Doctor My Eyes

An unusual pairing not quite as strange as that of Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett was announced last month. Walmart has decided to carry Seventh Generation products. For a company with $150 million in 2009 sales, this decision can greatly boost Seventh Generation's revenues. And the road to increased revenues and a profound change in how we shop for household products may well run through the doctor's office.

Come again? This odd coupling is going to require some creativity to succeed. I will explain in a minute.

To make the marriage work, Seventh Generation first needs to make Walmart customers aware of its products and then needs to convince them to switch from the cleaning products they currently use. Recently lowered prices and positive experiences with Seventh Generation products may prompt some switching but it's going to take more to achieve the level of success Walmart demands.

It's going to take a change in the way Americans think about their cleaning products, and Jeffrey Hollender, Seventh Generation's founder and Chief Inspired Protagonist, sounds like he's on a mission to do just that when he says, "We'll be helping Walmart educate shoppers about why the product choices they make matter so very much."

Seventh Generation's instructional tool kit

Successfully educating Walmart shoppers on why their product choices matter and why Seventh Generation offers the best choices is no mean feat. The company, fortunately, has experience in educating consumers about the healthfulness of products they use to clean their homes. For instance, Seventh Generation's Label Reading Guide helps consumers make sense of confusing product labels by explaining why some of those hard-to-pronounce ingredients may be hurting them, their families, and the environment.

In addition, Seventh Generation's 7Gen Blog provides a platform for the company to both educate customers and be educated by them. Some interested Walmart shoppers might find their way to the 7Gen Blog. Finally, Walmart will likely provide opportunities for Seventh Generation to educate consumers in the store.

While Seventh Generation has an impressive array of educational tools at its disposal, I can't help but feel that all these programs will miss a lot of shoppers. First, a Walmart is not exactly the best place for deep contemplation of obscure cleaner ingredients. And once shoppers leave the store, how many will be motivated enough to peruse the online information provided by Seventh Generation and others?

Exam-Waiting Room U.

So how can Seventh Generation capture all those Walmart shoppers that slip through its information dragnet? How about enlisting doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and RNs as partners in its mission? I'm thinking pediatricians, gynecologists, family practice physicians, internists, and allergists as well as the other healthcare professionals that work with them.

All right, you may be thinking, "surely doctors can't be relied on to educate patients on the environmental impact of household products." Well, with the mainstream, health impact is where it's at right now. Green Meridian's research has found that about one-third of mainstream women want to green their cleaning purchases. Many of these women say they already consider cleaner healthfulness when choosing cleaners but only a small number consider products' effects on the environment.

And women's worries about the health risks of cleaners are well founded. The Internet is abuzz with discussion about a study that came out last month in the international journal Environmental Health, which suggests that using household cleaning products may contribute to an increased risk of women developing breast cancer. And many moms fear that their children are more vulnerable to toxic agents. They don't have to look far to find research to support that.

Who better to help women through this maze of scary studies than their trusted doctor?

I must have missed this class in med school

Make no mistake. Conversations between patients (or their parents) and doctors about the toxicity of products brought into the home are already happening. But how well equipped are doctors to have these conversations? The science is evolving, and the wide scope of many medical professionals' practices, particularly the more primary care-oriented ones, requires them to stay current on a vast array of conditions. They have only so much bandwidth available to learn about the threats posed by household products. Doctors (and nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and RNs) need some help.

Before Seventh Generation and others can educate healthcare providers about the health implications of ingredients in household cleaners, marketers first need to understand how much doctors currently know about cleaner ingredients. And do they even believe the ingredients in cleaners pose a significant health risk? Once companies have this baseline understanding of providers' knowledge and perceptions, they can then set education goals.

3 comments about "Doctor My Eyes ".
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  1. E.B. Moss from Moss Appeal, August 11, 2010 at 1:57 p.m.

    Every effort to educate 'the masses" with eco-info is a good one, if done in a clear, adoptable manner. Seventh Gen has always worked to do that. And to leverage the health-care industry as a grassroots effort is a smart approach. Love to see this implemented, and will do my part by encouraging my doctor and client, Dr Tara Allmen (@drallmen), to share on her social platforms!

  2. Perry Goldschein from S Dialogue, LLC, August 11, 2010 at 2:31 p.m.

    Great post, Jeff! Agree it will be hard to educate all of the consumers directly and maybe health care (HC) professionals can help -- even if it's a version of "crib notes" like the "Toxic Ten" on personal care ingredients that was circulated not long ago for HC professionals to discuss and hand out to patients.

    It may be Walmart can run successful personal sustainability programs (PSPs) for their customers, like they did for their employees also -- if it can work for their employees, certainly it can work for their customers...

  3. Jeff Dubin, August 12, 2010 at 8:37 p.m.

    Thank you Perry and EB for your encouraging comments and suggestions.

    Perry, funny you mentioned the Toxic Ten. Someone today suggested to me that at the very least green companies could have sympathetic doctors put educational brochures in their waiting rooms.

    Look forward to continuing the dialogue about this topic.

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