Monday, January 7, 2008

Burt's Bees and Clorox-Yum!?

Eco-beauty giant Burt's Bees has been eaten by Clorox, and both companies claim it will make Clorox go green. Read an excerpt of the wide-ranging New York Times article here:
Clorox was willing to pay almost $1 billion for Burt’s Bees because big companies see big opportunities in the market for green products. From 2000 to 2007, Burt’s Bees’ annual revenue soared to $164 million from $23 million. Analysts say there is far more growth to be had by it and its competitors as consumers keep gravitating toward products that promise organic and environmental benefits.
In the last couple of years, L’OrĂ©al paid $1.4 billion for the Body Shop and
Colgate-Palmolive bought 84 percent of Tom’s of Maine, which makes natural toothpaste and deodorant, for $100 million. Clorox is also creating eco-friendly product lines of its own.
Many corporate leaders have sold their shareholders on green initiatives by pointing out that they help cut costs — an argument that is more persuasive now, while energy costs are sky high. But as companies rush to put out more and more “natural,” “organic” or “green” products, consumers and advocacy groups are increasingly questioning the meaning of these labels.
Clorox, for one, will face plenty of skepticism. Environmentalists have long said that bleach is harmful when drained into city sewers. The disinfectant has become a stand-in for jokes about chemicals and the environment, and a new round seems to have begun this fall when the company acquired Burt’s Bees.
“Who likes Burt’s Bees now that it’s been bought by Clorox?” Alison Stewart, a host on
National Public Radio, said in November. “You know, just slap some bleach on your lips, it’ll all be good.”
Clorox executives have been fighting what they call “misinformation” about bleach for years. The company says that 95 to 98 percent of its bleach breaks into salt and water and that the remaining byproduct is safe for sewer systems. And Clorox sells many products that have nothing to do with bleach — including Brita water filters, Glad trash bags and Hidden Valley salad dressings.
Still, after Clorox agreed to buy Burt’s Bees last fall, scores of customers called Burt’s Bees and accused the company of selling out. John Replogle, the chief executive of Burt’s Bees, says he personally responded to customers who left their phone numbers.
“Don’t judge Clorox as much by where they’ve been as much as where they intend to go,” Mr. Replogle says he told them.

Burt’s Bees maintains its founders’ green philosophies. Employees’ bonuses are based in part on how well the company meets energy conservation goals, and there are prime parking spaces for staff members who drive hybrid cars or carpool. It buys offsets for 100 percent of its carbon emissions and is working toward a goal of sending no trash to landfills by 2020.
Mr. Replogle calls his current job a “mission” and says he is trying to reinvent business with an idea he calls “the Greater Good,” based on the founders’ ideals. The premise is that if companies are socially responsible, profit will follow. Burt’s Bees not only prioritizes the natural origin of its ingredients but also emphasizes animal rights, responsible trade, employee benefits and the environment.
Like most natural-products companies, Burt’s Bees has the luxury of charging enough for its goods to pay for such causes. A 0.15-ounce tube of Burt’s Bees basic lip balm, for example, costs $3. The same-size tube of ChapStick, which uses synthetic ingredients, costs $1.69.
Burt’s Bees is not perfect, Mr. Replogle acknowledges. The company obtains all of its beeswax from hives in Ethiopia, so shipping the ingredient across the Atlantic adds to carbon emissions.
LATELY, Burt’s Bees has started to police its industry. The company’s research lab is full of competitors’ products labeled “natural,” and employees of Burt’s Bees test those assertions.
Burt’s Bees has also led a group of companies that have teamed up with the Natural Products Association to create a standard for natural personal care products, complete with stickers to label items that make the cut. To qualify, brands must create products that are at least 95 percent natural and contain no ingredients known to be harmful. The stickers will make their debut in April.
Consumers “walk down the aisle in the grocery stores’ health and beauty area, and they’re confronted with ‘natural’ at every turn,” says Daniel Fabricant, vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the association. “We just don’t want to see the term misused any longer.”
To prove his own bona fides, Mr. Replogle grabs a bottle of Burt’s Bees avocado butter hair treatment, squeezes some onto his finger and dramatically licks it off. He then passes the tube to two Clorox executives so they can have a taste.
“If you can’t put it into your mouth, you shouldn’t put it on your skin,” he says. “I’d like to see other companies do that.”

Disclaimer: The Eco-Justice Blogger is an enthusiastic consumer of Burt's Bees products, although I've never actually eaten them.
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 25 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at http://www.theregenerationproject.org/State.Find discounts on energy saving products at http://www.shopipl.org/

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