By Randy Escamilla, APR
In 2004, activists labeled The Clorox Company one of manufacturing's "dirty dozen." They branded Clorox one of the nation's worst environmental polluters.
Two years later, Clorox remained the only company in the super-packaged goods industry that had not issued a Corporate Social Responsibility report.
Green Works or Greenwashing
Then in 2007, in an attempt to boost its green credibility, Clorox acquired Burt's Bees and Green Works natural household cleansing products. But critics charged Clorox, the bleach manufacturer, with "greenwashing." Greenwashing is a term stamped on corporations who make unsubstantiated claims about the environmental benefit of products, services, or technology.
After critics continued a barrage of attacks, Clorox decided to respond. Clorox realized it needed to tell its story. The Clorox corporate communications team prepared a focus and a framework.
Clorox began formalizing its CR (Corporate Responsibility) strategy, began conducting surveys, and pledged to be accountable. Their strategy needed to be robust and transparent. Clorox began telling its story.
Clorox bleach, the flagship product, not only kills germs and cleans clothes, but the chemical makeup is made of the same compound as table salt and by the time it goes down the drain 98 percent of the bleach has reverted to salt.
Clorox issued its first sustainability report in 2010.
It also became the first cleansing manufacturer to voluntarily disclose all ingredients in its company products.
Clorox executives also wanted to establish credibility through results.
A survey found employee engagement at 88 percent.
Suppliers must certify a code of conduct to abide by human rights, provide a safe and healthy work environment, environmental stewardship, and follow ethical practices.
Repositioned the Brita water filtration brand to help reduce plastic water bottle waste.
Making Clorox bleach concentrated to reduce bottle size and increase store shelf space.
Repacking Fresh Step cat litter to reduce box size and increase store shelf space.
As a result, Clorox is using CSR to drive business. Already, it has seen a 40 percent growth in products that are sustainable. By 2013, Clorox has a goal of reducing its operational footprint by 10 percent.
Walking the walk
Clorox set out to inform stakeholders that what it's doing is true and transparent.
Activists groups, namely the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, have now partnered with The Clorox Company.
Clorox has also provided more than $20 million in contributions:
$15 million corporate product donations (crisis response).
$3.3 million foundation cash grants.
$1.5 million cause marketing.
Also, because nearly 100,000 people die annually from hospital-acquired diseases, researchers at Clorox will focus on healthcare products; now it's fastest growing market.
"I feel that public relations communications can really drive what we're doing," said Kathryn Caulfield, The Clorox Company Vice President of Global Corporate Communications, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Crisis Management.
"Transparency is helping us set more aggressive goals. We use public relations to be more strategic in how we talk about what we're doing," she said.
On October 15th at the PRSA 2012 International Conference in San Francisco, the world's largest public relations gathering, The Clorox Company released its annual report. Download it here at: www.annualreport.thecloroxcompany.com.
Transparency and story-telling are building trust and establishing credibility through results.
Editor's Note: Randy Escamilla, APR, was a delegate to the PRSA Delegate Assembly. He holds a Master of Professional Studies degree in Strategic Public Relations from the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.