Ecover takes a casual approach to its packaging and marketing materials, while reflecting the same level of commitment to educating consumers. “We keep our brand strategy pretty grounded,” says Kipling Rutherford-Sameshima, marketing executive for Ecover. “We aren’t marketing to Prius owners, we are marketing to anyone who would like to make small, eco-friendly changes in their home.”
Both brands have received respectable accolades for the their efforts. Ecover was awarded the Global 500 Roll of Honour of the United Nations Environment Program back in 1993. Hollender is on the Board of Directors of Greenpeace, and Seventh Generation recently scored a 2008 Fast Company Social Capitalist Award, recoginized for harnessing the tools of the marketplace for the greater good and helping solve some of today’s most urgent challenges in the process.
Hollender believes Seventh Generation leads the sector for practicing what it preaches. “It’s important for companies to be green on the inside as well as the outside,” he says. “With the huge rush to introduce green products to the marketplace, many 'eco' brands have amazingly little focus."
Ecover also walks the walk, doing business the way it tells consumers to live their lives. “All of our products are made in our sustainable factories in Europe,” says Rutherford-Sameshima. “Belgium is really cold. Our factory there has a glass roof the size of Wembley Stadium with an eco system that rarely requires it to be heated, and its own water filtration system.”
With such heated competition in the “green” market, which brand will emerge the leader? “So much of sustainability is about storytelling,” says Makower. “When consumers go into Whole Foods and buy poultry, they are told the name of the farmer and his wife, and the rest of the brand story. Seventh Generation has done a fabulous job of creating not just a brand, but a story behind the brand. Jeffrey Hollender is a maverick and a charismatic spokesperson. It’s always helpful to have a spokesperson like that. He spends a large part of his life talking to customers, talking to the public, not to wave the Seventh Generation flag, but to foster larger awareness and grow the natural/green marketplace. I’m not sure what Ecover’s story is, or who’s telling it.”
“Ecover is not preachy,” counters Rutherford-Sameshima. “Consumers tend to think the environment is a big scary place where the changes they make will make little to no impact. Through our website and our packaging, we show consumers that if you start making small changes in your home... it gives consumers a grasp on how to start.”
She also says that, although Americans are newer to sustainable practices, they are catching on rapidly. “Europeans are very savvy about recycling and living sustainably. In Europe, our product isn’t sold in 'health' stores, but in grocery stores. The United States is catching up, but at twice the pace. Green thinking is not a trend in Europe. Most people compost. Most people gray water.”
Makower sums up the challenges both brands face as the green market gets more competitive. “Brands like Seventh Generation and Ecover are now mainstream,” says Makower. “The challenge is, how do you continue to leverage that authenticity and brand value when everyone from Tide to Windex wants to be green?”
Hollender, true to form, welcomes the competition. “The world faces too many challenges, we need all the partners we can get,” he says. “Companies need to rise to the highest standards they can.”
Both Ecover and Seventh Generation have set the precedent in the “greener” home category. Those brands looking to jump on the “green” bandwagon will have a tough time creating an aura of authenticity. In a meantime, it will be interesting to see which green brand is greener this time next year.