Making green mainstream

G Magazine

There’s something wrong with eco products on the market. Jon Dee says we shouldn’t have green products or choices, but that we should be greening up the entire market instead.


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Whenever I go shopping, I always look for the green alternative. The problem, however, is that I’m a minority, and the majority of consumers don’t buy green products. Their preference is usually to buy the well-known mainstream brands.

As a result, most green products tend to be niche in their appeal, and their potential to help the environment
is often negated by poor sales. These ‘true green’ products have a vital role on the shelf. They show what is possible. However, for us to make real headway, we need to make all products far greener than they are now.

This problem came to mind a couple of years ago when I was looking at the available range of phosphate-free laundry products. Most weren’t well-known brands and their market share was low. With this in mind, Do Something! and I set out to get all retailers and detergent companies to phase out phosphate in laundry detergents. Fortunately, everybody got on board and, from early 2014, the 1.9 billion laundry washes carried out in Australia every year will be phosphate-free.

The best news is that this green transformation hasn’t cost consumers anything extra and it’s not affecting the quality of the wash. This industry-wide approach to change is a role model that has the potential to ‘green up’ a wide variety of products.

Imagine if the buyers at Coles and Woolworths were to set a challenge for suppliers to reduce the environmental impact of their products by 20 per cent within a set period of time. As with the phosphate ban, the challenge would be to achieve that reduction without changing the price or quality of the products.

Product innovation would be rewarded and those who failed the challenge would lose business. It’s a simple
way for Coles and Woolworths to help the environment at no cost to them or the consumer.

A starting point would be for the supermarket duopoly to insist that every toilet paper be made with a minimum 20 per cent recycled content. This minimum retail standard would be simple to introduce and would guarantee an end market for office paper picked up in Australia.

When Unilever got rid of phosphate from OMO, it reduced the greenhouse footprint of that product by 30 per cent overnight. If we got that kind of improvement across a wider range of products, we’d be taking a major step forward in making our shopping more sustainable.

Jon Dee is a former NSW Australian of the Year and the founder of environmental non-government organisation Do Something!