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SC Johnson Polishes the Enviro-Truth

A current TV commercial promotes the environmental goodness of SC Johnson, the maker of Raid, Drano, Scrubbing Bubbles and Saran Wrap.

Hardly the kind of products that one associates with a pristine eco-system.

In the commercial, CEO H. Fisk Johnson praises his father for removing chlorofluorocarbons from the company's products in 1975, three years before the government banned them, and brags about making products like Windex, Shout and Pledge "better for the environment and better for your family."

My greenwashing radar was pinging away.

If a company has to go back 37 years to find a good example of its environmental citizenship, how progressive can it be?

But it also made me think of a common complaint by CEOs of big old-line companies that if they make any effort at environmental improvement they are certain to be criticized for not doing enough. I decided to take a closer look at what's actually in SC Johnson's products and what environmental watchdogs have to say.

Ellis Jones, author of The Better World Shopping Guide, grades consumer products and companies on social and environmental responsibility. He gives SC Johnson a B-, above Procter & Gamble (PG), which garners a C for a mixed track record, but short of the full B he gives to other mainstream companies that he sees making a serious effort.

I'd agree with Jones' assessment. The company clearly is pursuing environmental initiatives on different fronts. But as a private, family-run business, it doesn't have to release very much information about itself. It takes full advantage of this by providing selective information about its eco-successes instead of being truly transparent.

In November, for example, SC Johnson issued a press announcement touting a yearlong effort to reconfigure the way it packs its trucks to maximize space and use less gas. It claims to have reduced its annual truckloads by 2,100 trips, cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 1,882 tons and cut fuel usage by 168,000 gallons.

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