.
To achieve sustainability, we need every company to be a green company and every product to be a green product. There are two routes to this goal. The first is to try to persuade the 85-95% majority of consumers to ‘see the light’ and start buying green(er) products. Just one problem – go and stand in the middle of your high street or local megamarket, even in these economically straightened times, and watch how much and what people buy – how on earth are you going to change all their minds?
The second approach is to green mainstream products without asking the consumer’s permission. Take Procter & Gamble, owners of the Ariel (UK) and Tide (US) brands. They launched a green range of household products in the 1990s but they didn’t sell so they withdrew the products. Now P&G are re-engineering mainstream products to deliver on performance, price AND planet. Look at Ariel Excel Gel (aka Tide Coldwater) above – the packaging barely mentions the environment but check out that 15°C on the front – that makes it arguably much greener than the Ecover equivalent. Oh, and it was rated best clothes washing product ever by Which? magazine.
Or take Marks & Spencer who are producing mainstream products made of recycled PET like my umbrella (right). Again, I could have bought this without realising it was an ‘eco-product’ – it’s just an M&S brolly and it does the job as well as any other.
This mainstreaming strategy is clearly the best way to get most people buying greener products. From the consumer’s point of view it has a great additional benefit – it forces the producers of such products to deliver on price and performance too as they can’t rely on the niche paying a premium price or tolerating mediocre performance. This banishes complacency, drives innovation and brings sustainable products to everyone – whether they want a ‘green’ product or not.
So, I would argue, the eco-product is dead, long live the eco-product!