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Cover Story

January 29, 2007
Volume 85, Number 05
pp. 13-19

Going Green

Pushed by Wal-Mart, legislators, and the public, the cleaning products industry embraces sustainability

Michael McCoy

ONE WOULD NOT EXPECT a Procter & Gamble laundry detergent to share advertising space in the New York Times Magazine with expensive watches and designer clothing. But this is not just any detergent; it's an environmentally friendly one.

Over the past year, the environmental impact of consumer products has gone from being a fringe issue raised mainly by activist groups to a mainstream concern confronted by P&G, Wal-Mart Stores, General Electric, and other marquee names of corporate America. The leaders of these companies no doubt have a genuine desire to improve the environmental profile of their products. But they also know green sells, and firms perceived as being kind to the environment look as good to the well-heeled readers of upscale magazines as they do to the investment community.

Wash day Laundry detergent makers say they test products for effectiveness as well as environmental impact.

Because laundry detergents are bought in large volumes, mixed with water, and sent down the drain, they have been front and center in the environmental discussion. Raw materials are being scrutinized and in some cases phased out. Suppliers are being asked to come up with new, more environmentally sound ingredients to help consumer goods companies head off scrutiny or present a greener product lineup.

The P&G ad, for Tide Coldwater, is aimed at an environmentally conscious audience. It points out that if everyone in New York City washed laundry in cold water for just one day, the energy saved would be enough to light the Empire State Building for an entire month. It then suggests that Tide Coldwater, introduc