retail news in context, analysis with attitude

In Milwaukee, the Journal Sentinel reports that SC Johnson is the subject of two-year-old lawsuit that accuses the company of being deceptive about some of its “green” credentials.

According to the story, at issue is the “marketing of S.C. Johnson's iconic glass cleaner, Windex, and its category-leading stain remover, Shout.

“The fronts of their bottles feature prominent, green-colored labels with a leaf-and-branch graphic and the trademarked ‘Greenlist’ insignia.

Greenlist is a rating system used to evaluate and reduce adverse environmental effects of chemical ingredients. What the front labels don't say is that the Greenlist insignia is conferred by S.C. Johnson itself.” The back labels refer obliquely to the ownership, but is not, in the words of one critic, ‘clear and conspicuous.”

SC Johnson acknowledges that it owns the patent on Greenlist, but maintains that “the system has helped the company achieve such results as eliminating nearly 48 million pounds of volatile organic compounds from its products in the last five years.”

However, the story notes that while SC Johnson “says on its website that Greenlist was ‘scientifically reviewed’ by the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry,” a spokesman for the Society’s North American wing says that it has not formally reviewed Greenlist.
KC's View:
At the very least, there is something disingenuous about creating a label of approval and then conferring it upon yourself without being transparent about the fact that you created the label.

There is something dishonest about saying you’ve gotten an imprimatur from an organization that, in fact, has not given it.

This goes back to the whole transparency argument that comes up here on MNB so often. (Too often, according to some folks...but I don’t think this issue can be overstated.)

I’m not arguing that SC Johnson is being environmentally irresponsible. That isn’t even the point here. I am arguing that it is hurting its own credibility - and, quite frankly, the credibility of the industry - by being overly cute about its approach and policies. It’s like claiming that a sugary cereal is good for kids because it has a lot of vitamins ... it may be technically accurate but hardly true because it ignores the big picture.

Now, SC Johnson may be placed on the straight-and-narrow by new guidelines that could be issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The company says it is meeting all legal requirements of the moment, and will accept guidance from the government if the rules change.

Which, to be honest, isn’t nearly enough. It shouldn’t be hard to do the right thing here, regardless of what the government requires.