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From the Karate Mat to Brand Manager Matt

Posted Oct 21 2008 12:12am

In my whip around the perimeter of my nearby Kroger supermarket the other day, I took a shortcut down the cleaning aisle, a shortcut because I never stop on that aisle for anything. Yet, screeeeeeech, I slammed on the brakes of my heels.

"What is this, pray tell?" I asked myself as the fresh, clean, line of GreenWorks products I had never seen before practically jumped off the shelf.

Was I put off by the Clorox logo? Yes. Immediately. Yet I read on (although the print is tiny and I'm guessing I'm a definite target for this product--MAKE THE PRINT LARGER, FOLKS! My eyes are changing, those reading glasses are still too strong for me, and label-reading is becoming tough, tough, tough!)

Plant and mineral-based ingredients, all biodegradable. No phosphorus. No bleach. A whole line of products. All about 3 bucks. I bought one, the GreenWorks natural dilutable cleaner.

As I was unpacking my canvas tote at home, Richard (my fellow worm-owner friend) called.

"I have this new product from Clorox," I said.

"NO! Not Clorox!" Richard exclaimed. He is very sensitive to fragrances and can't be near Clorox bleach.

"No, no, this is a new product. A green one," I explained. I opened it up and smelled it.

"Smells nice," I said.

"No," he repeated.

There was only one possible reply. "I'll come right over," I said.

And so I did, and Richard cleaned around his kitchen with this product, saying the smell (which is quite pleasant), surprisingly, wasn't bothering him. By the time I got home, he had left a message on my machine saying that within minutes, the smell was completely gone, and exclaiming the product a definite winner.

After checking out the simple but impressive GreenWorks website, I used the product around my house and frankly, its performance blew away any of the other so-called eco-products I've been using for years now. I found myself raving about GreenWorks at karate that night, which makes for odd conversations on the mat.

Yet, a few things nagged at me. Some blog research uncovered a great deal of chatter about this line of products. Sure, there was the expected, "Clorox is pouring bleach down one pipe and greenwashing the other one." Yes, there was the "99% natural? Call me when it's 100%! Even one percent can kill oceans full of fish!" rant. And, of course, there are those indie-loyalists who cringe at the thought of giving money to Big Business (and are appalled that Clorox now owns both Burt's Bees and Brita water filtration systems).

Yes, there is an 800-number on the back of the GreenWorks bottle, but I needed to go closer to the source. A GreenWorks press release revealed the name of the man with the answers. Matt Kohler, Brand Manager for GreenWorks at Clorox headquarters in Oakland, California. I left a message, Matt called me back and we had a detailed conversation about GreenWorks.

My questions, Matt's answers:

Q. I know the color is artificial. Why even have color, if you can't do it naturally?

A. Our prototype product had no color added, but the essential lemon oil made the bottled product appear light yellow (let's face it, Matt indicated that it looked like urine--not a selling point). Then, we left it clear and people couldn't find it on the shelves and then weren't convinced it would work. We are currently trying to source a natural color ingredient for this product but haven't been able to do so yet.

Q. The ingredients list "fragrance with essential lemon oil." What is the source of the fragrance?

A. All the GreenWorks products except two have 100% essential lemon oil as frangrance. In two products, the dilutable one you bought plus the glass and surface cleaner, the 100% lemon oil wasn't stable with the other igredients so we had to add a small amount of a petrochemical-based fragrance."

Q. I like that you are being transparent and telling me that, straight out. Is that an intential strategy?

A. Yes, we are aiming to be transparent so that consumers can then make their own decisions. And we are aiming to make all the GreenWorks products 100% natural as we continue to develop them. We are also relying on third-party certification, such as the U.S. EPA's Design for the Environment certification that is indicated on the GreenWorks products.

Q. Will you tell me about your relationship with the Sierra Club?

A. It's a traditional cause-marketing relationship where a percentage of sales from GreenWorks products go to support the Sierra Club, which is the oldest and most established organization that protects and preserves the environment in the U.S. When we called the Sierra Club, they thought were were crazy, but then after they scrutinized our products, supplies, and processes, they embraced the relationship.

Q. What percentage of sales of GreenWorks products is going to the Sierra Club?

A. We're not revealing that.

Q. What happened to transparency?!

A. It's very complicated legally.

I don't think Matt is hiding anything. I worked as a sales promotion manager for Turner Broadcasting and I know how hard it was to get through the legalities of joint partnerships, especially considering that rules change form state to state, so I'm not faulting him for this answer. It's just a reminder that Clorox is definitely a Big Business and as such, it does have enormous hoops to jump through when it does something new (including the hoop of consumer trust).

But the thing is, and I've said this before, when a company the size of Clorox does something that can actually make a difference by shifting consumer preferences and purchasing patterns in a way that can help the environment, then I say, "Bravo." And if enough folks vote with their dollar for earth-friendly products such as these, then I'm guessing that there will come a day when the sight of the Clorox logo won't make eco-oriented (and artificial fragrance-sensitive) people cringe.

Matt wants your feedback. If you use a GreenWorks product, call 1-800-227-1860 and give your opinion of it (or email in a comment on the comment form at the GreenWorks website). Matt reads these comments every week. Say that Pattie sent you, and let's have a say in the products available at our local grocery stores.

And one more question, Matt. Are GreenWorks products available beyond the United States? FoodShed Planet readers are going to want to know.

Oh, and one last thing. Yes, GreenWorks natural dilutable cleaner is an EcoMomical choice!
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