Dawn Soap: Tough on Grease, Gentle on the Environment?




I’m sure we all have seen a Dawn soap commercial where they lather ducklings and other wildlife in their dish soap, stating that their soap is friendly to the environment. Below is a link to a Dawn soap commercial that I will be evaluating in terms of TerraChoice’s greenwashing sins.

This commercial begins by showing a small ducking sitting in oil. A person, with their hands soapy with Dawn, then picks up this duckling and begins washing it with Dawn soap, and changing frames to a penguin, also soapy with Dawn. The commercial claims that “rescue workers have opened up a lot of Dawn,” and opens a cabinet with fifteen bottles of Dawn in it. The “rescue workers” in the commercial continue to wash the animals with Dawn soap, as the narrator transitions into Dawn’s accomplishments with the environment even further than its soap being safe on animals. As the narrator states, “Dawn helps open something even better,” the “rescue workers” portrayed in the advertisements gather around six animal crates, counting down to the moment in which they open the doors and set all of these animals free, with a gorgeous beach view behind them. As the animals they let free all run toward their natural environment, the narrator boasts that Dawn is donating one million dollars to rescue efforts, and encourages listeners to visit their Facebook page to “find out how the little things that you do make a big difference,” ending the commercial on a close up on a seal that you can only imagine was just reintroduced to its natural environment.

What you don’t hear in the commercial, however, is that in order for Dawn to make a donation, “consumers must go to dawnsaveswildlife.com — which features the bird rescue group and another beneficiary, the Marine Mammal Center — and enter a sequence of numbers printed on the back of bottles,” according to Andrew Adam Newman, in his article titled “Tough on Crude Oil, Soft on Ducklings” on The New York Times. Newman reports that “so far, more than $89,000 has been raised,” as of his September 2009 article. Here is a prime example of the “sin of vagueness” as determined by TerraChoice. The commercial doesn’t state that consumers must take action (other than purchasing the product) in order for Dawn to donate to a rescue effort, they just simply state that the company does donate that money. Another sin exemplified in this commercial is the “sin of no proof,” as nowhere in the commercial is a specific rescue group mentioned, rather they keep their terms broad and vague.

Interestingly enough, Dawn soap uses triclosan, which is an antibiotic agent that is known to be toxic to aquatic environments. The FDA reports that “many liquid soaps labeled antibacterial contain triclosan, an ingredient of concern to many environmental, academic and regulatory groups. Animal studies have shown that triclosan alters the way some hormones work in the body and raises potential concerns for the effects of use in humans. We don’t yet know how triclosan affects humans and more research is needed,” and also goes on to say that “there isn’t enough science to show that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water,” and encourages that consumers simply wash their hands in plain soap and water instead. By using this ingredient in their “environmental friendly” soap, they are violating the “sin of worshipping false labels,” as defined by TerraChoice.



Amanda Hecker

2 thoughts on “Dawn Soap: Tough on Grease, Gentle on the Environment?

  1. Excellent post, I was really surprised to read about the chemical in dawn dishwashing soap. I always assumed it was the safest thing to use on animals as that is what my vet told me after an accident with my car leading to her needed a lot of baths. I also was surprised by that they haven’t just “donated” to wildlife and its a campaign. Thats such a lie that is takes away much of the respect I hold for the company, but I realized that most companies are probably this way.

    ~Asha Brogan


  2. One of the best posts I have seen all semester! I am not really surprised though by Dawn for doing this because as the post above stated, many companies do this to sell their products. I agree I lose respect for companies that don’t hold their integrity high, but what companies do nowadays?


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