It Takes Two to Embrace Sustainable Innovation

Jul 25, 2011 11:00 AM ET

Imagine releasing a product with a history of “five decades of failure.” That’s exactly what S.C Johnson did this month with the Windex Mini, a concentrated refill pouch that has a variety of economic and environmental benefits for both the company and consumer. The pouch boasts multiple advantages, from using 90 percent less plastic to savings on shipping costs and emissions due to reductions in size and weight. It would seem a clear win-win. And yet, history shows consumers are slow to adopt concentrated products. Even Chief Executive Fisk Johnson seems tentative about the future of the product. "Behavior changes are the most difficult thing to do," Johnson states in a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal.

With increasing pressure from stakeholders and an opportunity for bottom-line cost savings, companies across the globe are looking for more sustainable product and packaging alternatives. Although many companies are ready and willing to innovate, often the roadblock comes from consumers themselves who may not be willing to take the time to refill a bottle or recycle a product properly. Yet, in the age of extended producer responsibility, everyone must do their part to close the loop.

Some companies are aiming to make sure the right choice is the easy choice for consumers. A new product called Replenish is changing the way we think of (and use) concentrated cleaners by doing away with the powders, mixes and funnels. Instead, consumers simply replace the “Concentrate Pod” on the bottom of the spray bottle. Method made its refillable pouches more attractive and less cumbersome to consumers by adding a weighted handle and base.

Companies are making positive steps to create new products with both environmental and financial benefits, but it serves no one’s interest if these products don’t sell. Meeting consumers where they are (i.e., high environmental expectations, but poor green behavior) is difficult, but not impossible. The evolution of the laundry detergent industry from over-sized jugs to concentrated formulas is testament that products that are both more responsible and more convenient can achieve mass consumer buy-in. The challenge is to educate consumers not only on the environmental benefits of these products, but why they will save time, money and a little elbow grease as well.


Whitney Dailey