Recently, Honest Co has come under fire for contradictory information regarding ingredients in their products. The mission of the business is to provide home and baby products that are “not only effective, but unquestionably safe, eco-friendly, beautiful, convenient, and affordable”. They have a very detailed sustainability strategy that is transparent to all consumers and partners, and are formally associated with PETA, the Carbon Fund, Renewable Energy Credits, B Corps Certification, and Green America Certified Business – GOLD. The company also provides information to consumers about harmful chemicals and ingredients that exist in many household products, which they pledge to avoid. One of these ingredients is sodium lauryl sulfate, which is known to irritate skin.
The Wall Street Journal, however, has made a public statement that the Honest Co. does in fact use this ingredient in their liquid detergent, despite their pledge not to. A blog post by the Honest Co. repudiates this claim, saying that they use a different, yet similar ingredient. The Wall Street Journal is firm in it’s belief (supported by scientists research on the product) that the Honest Co. is using the harmful chemical, and the Honest Co. is firm in it’s public statement that no, they do not. While these two forces battle between what is right, the consumers are left feeling distrustful and confused.
Consumers of Honest Co.’s products are buying into a company whose products are trusted to be just that… honest. When I bought a detergent from Honest Co. last year, it was a win-win purchase. I was not making a compromise on quality, cost, or effectiveness, and I felt really good about it. I implicitly trusted that Honest Co. was being true to its sustainability and value mission. These are the fundamental values of the company, after all, and they must be aligning their products to those values. Right?
The question I want to ask here is not whether or not sodium lauryl sulfate is in their product despite their adamant claims that it is not. The question is of whom consumers are going to trust more when there are claims against the sustainable values of a company. This example shows that even if a company builds its entire product line on sustainability and safe consumption; it only takes one naysayer to bring each and every product component into question. What if Honest Co. is right, and none of this chemical exists in their detergent? They still will have lost the trust of many consumers. And what if Honest Co. is wrong? Their public adamancy will have been untrue, causing irreparable damage to their brand image and trust. Ultimately, they cannot escape from this claim unscathed.
This news article brings up many complex issues that connect with our class content, but I believe that it reflects the vital importance of transparency and honesty to help a brand thrive in their sustainability mission.