SC Johnson and the Greenlist Backlash

by: Andrew Hoffman

Publication Date: February 5, 2013
Length: 16 pages
Product ID#: 1-429-300

Core Disciplines: Communications, Ethics, Strategy & Management, Sustainability

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Teaching Note

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This case centers on SC Johnson’s CEO, H. Fisk Johnson, and his decision on how to move forward with Greenlist™ after the settlement of two lawsuits. SC Johnson developed the ingredient improvement process Greenlist™ to reduce the negative environmental impacts of its products by substituting less harmful ingredients wherever possible. Significant environmental improvements were made in many of the company’s products, such as Windex®, and the company developed a Greenlist™ label to demonstrate to consumers that a product had been improved by the process. In 2008 and 2009, two lawsuits were filed accusing SC Johnson of deceptively marketing its products as “green”, as the Greenlist™ label led consumers to believe the products had been certified by an objective third party. The lawsuits were settled and the company was forced to remove the label. The case raises a discussion about green labeling, the nature of environmental certification, and the value of internal sustainability initiatives.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Examine trade-offs between 1) independent, internal sustainability programs and 2) partnership-based, publicly disclosed programs involving third-party certifications
  • Consider this examination from the perspective of consumers, retailers, and environmental organizations
  • Compare and contrast the green marketing approaches of SC Johnson and its competitors to determine which approach should position a manufacturer for the greatest long-term success
  • Discuss whether consumer interest in green products is a fad or a long-term trend. For either scenario, determine which manufacturer is best positioned and which manufacturer is most vulnerable.