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.
Indeed, outside a Whole Foods Market in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, June Shellene, 60, said she did not buy green products as often as she did a few years ago.
“People are so freaked out by what is happening in the world,” she said, before loading her groceries into a Toyota Prius. Of green products, she said, “That’s something you buy and think about when things are going swimmingly.”
Green products are more expensive because the ingredients tend to cost more than their more conventional counterparts, and transportation costs are higher too because they are sold in smaller volumes than the big brands.
The number of household cleaners with green claims introduced in 2008 was 144, up from 29 in 2007. By 2009 that had dropped to 105, according to Mintel, a research firm. Green dishwashing liquid followed a similar pattern, with 14 introductions in 2007, 85 in 2008, then 58 in 2009.
Back in Evanston, shoppers reflected the changing dynamics of the green marketplace. A handful said they continued to buy green products religiously while many others said the cost was prohibitive. Sarah Pooler, 55, said she did not normally buy green products but would pick them up if they were on sale.
“Bottom line, if it’s green and it’s a good deal, I’ll buy it,” said Ms. Pooler, outside a Jewel-Osco store.