Big Consumer Products Maker Proclaims the ‘Green’ Virtues of Using Dishwashers


Published: September 3, 2007

LONDON, Sept. 1 — “Green marketing” is everywhere, and you would be
hard pressed to find a company that does not talk about its pursuit of
sustainability in its mission statement.

Yet when shoppers walk through the aisles, choosing the brands that
end up in their shopping carts, they are still far more interested in
factors like price, functionality and even packaging than they are in
the producer’s environmental record, said Bart Becht, chief executive
of the consumer products company Reckitt Benckiser, during a recent
meeting with reporters in London.

“It doesn’t drive purchasing
intent,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s the consumer’s decision,
and they’re not doing anything about it.”

Reckitt, which owns
brands like Lysol and Woolite, is trying to change that with an
advertising campaign that carries a message of environmental
responsibility to the consumer.

The ads, for Reckitt’s
automatic dishwasher detergent brands, contend that consumers could
save a whole lot of water and energy by using a dishwasher rather than
doing the work by hand. Reckitt does not sell any manual dishwashing
products, so it stands to benefit from an increase in dishwasher use.
But the company insists that its new approach is not “greenwash,” as
spurious environmental ad claims have been labeled.

research conducted at the University of Bonn, which compared the water
and energy consumption of people from several European countries who
washed dishes by hand with the quantities used in modern dishwashers,
the company said the machines won, hands down.

Coming in for
particular scorn was a category it identified as "the carefree
dishwasher.” These people kept the water running through the whole
process, squirting dishwashing liquid onto sponges, but still ending up
with the dirtiest dishes and the most wasted water and energy.

An ad now appearing on television in Germany tells consumers that they
could reduce their water use 85 percent by using a dishwasher. That is
700 million bathtubs full of water a year across Germany, according to
the ad, created by the agency Euro RSCG, which is part of Havas.

to one of its European brand dishwashing products, it said: “So
Calgonit is not only good for your dishes but for our future, too. Be a
part of it.”

The ad may be used in other European markets, like
Britain, where Reckitt sells the Finish brand, and the United States,
where it markets Electrasol, said Rob de Groot, a Reckitt executive.
Different ads with a similar message have appeared in markets including
Southern and Eastern Europe and South Africa.

It is not the first time that an advertiser has asked consumers to conserve. Procter & Gamble
used a similar message in a recent campaign in Britain for its Ariel
brand of laundry detergent, urging people to use lower-temperature
washing cycles.

Getting specific can complicate matters in some
cases. In South Africa, the Advertising Standards Authority recently
banned advertisements for Finish that made the environmental claims,
saying Reckitt Benckiser was unable to prove, as the spot ad asserted,
that automatic dishwashers used 50 percent less energy and one-tenth
the water.

Some consumers had complained to the authority,
saying such comparisons were hardly relevant in a country where many
people lack running water.

Some marketers, not wanting to be seen
as hectoring those who buy their products, have been wary about taking
this approach. As a result, many green ad campaigns talk more about
what companies are doing to reduce their carbon footprints or to
otherwise make the world a better place than demanding that the
consumer do likewise.

“There are a lot of high-level messages
out there, but very few that zero in to this level,” said Pete Zillig,
a brand director at Euro RSCG.

Originally posted by Eric Pfanner on September 3, 2007 here.

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