TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. | The Clorox Co., targeted by activists for emitting pollution, has a new partner: the Sierra Club.
The environmental group, better known for suing corporations than forging alliances with them, has agreed to promote a new line of eco-friendly Clorox products in exchange for a share of the profits. Some Sierra Club chapters are crying foul, and officers in northern Michigan even quit over the deal.
"They sold their soul to the highest bidder," said Monica Evans, who helped reactivate the club's nine-county Traverse Group in 2000. She and the group's other five executive committee members resigned in May but only recently made their decision public.
The walkout highlights the passionate debate among members of the Sierra Club over the partnership with Clorox, named one of a "dangerous dozen" chemical companies by the Public Interest Research Group in 2004. PIRG contended in the report that Clorox's handling of chemicals at U.S. production facilities left some 14 million people vulnerable to contamination in the case of an accidental release.
"The Sierra Club has been fighting against Clorox for decades, trying to get them to be responsible," Evans said. "Now we're partners with them? It doesn't make any sense."
The Sierra Club says it won't disclose how much money it will get from the sale of Clorox's "Green Works" cleansers, saying it has the same policy for all donations.
Clorox's first new product line in 20 years consists of five cleansers for bathrooms, toilets, glass, surfaces and other uses. They are made from natural ingredients such as coconuts and lemon oil, contain no phosphorus or bleach, are biodegradable and are not tested on animals.
Their packaging bottles are recyclable -- and bear the Sierra Club's name and logo, a giant sequoia tree framed by mountain peaks.
"To us, this 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," Carl Pope, the club's executive director, said when the agreement was announced earlier this year.
The arrangement is the first of its type for the 116-year-old, San Francisco-based club, which has 1.3 million members and supporters, but it may not be the last.
With increasingly eco-savvy consumers demanding sustainable products and services, going green is good business. For some companies, a stamp of approval from a high-profile environmental group may become more valuable than a celebrity endorsement.
"Green is in," said Noah Hall, an environmental law professor at Wayne State University. "This is a very good time to be in the environmental protection business."