SocraticGadfly: Sierra Club defends Clorox suck-up

May 09, 2008

Sierra Club defends Clorox suck-up

I got a PR e-mail from the Sierra Club today, boasting about the impending rollout of the GreenWorks deal with Clorox. I immediately e-mailed back to the membership services addy, saying I woudn’t be renewing my Sierra membership over that and Project Leadership, as well as the disenfranchising of the board of the Florida Chapter of Sierra.

And, I got an e-mail press release back, signed by Sierra Club Board President Robert Cox as well as Sierra’s press secretary, David Willett.

I quote from the PR in some detail:
This note is in response to reports about the Sierra Club National Volunteer Board of Directors’' vote to suspend the Florida Chapter volunteer Executive Committee for four years. What has not been clear in some reports is that the action is the result of requests from Sierra Club members in Florida for national volunteers to investigate internal disputes and comes after much dissatisfaction, anger and frustration at the Chapter level and a multi-year process at the state and national level to improve the situation before this action was taken.

While it is a serious step and was a very difficult decision, it was made after much thought and extensive review. The impressive work of Florida 18 groups to protect the environment will continue unaffected by this action. The Sierra Club looks forward to healing this rift and is confident that the Sierra Club in Florida will come out of this situation a stronger organization.

Well, even if there is some fire behind the smoke, a four-year suspension is awfully steep.
Some reports have either explicitly or implicitly connected the suspension decision to opposition to the Sierra Club's recently announced partnership with Clorox Greenworks products or other disagreements over national policies adopted by the volunteer Board of Directors. This is completely false and a spurious connection. In fact, the difficult and exhaustive process to address the dysfunction of the Florida Chapter began long before the partnership with Clorox was announced — to be clear, Sierra Club and Clorox did not even begin initial conversations until July of 2007, with internal review among committees occurring last fall and the public announcement this past January. The process to address conflict in the Florida Chapter that ultimately resulted in suspension began in at least 2006.

Second, I didn’t connect the two in my e-mail to you. I listed Clorox issues first, then Project Renewal (not even addressed by Cox/Willett). I clearly listed them as separate items:
I”m not renewing my Sierra Club membership over the BS "greenwash" with Clorox, about which I have blogged more than once, and Project Renewal, about which I've also blogged.

Dear actual membership services person:

Carl Pope seems to have adopted the idea of the “unitary executive” from George Bush and Dick Cheney. Arbitrarily suspending the Florida board was as unprecedented as the branding deal with Clorox.

Note that I did NOT link the two. (That’s my entire e-mail.)

Cox/Willett finally get to the Clorox issue itself.
On the issue of the Clorox partnership itself: The Green Works products and The Clorox Company were vetted by a broad number of volunteers and staff — including the Toxics Committee, the Energy Committee, and the Environmental Quality Committee. The Corporate Relations Committee also vetted this and approved of the Green Works products and of The Clorox Company, but did not approve the cause-related marketing relationship that would generate revenue for the Club. The Executive Committee of the Board of Directors approved that program because the Board is the decision-making body on cause-related marketing programs such as this one.


First, this gets back to the blog post I had about Sierra governance. OK, I was wrong. The vote wasn’t so small not because the board meeting didn’t have a majority of the board present, but because only the ExCom gets to vote on these issues.


We know why, Mr. Cox. It’s easier for Executive Director Carl Pope to control just the ExCom than it is the entire board of directors. Nice.
This partnership -- our first cause-related marketing venture involving a widely-distributed consumer product -- was announced the week of January 14 as part of the 2008 launch of the Green Works line of five natural household cleaning products. The Green Works cleaning products are made from coconut-based cleaning agent and essential lemon oils; there is no phosphorus or bleach; they are biodegradable and 99% petrochemical-free; there is no animal testing and they are hypo-allergenic.

All the Clorox corporate PR in this about GreenWorks? (And, please don’t insult my intelligence by pretending Sierra/Willett wrote that entire paragraph without help/word borrowing from Clorox.)

Lots of companies have been putting out products like that for years. Where’s the Sierra partnership? Where’s the Sierra branding?

This is greenwash, and I and plenty of other mad members, or soon-to-be former members, know that.

More greenwash from Clorox in the grafs to follow from Cox/Willett:
The Green Works line will make it easier and more affordable for millions of Americans to buy eco-friendly products and this a huge opportunity for the Sierra Club to influence the buying behavior of millions of people and give a giant kick-start to the market for safe, green, affordable household cleaning products. Up until now, a big stumbling block for families who want to live a greener lifestyle has been the high cost of “green” products and the fact that they are not always easy to find. Green Works’ natural, environmentally-preferable cleaning products are priced at only 20-25 percent higher than conventional cleaning products, which is much lower than other natural cleaning brands, which can be priced 50-100 percent higher. Green Works products will also be easy to find in 24,000 mainstream stores in the United States and Canada.

Bullshit, bullshit and bullshit.

100-percent recycled toilet paper and paper towels have been around for what, a decade or more?
To us, the fact that Green Works is the first new product that Clorox has launched in 20 years is a sign that major companies see the green market maturing and recognize it’s possible to manufacture and sell products that will be good for business and for the planet. Industry has to be a part of the solution and the Sierra Club has the power to influence corporations to move in the right direction. We believe and hope that this will be a selling proposition that other companies will be quick to adopt.

OK, so is Cox more stupid, or more gullible?

Gee, that’s a tough question. I honestly don’t know, based on the last graf.

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