Growth December 23, 2019 Last updated December 20th, 2019 231 Reads share

Ignore the Political Bluster — Stay the Course With Environmentally Friendly Products

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Historically, environmentally friendly products have often left consumers feeling frustrated and helpless.

The problem? While many consumers want to do whatever they can to protect the environment, eco-friendly products — particularly home and commercial cleaning solutions — didn’t always work.

Store shelves were stocked with cleansers that were either environmentally friendly but ineffective or toxic but effective. These weren’t exactly winning combinations, especially when buyers’ washing machines broke down or their windows couldn’t hold a shine.

When I started working at Jelmar, sustainable cleaning products weren’t at the forefront of my mind. Like many people in their 20s, I was more concerned with working hard and maintaining my social life. That started to change when I became a mom.

Once I had children, I carefully analyzed everything that came into my home — I didn’t want my kids to be exposed to toxic products. When my own mother was diagnosed with rare lung disease, I went on a mission to ensure our mold-killing solutions were free of bleach. I fell into the world of green activism not because it was political — I embraced the change because it was right.

Creating a Sustainable Mission

When Jelmar’s chemist came to me in the mid-2000s with a formula for a more environmentally friendly product, I knew it was the push we needed to go green.

At the time, not many programs supported green cleaning. That didn’t matter to me, because I was prepared to lead the charge. I didn’t want children exposed to harsh chemicals or asthma sufferers to have to choose between taking a deep breath or having a spotless bathroom.

Here’s the thing, though — I didn’t want buyers to be wooed or pushed away by the idea of a green cleaner. Instead, we didn’t advertise any changes to our products. Sales remained consistent, and no one noticed. We recognized that we’d hit the sweet spot by creating an eco-friendly cleaner that worked as intended.

Staying Green Despite Winds of Change

Around the time of our revitalized product launch, the Environmental Protection Agency began to recognize eco-friendly companies and products. In doing so, it announced a label to indicate that products were an EPA Safer Choice. We were honored to be the first nationally advertised manufacturer to place the label on its products.

At the time, it felt like the government was in sync with promoting environmental responsibility and that nothing could get in the way. Then, politics happened. But the shifting political winds never caused us to rethink our decision to stick to our values.

Over the past few years, the EPA gutted its expectations and guidelines in response to White House pressure. Twenty-six regulations hit the chopping block, saving the EPA nearly $100 million. However, the EPA didn’t seem to weigh the true cost of these changes with the price of allowing toxins to pollute the air and water. In business, rolling back expenses is critical — but the end has to justify the means.

We didn’t quit on our consumers just because it seemed like some politicians quit caring about the environment. As fate would have it, our commitment has paid dividends.

For the fifth consecutive year, we were awarded the EPA’s Safer Choice Partner of the Year, which showcases companies that design, manufacture, and use safer chemicals. Becoming a Safer Choice Partner requires approval via third-party evaluations from retailers, chemical manufacturers, NGOs, and companies like ours.

When companies are recognized for sustainable practices, it encourages others to follow suit. But without government support, this program — and others like it — doesn’t get the attention it deserves. We’ll continue to highlight this honor and spread the message and intent of the program, even if some politicians don’t share our enthusiasm.

The Upside of Doubling Down on Green

Why do we choose to remain unabashedly pro-environment when it would be easier — and cost less — to look the other way? I believe the benefits far outweigh the investment.

We’re only beginning to understand how humans affect the planet. Regardless of the changing political climate, making everyday changes in your company — like using natural energy sources or auditing routine operations for sustainable initiatives — is the best way to protect the future of the natural world.

Being known as a green company also allows you to get closer to consumers. Buyers, especially those from younger generations, want to be able to trust and recommend the brands they use. A report from Shelton Group showed that 95% of Millennials will recommend products on social media when they know they are made by green, trustworthy brands. That’s a huge reason to keep on the green track, especially since Millennials are expected to spend about $1.4 trillion in 2020.

Going green also gives companies sales advantages. Simply featuring the Safer Choice label on our products allowed us to reach about 737 million impressions in one year. Any marketer would be thrilled with such significant attention — repeated exposure to a product often leads to sales.

Staying on Target With Environmentalism

Whether your business is just starting to practice sustainability or has been eco-friendly for decades, I urge you to stay committed. Leave shifting politics at the door. Instead, concentrate on becoming your industry’s environmentally conscientious leader by following three steps:

1. Practice the art of patience.

It’s tough to go totally green overnight. Move at a realistic pace to develop a product that works and will be accepted by the marketplace. Remember, Jelmar didn’t even introduce the fact that our products had become green until two years after the change. Instead of making empty promises, we waited to ensure our product worked for customers.

Need some inspiration from a company that’s taken the green journey one step at a time? HP engineers spent years figuring out how to expand the company’s printer cartridge recycling program to encourage the widespread reuse of plastic. Now, most HP consumers and commercial buyers are well aware of the company’s tremendous recycling efforts. That visibility didn’t happen overnight or without plenty of patience.

2. Follow your convictions.

Forget the headlines and go with your gut. Research from the Smith School of Business showed that 41% of executives lean on their intuition rather than big data to guide their business decisions. If you’re convinced that you need to take your company in a more eco-friendly direction, do it. Your conviction will help get the rest of the company on board.

Be like the leaders at Patagonia. Not only does the brand represent the leading edge of outdoor products and apparel, but its leaders consistently support environmental advocacy and sustainability. When the company received a $10 million tax break, the CEO opted to donate the money to environmental nonprofits and activists. The bold move took guts and fortitude. Most corporate stakeholders would have put the money into profit-making ventures instead of helping the planet.

3. Seek out comprehensive employee buy-in.

From the C-suite to part-time workers, every team member should take ownership of your brand’s environmental mission. Present your eco-friendly intentions with an honest pitch that tells a story. Stories help everyone understand how going green will impact them positively — and how to move in the right direction to achieve that vision.

When you gain employee buy-in, amazing things can happen. At Amazon, for instance, thousands of workers have joined the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group. They encourage the company to stay on track to become carbon neutral and less reliant on fossil fuels. The group has the support of Amazon leadership, which promotes creative thinking and doesn’t fear a challenge.

Leaving Politics Behind

Nobody knows what future political shifts might bring. What I do know is that no election or policy change can deter us from our passion for sustainable business practices. Don’t worry about what the news and pundits say will happen this year, next year, and beyond. Keep moving toward greener pastures, and your team and customers will follow you.

Alison Gutterman

Alison Gutterman

Alison Gutterman is the president and CEO of Jelmar, the family-owned cleaning products manufacturer of CLR and Tarn-X products. She began her career at Jelmar in 1993 without a title or a desk, and in 2007, she was named president, bringing the company unprecedented success with her modern approach and leadership techniques. She also balances work with parenthood as a single mother of two children, and she resides in the greater Chicago area.

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