I was once hired to write a brochure for a non-profit that wanted to promote organic gardening. It was a simple enough job, but after I turned it in, the agency’s lawyers got hold of it and removed any reference to "toxic" or "harmful" chemicals. They were afraid of getting sued by the manufacturers of those products. We couldn’t even say that organic products were "less harmful" or "safer." I don’t remember what language we settled on–"environmentally-friendly," maybe? But now I wonder just how many groups, agencies, manufacturers of organic products, garden centers, etc. have to watch how they talk about those chemicals the big boys make for fear of a lawsuit. Is it getting chilly in here?
The point is that here is a company–Scotts–that has moved into the organics market by buying organic fertilizer and soil company Whitney Farms and by rolling out its own line of products called Organic Choice. Why would a company that is selling organic products sue another manufacturer of organic products for saying organic is better than synthetic? Is it possible that Scotts sees organic as just that–a choice–or perhaps a marketing niche–but not actually a better way to garden? One wonders.
This also reminded me of a very interesting post on a blog called The Good Human (this link may or may not work but here goes) about two manufacturers of environmentally-friendly cleaning products. The post was titled "Method vs. Seventh Generation: Let the Battle Begin!" Representatives of both companies jumped on the blog to say that the debate should not be about Method vs. Seventh Generation, but should be about Method and Seventh Generation against the guys making the toxic products. These kind of "geek values" are more about collaboration and transformation, and less about hauling your competitor into court. (yeah, I know, we can all find examples of geeks hauling their competitors into court. Work with me here. We’re talking about values.)
So Scotts has blundered into the organics market and seems to be eager to take down its competition just as TerraCycle starts to make inroads into mainstream markets like Home Depot and Canada’s WalMart.
Lighten up, Scotts. Go pick on somebody your own size.
Visit Sued by Scotts for updates and instructions on how to communicate your displeasure to Scotts, or how to buy Terracycle products or donate to their legal defense fund. And if you want to see TerraCycle at work, here it is: