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Letters Sent to Us from the Public

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Articles by Margaret Wendt

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05/10/08 It's not easy being Green, or even truthful it would seem

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There is a new commercial for Windex on television these days. It features the Fisk Johnson, the CEO and Chairman of SC Johnson (the company that makes Windex) talking about the new Greenlist version of the product. In an earnest voice he tells consumers that they have a right to a product that actually works; the implication being that many of the other, smaller companies that produce “green” cleaning products don’t actually work. Taken at face value, one would think that the economic process is working. Consumers are more aware of the need to use products that don’t poison the environment, not to mention themselves and a major producer of those products has altered their offering to contribute to the common good and recapture market share.

Except there are some troubling details. You can still buy a lot of SC Johnson products that don’t have the Greenlist logo (it’s a nice logo in the abstract shape of a leaf with two leafs on a branch inside and it’s, not surprisingly, green). Okay, well they have to start somewhere. But then perhaps you may get curious about the origin of the Greenlist itself, It does have that TM in the bottom right hand corner which means it’s trademarked – perhaps by an independent rating agency established by all the companies who produce cleaning products. You don’t really believe that, which is good because it turns out that the Greenlist is trademarked by SC Johnson and consequently, SC Johnson determines the ingredients that qualify their products to use the logo.

Still, there is hope that, given the 120 years of family management of the company, that Greenlist is a real effort to move these products away from their toxic ingredients towards something that we can use without slowly killing ourselves. A look at the ingredients of the new Greenlist Windex lets us know that it is 95% water (seems like a lot of water), 4% alcohol (doesn’t sound particularly “green”) and 1% ethylene glycol (definitely not “green”). We know without looking it up that that the story on ethylene glycol is not going to be good. It turns out to be highly toxic and a central ingredient in anti-freeze.

So Fisk Johnson is telling a barefaced lie. He is using a symbol and terminology that is understood to mean the exact opposite of what he and his company are doing. He’s not alone but other CEO’s apparently have more guile than to put their faces in their commercials. Chevrolet has a nice new set of logos that would make you think they are on the verge of producing cars that run on electricity and hydrogen. They’re not.

But let’s go back to Windex for a moment. One of those small companies that are producing cleaning products that are environmentally friendly and therefore not toxic to human beings is Imus Ranch Foods. The after tax profits from the sale of these products goes to help sustain a ranch in New Mexico that provides a program for kids with cancer and their siblings. Imus Ranch Foods is the brainchild of Don Imus and his wife, Diedre Imus.

Yes, that Don Imus. The guy that made that despicable statement about the Rutgers University Women’s basketball team. The guy who was summarily drummed off the air and excoriated in the press. This event captivated the cable news for a few weeks and led to many productive and not so productive conversations about race. Oprah dedicated a show to discussing the effect of words disparaging women that are frequently used in Hip Hop music. While it was no doubt personally painful for Imus, the dialog was useful and contributed to the ongoing discussion of race, a discussion that will likely become broader as the political season matures into a national campaign.

But the real issue for all of us is to look at our reaction to these two men for the behavior that they exhibited. No doubt some of the vitriol towards Imus had to do with the hard feelings that he has created through his persona as a “shock jock” throughout his career. What goes around comes around. Whether or not you believe the punishment fit the crime, what he said was highly offensive.

Fisk Johnson doesn’t have that baggage. In the commercial he looks like a kind and caring sort – the kind of guy you might like to have as a neighbor. To look at him you wouldn’t think that he would lie to you even though you know he is. He’s also hoping that you are stupid.

We all like to play “gotcha” in this culture. Build up, tear down, voyeuristically view the redemption and maybe start all over again. It is a kind of emotion that is most often a distraction from with dealing with real issues. We would rather be righteously upset over offensive language because we can do something about it. We would rather sit on our hands and not object to something far worse, perhaps because we feel that we can’t do anything about it.

What’s interesting is that exactly the reverse it true. Diedre and Don Imus and others have had an impact with their products. That’s what is compelling SC Johnson to try to convince people that they are doing something that they are clearly not doing. What’s less clear are the economics that are driving Mr. Johnson to behave in a deceitful manner. If Imus Foods can produce this stuff for under $5.00 a bottle, why can’t a huge conglomerate make the same stuff on a large scale at a lower cost? What’s the love affair with ethylene glycol?
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It has been brought to our attention that Margaret is being portrayed as a psychic on $1.99 sites. These sites are doing so without Margaret's permission. Margaret has not claimed she is a psychic. - MW