Don’t Get Sad, Get...Sustainable Bleach?
I was doing some research on the World’s Most Sustainable Companies, provided by Barron’s, a weekly newspaper owned by the Dow Jones group. I focus on this topic because it’s what I am passionate about, and currently studying in college. I’ll be honest, I have made some derogatory comments regarding the validity of how “sustainable” certain companies really are based on additional research and reports. But when I came across The Clorox Company on the list of World’s Most Sustainable Companies, I was shocked. This company’s most popular products contain harsh chemicals in oil-based plastic containers. The first thing that comes to mind is not sustainable, as many consumers proudly push past their products for more sustainable competitors.
The Barron’s report was comprised of research done by Calvert Research and Management, who produced a sustainability score for 1,000 of the largest publicly traded companies headquartered in the United States. Calvert looked at over 300 performance indicators for each company in five categories: shareholders, employees, customers, planet, and community. More specifically, they looked at indicators for workplace diversity, employee benefits, business ethics, greenhouse gas emissions, and human rights along the supply chain. After reviewing this data they were able to rank the companies by giving them weighted average scores. The list of top 100 companies is meant to give people insight on these companies while assessing future risks and looking into the quality of management. It’s just as valuable to shareholders as it is to consumers.
Some of the big names on the list are not surprising, for example Cisco Systems ranked number one on the chart (see my article on Cisco here). Following Cisco are companies like Salesforce.com, providing office software, Best Buy, Texas Instruments, Microsoft, and a few other technological companies. Generally, companies that provide software and technology are more innovative and adaptive, and therefore have implemented strategies for environmental sustainability and employee and customer satisfaction. But right there, coming in ranked at number nine, was The Clorox Company.
Hoping to be pleasantly surprised, I visited the Environmental Sustainability web page on Clorox Company website. I discovered that since 2008 the company has made significant efforts reducing their footprint, altering their products, and enhancing the transparency of their processes. There are no statistics shared, no links to articles or projects or any sort of report. Their closing remarks are “We recognize we all have a long way to go, and we’re in it for the long haul.” My closing remark was a dismissal. Yet they are worthy enough of a Barron’s ranking of number 9 out of 100 sustainable, publicly traded companies in the United States. Shocking!
It would have been so easy to just give up my research here, and take the claims for what they are, but research into the company’s sustainability programs requires a much deeper understanding, so I continued looking for what exactly The Clorox Company was doing right. On the Barron’s website, they open the article by talking about the sustainability habits of the The Clorox Company CEO, Benno Dorer, who apparently takes public transportation to work everyday. However, the sustainable choices of the company’s CEO may not completely represent that of the company. The Barron’s article also mentioned that Clorox has published greenhouse emissions goals, phased out certain harmful substances, and continues to purchase sustainable subsidiaries, like Burt’s Bees.
To truly understand the scope of the Clorox product offerings, let’s take a look at the subsidiaries of The Clorox Company: Brita Water Filters, Burt’s Bees Natural Cosmetics, Fresh Step Cat Litter, Formula 409 Hard Surface Cleaner, Glad storage and trash bags, Hidden Valley dressings, Green Works Natural Cleaners, Kitchen Bouquet sauces, Kingsford Charcoal, Lestoil heavy duty cleaner, Liquid-Plumr drain cleaner, Pine-Sol, and Renew Life digestive health products. This is quite the collection of product offerings, from kitty litter to ranch dressing to corrosive cleaners. That’s a refreshing thought. Does the true measurement of sustainability at The Clorox company come from their product diversity?
Clorox has very small mentions about corporate sustainability all over their website, and are very proud of their formula modifications and sustainable products. On their 2017 shareholder report, they claim to have surpassed their sustainability 2020 goals of reducing water usage and reduction of waste-to-landfill, and they remain on target to reach their goals of lowering energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. They also claim that they have reduced energy and water usage by 23% and 33%, respectively, per case of product sold since they implemented their first sustainability goals in 2008.
Once you actually find Clorox’s report, it’s an interactive read, with slide shows and moving parts, and they have little charts that show their year by year progress on reducing emissions or increasing renewable energy usage. While having some goals is better than having no goals, I am still a skeptic, especially when it comes to their septic products. In 2016, Clorox had to recall 5.4 million bottles of Liquid-Plumr because the child-resistant caps were not working. This product is harmful to skin, and is obviously deadly if ingested, and many professionals are even coming forward and saying that this product is harmful to plumbing systems.
The current CEO of The Clorox Company may be taking this company in a good direction, but to quote their own website, they have a very long way to go. Their competitors, such as my favorite cleaning brand, Dr. Bronner’s, is a family owned company that is committed to a sustainable future, employee equality, and delivering quality products to their customers. Without the pressures of being a publicly traded company, Dr. Bronner’s is somehow able to accomplish an all-in-one cleaning product with an “all-one” attitude, as noted on their website. I use my SAL SUDS for my clothes, dishes, sink, floor, skin, I could even use it for my hair. The concentrated mixture is still safe on skin but is recommended to be diluted or mixed with other safe household materials, like baking soda, for tough stains and scrubbing. And it’s 100% biodegradable. If Clorox was committed to sustainability, their Green Works line would be growing and their other lines would be contracting and disappearing.
I really wanted to have my mind changed about the sustainability goals of Clorox, but I know that they have a lot of work to do. The title bestowed upon them by Barron’s was a little premature, as their strides have not been significant enough to warrant that esteem. At least their stock price seems to be promising. Although I recommend placing your money elsewhere if you are looking for a company that is truly working towards sustainability, check out some other companies I have written about!
Goldschmidt, Debra. “5.4 Million Bottles of Liquid Plumr Recalled.” CNN, Cable News Network,
17 July 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/07/17/health/liquid-plumr-recall/index.html.
Norton, Leslie P. “Barron's 100 Most Sustainable Companies.” Barron's, Barron's, 3 Feb. 2018,
“2020 Strategy.” Clorox 2017 Integrated Annual Report,
“About: Our Six Cosmic Principles.” Dr. Bronner's, www.drbronner.com/about/.
“Environmental Sustainability.” The Clorox Company, 19 July 2017,