For a CEO, there’s pretty much nothing scarier than contemplating a change to a successful product. If your company has spent decades building relationships with customers, understanding their needs, and reliably delivering products that have been trusted for generations—well, you probably don’t want to mess with that.
And yet, that’s exactly where I found myself about 10 years ago.
Yes, it was scary. But, in my opinion, it was also very necessary.
You see, I’d recently succeeded my dad as president and CEO of Jelmar, and I’d been doing a lot of thinking about how the company should evolve. And what was clear to me was that as much as people loved our products, we couldn’t reallyconsider ourselves a success unless we found a way to make them safe for the environment.
Cleaning products that are environmentally friendly, but as effective as ever? Yep, sounds just about impossible. But we worked with an expert chemist, tested multiple formulas over many months, and eventually landed on some CLR®reformulations that we felt great about.
We knew the planet would thank us—but would our customers? We decided to introduce our new formulations quietly, replacing the products but making no changes to the packaging. All our hard work paid off when we got the outcome we’d been hoping for: sales continued to grow.
Since the early 2000s, we’ve worked closely with the EPA to make sure we meet their standards for environmentally friendly products, and CLR® packaging now bears a prominent EPA Safer Choice logo. Today, CLR® contains more than 85 percent natural ingredients, and we’ve been awarded Safer Choice Partner of the Year for three years in a row.
What seemed at one time to be a slightly crazy gamble has become one of the defining aspects of Jelmar products—one that’s been met with gratitude by both new and longstanding customers.
But I don’t mean to suggest that all of this was easy, because it certainly wasn’t. That’s why I want to share a few key insights that might help other business leaders who are looking for ways to improve the sustainability of their businesses:
- Embrace technology and science. I’m not gonna lie, I’m no expert in chemistry. But when we hired an experienced chemist to lead our green product reformulation, it opened up possibilities I never new existed. And sustainability isn’t just about products; there are so many ways technology can help make your business easier on the environment, and working with those in the know can be a game changer.
- Don’t compromise your values. Any green initiative you undertake for your business will likely involve a great deal of time and cost—especially if you’re overhauling processes or products with lots of tradition behind them. It’s important to remember why you’ve chosen to take these steps begin with; for me, it was simply that I believe caring for the environment is no longer a choice. As challenging as it was to implement more sustainable business practices, I knew it was a necessary evolution.
- Listen to your customers. As much as you might care about the environment, it’s only natural to worry about how your customers will react to changes—I certainly did! I recommend listening carefully to their needs, whether that’s on social media, in focus groups, or even by observing the way they interact with your products in a retail setting. If you focus on understanding and solving your customers’ problems, you’ll discover the best way to improve sustainability while keeping your customers happy.
- Be the leader you are. On the other hand, the fact is your customers won’t always make the right decisions about environmental issues. Maybe they’re busy, they’re on a budget, or they don’t have time to become as informed as they’d like about how they can help the planet. That’s where your role as a business leader becomes especially vital. Through your products, your marketing communications, and your everyday business decisions, you set the tone of our culture and shape the evolution of our society. If you want to see others take action to help the environment, you need to lead the way.
Jelmar’s green product reformulations began with one simple decision—that sustainability should be integrated into our day-to-day lives, not something we only think about once in awhile. Change is never easy, but if you’re like me, you also know it can be worth it.