Will Better Product Information Make You More Socially Responsible?
Some time ago, I posted a piece about Skin Deep, a database developed by the Environmental Working Group to help you figure out which cosmetics and personal goods items are most socially responsible from a health and safety perspective. If you liked reading about all the ways that your shampoo and deodorant can render you sick or infertile, than you will love GoodGuide, a similar database that conveys a broader set of CSR metrics across a wider range of consumer goods.
Available online and in an IPhone app, GoodGuide rates 60,000 products that may be part of your regular routine for grooming, eating, cleaning, and playing. Like Skin Deep, it assigns ratings of 0 to 10 for each product it profiles. Unlike Skin Deep, it goes beyond health considerations to evaluate environmental concerns such as energy management and social concerns such as working conditions and benefits for the company's employees.
In past articles on this blog, I've interviewed SC Johnson CEO Fisk Johnson and Seventh Generation founder Jeffrey Hollender about their views. The two share a passion for making products more socially responsible, but let's see how two somewhat comparable products stack up to one another using the GoodGuide. In this spirit, I present to you a product-level CSR faceoff between Seventh Generation's Natural Glass and Surface Cleaner (Free & Clear) and SC Johnson's Windex Original glass cleaner.
One notable observation based on the comparison in the chart below is that Goodguide's data and scoring is far from complete. It is worth exploring the reasons for and implications of these gaps in information because it is conceivable that rating products without complete information skews the scores we see. People from Goodguide, please feel free to offer commentary on this question!
That aside, if this sample is at all representative of the bigger picture, the key takeaway from this chart is that you get what you pay for. Seventh Generation's cleaner scores higher than Windex in every single category. It's better for you, better for the environment, better for workers, better for shareholders, and better for society overall. It is also nearly 18% more expensive on Amazon, indicating that customers must be willing to pay more for a safer, healthier, and more socially responsible product. If only market-research suggested that people were willing to pay a premium for such things!
But are consumer attitudes about to change? Perhaps among the IPhone-toting educated elite who can get instant information about products using the Goodguide IPhone app barcode scanner. But is it really realistic to think that we can expect a higher willingness-to-pay for socially responsible products?