So Tom’s Of Maine Is Owned By Colgate. Let’s Talk About It.

July 20th, 2014 - filed under: Furthermore » Feedback

toms owned by colgate


*deep breath*

I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages. AGES. Ever since I announced my partnership with Tom’s Of Maine back in May and was met with a lot of excitement . . . but also some concern. Which didn’t surprise me in the least! I wrote to the company right away, and since I believe in transparency, I’ll just show you the exact email I sent to my contact at Tom’s that day:

So I announced my partnership with Tom’s on my blog yesterday, and was met *mostly* with support. My readers are incredibly intelligent and fiercely independent, which is why I love them so much. So naturally, they have questions and concerns about the company (I can’t imagine a situation where they wouldn’t, since we are a “question everything” kind of crew) and I just wanted to check in with you before I engage in a dialogue.

My readers are mostly concerned with Tom’s being owned by a parent company, Colgate. I feel very strongly that smaller, natural branches of larger parent companies should still be supported – for all sorts of important reasons. I would like to speak freely about this with my readers, to share my perspective on why I think it’s so crucial to support companies like Tom’s, despite their larger parent company.

Are you okay with me speaking freely about this?



Back on the day I announced the partnership here on the blog, I joked about how my big mouth was going to get my butt sued. So yes, I definitely wanted to run things by the folks at Tom’s and make sure I wasn’t going to breach my contract by speaking out about this.

And of course, they said yes, fine, no worries. Speak freely! I set up a conference call with another contact at Tom’s, so that I could learn about the history of the company, the details of the sale to Colgate (and why that decision was made – it was intentional, by the way!), and how it’s affected the company since. But scheduling meant our conference call had to wait a week, and then right after that I was administering midterms, and the week after that I was grading those midterms, and then a psychotic misogynist gunned down 6 students at my University and everything went into crisis mode for a few weeks. And then finals.

So this post, which I wanted to write when I could give it my full energy and attention, was pushed to the back burner. Until now! And now I want to talk about how Tom’s is owned by Colgate, and how I’m [mostly] totally okay with that.

To be clear, these are just my own thoughts on the issue; my own personal perspective. Your mileage may vary. And I’d love to hear your own thoughts down below, and as always I encourage discourse as long as it remains respectful. Yes? Onwards!

~~~

So let’s begin by talking in a big picture, abstract, non-Tom’s-specific sort of way. In the most general sense, I support the idea of small eco-conscious companies growing bigger for one simple reason: wider reach. If I believe in a company and what it’s doing, then why wouldn’t I want it to grow? Why wouldn’t I want more people to gain access to the products? I think (I hope? Or is this like when your favorite indie band gets radio play and suddenly you’re too cool to listen to them?) we can all agree on this. I hope.

The problem with small companies growing larger comes when those companies suddenly become lax around the ethical standards that drew us in to begin with. More business might mean larger manufacturing facilities, maybe outsourcing production overseas, maybe re-sourcing ingredients from less-than-stellar vendors, and on. Many eco-conscious companies start out small and wholesome, then begin to grow, and start cutting corners to support their growth. That’s green washing, and it’s a big problem for conscientious consumers.

But luckily, that’s just not an issue here. Because Tom’s is green, through and through. This is a company as green as any company I could possibly imagine. That hasn’t changed as they’ve grown, and it didn’t change one single bit when ownership was transferred. So yeah, you can call them out for putting beeswax in their dental floss (so unnecessary, why??!) or you can complain about them relying too heavily on SLS (and go ahead and tell them about it too – they really listen), but man, you can’t claim that they’re not on the absolute cutting edge of environmental stewardship in sustainable manufacturing. You just can’t.

Seriously, I encourage you to visit the website and learn about what they’re doing in terms of environmentally-friendly production practices, because it’s really sort of revolutionary. Read the Goodness Report. It’s incredibly thorough, and damn impressive. Read about what it’s like to work at Tom’s. Tell me you don’t want to work at a place like that! And then check out their Stewardship Model. Okay, now show me another major corporation that’s living up to that standard.

Guys, this is NOT green washing. This is actually a really, really good company. And I hope it goes without saying that I wouldn’t have decided to partner with them if they weren’t.

And look, I know the company’s not without its flaws. I’ll be the first to admit that – and I don’t have any problem saying so! Hey Tom’s, why you gotta put bee-derived additives in products labeled “free of animal ingredients”? That doesn’t fly with the vegans, dudes!

I can support the company, and admire them, *and* want them to do better. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.


toms of maine colgate

Back to the Colgate thing. My question was, why did Tom and Kate sell their super-hippie company to Colgate in the first place?

Well apparently, it wasn’t an accident. It was a calculated decision. A choice. Because they knew that Tom’s would remain unchanged (as stipulated in the terms of the sale), while also reaching millions more people. Essentially, they wanted Colgate for its distribution. So that now, because Tom’s is attached to Colgate, Tom’s can be distributed wherever Colgate is distributed. And I love that. That was my original point! I love that everywhere, all over the country in grocery stores and Wal*Marts, from the inner city to the rural middle-of-nowhere, people from all walks of life and in every situation can choose a natural, cruelty free, and healthier product for their family. I believe that everyone deserves to be able to make that choice.

Listen. Here is my own truth: I may dream of an ideal future, but I am not an idealist. I’m actually a realist, maybe even a radical realist (just ask the vegans who want me to shut up already about all those EX-vegans), so I prefer to see a situation for what it really is, here and now.

And what that means is, I know it would be wonderful if we could all be making our own body care products at home out of coconut oil and baking soda and other simple ingredients. I encourage anyone who has the time and energy to do that, to do that! But not everyone has that kind of time. And for people like that, I’m so glad that they have access to a healthier product like Tom’s.

In my ideal world, we might also all support independent, local artisans. That would be amazing, and for those who can afford it, I encourage you to do so. But again, not everyone has that kind of disposable income.

I am not willing to ignore the financial or lifestyle limitations that millions of Americans face. To do so would be to erase them from our conversations about what it means to be a vegan or an environmentalist.

Clearly, I’m talking far beyond toothpaste. This brings up much larger issues involving social justice, equality, and perhaps the sort of realistic expectations that I believe our compassionate and eco-conscious community would do well to consider, if we truly want to make progressive change.

Not everyone has the means to meet the ideal. For people in that position (a position I was in less than a year ago, and which I am still working my way out of), I am so glad that Tom’s provides a natural choice that’s accessible to everyone.

So yes, that is why I think it’s important to support small sustainable subsidiaries of larger, big-mean-nasty parent corporations. Because they allow greater access to natural products for people who would not otherwise be exposed to such things, and also because every time you choose Tom’s over Colgate, it sends the parent corporation a very important message about the direction they may want to take Colgate itself in the future.

I know what the other side says – that the money trickles up, that buying Tom’s will ultimately line the pockets of Colgate. And I understand that, I do. It’s just that . . . I don’t necessarily find that to be a productive way of thinking.

In the same way that I shop at grocery stores that sell animal products, even though I’m opposed to eating animals, and even my little super-hippie Co Op in Portland sold eggs and dairy, and some of my very favorite restaurants that make an awesome vegan meal also serve up dead flesh, and I’ll support the delicious sorbet at my local creamery, even though their main focus is un-vegan gelato, and do you see where I’m going with this? This is my point about ideal versus reality. If you shop at a grocery store or a restaurant or any other place that sells items in conflict with your ethics, then you’re really no different than people who buy from green companies owned by a parent corporation. Which is not to say “Nyah Nyah, GOTCHYA!”, but is instead meant to illustrate that it’s all of us. We are all doing it. We all draw our lines in the sand, wherever we feel comfortable and in whatever way our own unique circumstances allow. But ultimately, our lines may not be as different as we prefer to imagine they are.

Personally, I’d rather see people give money to a company that reserves 10% of its profits to donate to charity, a company that’s busy thinking about how to reduce water waste and increase energy efficiency on the production line, a company that’s got an entire team of people thinking about the littlest things, like where they’re sourcing the glue that holds their packaging together, and how maybe they can switch from a petroleum-based binder to a vegetable-based one (seriously, this is what they’re currently doing). That makes me happy. I think it’s a good thing, and something I very much want to support.

But . . . that’s not my point. My point in writing this was not to try and convince you to purchase Tom’s. Not at all. In fact, like I said – if you have the time to make your own personal care products, I think you should. Or if you have the means to buy the small-batch local stuff, I think you should do that as well. I think that you should do whatever makes you feel best, within the constraints of your own actual reality.

My point, I guess, is that I don’t believe this to be as black and white as it’s so often presented. There are larger issues at play here. And I don’t know that it makes sense to blindly or blithely write off entire branches of the eco-friendly marketplace. I do think, however, that in order to be intellectually honest, we need to have a more nuanced conversation.

But that’s just me, your resident radical realist. Like I said above, your mileage may vary.

♥ ♥ ♥

  • http://coconutandberries.com/ coconutandberries

    Yes, yes, yes! Great post Sayward. Some of the issues I’m often pondering myself. I’ve felt bad in the past for buying vegan products from smaller companies owned by larger “unethical” ones but in the end have fallen back on a similar position as you, that of the “radical realist”, as you so nicely put it :)
    It’s not always possible to purchase exclusively from local, organic, vegan owned companies or make everything from scratch, and believe me I try pretty hard! So I’m grateful that these smaller companies like Tom’s are getting wider distribution so that everyone, not just those of use who shop in the hippie health food stores can get their hands on them. Even if that means selling out to larger companies. So pleased to hear that Tom’s has managed to hold on to their ethical practices.

  • Sarah

    Thank you for this post. I think there’s an element of realism and practicality missing from such debates that needs to be explored. I’m an eternal pragmatist, and whilst I’d love to live off the land, growing all my own food, making all my own products, and being followed everywhere by birds and butterflies, I know that realistically it’s never going to happen, so I do the best I can within my means: being vegan, buying organic and local where possible, buying loose produce instead of pre-bagged, supporting companies who make the effort to label a product as vegan-friendly, etc. It’s not perfect, but it’s something!

    In the UK, we have a brand called Original Source, who make vegan-friendly haircare and bath products. They’re owned by a company called Cussons, who are decidedly NOT vegan-friendly. However, the fact that they are owned by such a large parent company means that anyone can purchase cruelty-free toiletries in any major supermarket and pharmacy in the UK, and the wide distribution of their products has made them wildly popular. Now hundreds of thousands of UK homes are using vegan-friendly products every day – how could that not be a good thing?

    This reminds me of that famous Edward Everett Hale quote: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.” Words to live by! Thanks again for being so open and honest about this issue.

  • http://marketstreetvegan.com/the-recipe-blog Amanda

    *Applause*

  • http://www.theveganchickpea.com theveganchickpea

    you go girl. i 100% agree. i’ve been using tom’s for years- fluoride free toothpaste and aluminum free deodorant all the way. your argument for supporting toms is so poignant and thought provoking. i loved every word. thank you!

  • Meg

    I really appreciate this post and your inclusive approach towards sustainability. Tom’s toothpaste was the first eco-friendly product I purchased, while living in a rural area on a limited income. I’m not vegan or vegetarian so I may not be your target audience here, but I appreciate opening the conversation to include the very real issues of affordability and practicality when buying products.

  • http://www.thevegancookiefairy.com/ The Vegan Cookie Fairy

    I agree with your views. I tried boycotting every vegan product that was owned by a larger, non-vegan, not-so-ethical company but in the end I was having to boycott everything I could afford. I didn’t want to buy Alpro non-dairy milk anymore when I found out that it was owned by Dean Foods but in the end it was hard to avoid it because a) it was the most affordable non-dairy milk I could find, and b) it was so readily available. I figured, if people are consuming more plant-based food products, does it matter who produces them? If supermarkets are finally starting to stock more plant-based products?

  • http://coconutandberries.com/ coconutandberries

    Exactly the same situation I was thinking about Clem. I boycotted Alpro for a long time but now do buy their products from time to time. Realistically speaking it’s great that they’re so widely available. Vegan needs to be approachable and accessible to everyone!

  • Rebecca Carnes

    Love this post and agree:) Me being in a less than desirable financial situation, I hate feeling like I’m stuck purchasing not so healthy/environmentally friendly products and foods… so if a big company makes it possible for me to make better choices for my son and I, I am all aboard! Of course, as long as the integrity and ingredients are not compromised ;)

  • Bianca

    Awesome post! I still buy Tom’s, Silk, Boca, and probably a ton of other brands owned by larger non-vegan companies. And I agree that it’s more important to get these products to the masses through a large company than trying to stay small and indie. If our goal is create more vegans (mine certainly is!), then we have to get the products to the people by any means necessary.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Exactly! If the integrity and ingredients are there, we should be supporting that. We can always hope for more and ask for better, but the bottom line is that now, int his situation in our actual lives, it’s awesome to have the options that we do. Totally agree.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Agree 100% Bianca! Small and Indy is *awesome* for those who can access it. More power to them! But in order to reach as many people as possible, we need both kinds of companies working in our favor. I’m so glad there are big guys out there who are willing to continue to do the right thing even as they grow.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Totally. When I was in Portland it was easier – I had more access to alternative options and I had more resources (more time + more money). In that case it made sense for me to buy local/small batch/artisan, etc, and I always did. We all do what we can int he situation we’re in. But like you said, in the end what matters as that people are making the ethical choice in whatever way they are able to in their situation. More people buying Tom’s means less people buying Colgate, and that’s great!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    It was the very first eco-friendly product I used too, when I was 11 years old in a little hippie town in SoCal! =D

    Also, my target audience is anyone who is being thoughtful about the way they move through the world. And it sounds like you fit the bill exactly. ♥

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thanks lady! So glad it made sense – this was really hard to write! Glad you liked it. =)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you Amanda!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    YES! Great comment Sarah. And it’s a lot more than just *something*, it sounds like you are doing a ton and you should be proud! And wow, the Original Source situation sounds a LOT like the Tom’s one. And I feel the same as you – thousands of people using vegan products – that’s nothing but good!

    Beautiful quote, love love love it. ♥

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    I know, I go back and forth myself, depending on my current situation (means). But I take comfort in knowing I’m doing the very best I can at any given moment. That’s all any of us can do! I know you try hard and SUCCEED in doing so much. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Like I said, we’re all doing the best we can.

  • RockMyVeganSocks

    Thank you for taking the time to do the research on this and keep us fully informed! Not everything is black and white (I’m learning this as I get older and more experienced) and it’s nice to know the full story of something before making a snap judgement.

  • Julie

    I love this post. As a full-time working mom of 2 – I do the best I can with what time and money I have. I’d love to be able to make every meal from scratch, research every product backwards and forwards and still have quality time with my family… but we all gotta sleep sometime right?! We are all doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Thanks for the great post! I too have been using Tom’s for years and love it!

  • stephie137

    I’m all about doing the best you have with what you’ve got, and all about maximum effectiveness. A better choice for lots and lots of people is almost always better than a perfect choice for a small few. It brings to mind what Tesla just did with their intellectual property.

    Honestly, what was weird about the Goodness Circle and this blog? When I went to the site and it introduces you as still living in Portland, with chickens, etc. While that’s part of your story, anyone following your blog knows that’s not what’s going on now. I know it matches your bio on this site, but maybe an update is in order? It was weird, to state things that “were” as things that “are” and I can’t fully explain why, but it undermined what you’re doing there.

  • April

    Thank you for this post! As usual, you’ve expressed my feelings much better than I could have! When we first heard that Tom’s was being sold to Colgate, my husband and I immediately jumped ship on our favorite toothpaste until we could get some facts on exactly what that *meant*. And we found ourselves a superbly crunchy Ayurvedic toothpaste and haven’t looked back. This toothpaste is BROWN, dude…any hippie worth her sea salt knows that brown = awesome ;-) Even though we are toothpaste converts, I have bought some Tom’s deodorant (I also make my own), and I would also happily buy Tom’s toothpaste again and it makes me ridiculously happy that Tom’s is available to a much wider audience. We NEED to have healthier options in everything from food to self care to cleaning products available to people of all economic walks of life. And that means selling these things in WalMarts (even though I have very strong feelings about WalMart) because there’s just not a Whole Foods or Co-op on every corner across America. Anyway, my babe is coloring on my hardwood and feeding crayons to the dog…better scoot! Thanks for the enlightenment as always!

  • Angie

    I really appreciate you doing the research and sharing in such an informative manner. I am glad to know Tom’s is the company that I perceived them to be, and I am happy to continue supporting their products.

  • theresa

    LOVE THIS POST. Goes back to the idea that it’s okay to love things that are problematic as long as you don’t deny that they’re problematic, and do acknowledge where they’re doing right! I also didn’t know that it was possible for companies to retain so much of their original awesomeness after being bought out, I might research Burt’s Bees to see how they are doing since being bought by clorox (I know, not vegan, but used to be fantastic for my medically-messed-up skin!). So I might have to switch back to Tom’s from Trader Joe’s toothpaste now (it tastes so horrible omg I can’t). Super informative and well-thought-out post!

  • Bel

    Hi! For me, it comes down to the bigger conflict of pragmaticism vs idealism and the hard realisation that sometimes the ideal thing, even if it exists, isn’t necessarily the best thing in practice.
    Case in point: I found a toothpaste brand which was all natural, vegan and also produced very locally by people who own the vegan store. Only 20 toothpaste miles! [If that's a thing!]. So I splurged and bought an adult for me, and the kiddie version for my little boy. Fast-forward 1 week and we both had multiple mouth ulcers. We had to stop, and reverted to our former kinda-natural-produced-a-million-miles-away brand which works great even if it doesn’t really meet my ideals. It also didn’t help that our natural-local-blistery brand was 4 times (!) the cost of the normal brand, and since I’m on a tight budget, continuing the buy blister-brand (Even if it had no adverse effects) could have compromised our nutritional needs in the long-term if I was too idealistic and put toothpaste ahead of food (the difference was a LOT of dried beans!). It simply wasn’t worth it on the health and wealth front.
    So my point, lost somewhere in there, is that if a good part of a large company means that a brand is more affordable, still meets some of my principles compared to other brands and is good to use, then I’m not going to be a snob about it, because although it’s a pragmatic compromise, it’s the best option out of what is available once all factors are considered. That said, Tom’s is still a little too expensive for me to buy routinely – but it’s just in reach as a special treat once in a while!

  • Liv Reiners

    You inspire me daily!

  • saraandcompany

    Ahh! Love this post. I completely agree with you and honestly hadn’t looked into Tom’s much in terms of morals. It does really bother me when companies are bought out and start “selling out” with MAC testing on animals, Body Shop completely changing their product formulations and going back against their body positivity messages. And don’t even get me started about green washing. It makes me so happy that a company that has gotten so big has kept up with their morals.

    I started reading this blog ages ago. It must have been 2008 or something crazy. This is the blog that inspired me to go vegan, that really made me look into “eco” marketing BS that companies spew. The fact that you specifically support a company like Tom’s makes me reconsider purchasing it. And it truly makes me reevaluate purchasing from indie companies connected to “big bad” ones. So thanks! :)

  • Lurker

    Tom’s of Maine’s is awesome..but let’s put that aside and talk about the uh, bees. Now let’s forget about your bee/vegan comment and imagine this. Your kid is playing in the living room, and a huge rat somehow got into the room and is looking menacingly at your son. There is no open door to swat him out of. So, you gonna whack him on the head with that huge designer rock sitting on the coffee table, or you gonna invite him to dinner and talk about the poor bee business and the stress it causes vegans. Just curious about living in the real world.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    HI Lurker, do you have an actual, straightforward question? If so I would be more than happy to answer it. As it is though, I truly don’t understand your comment. And I don’t even own a coffee table!

  • veggiesara

    This is why I LOVE reading your blog. You always know exactly what to say (I often think the same way about things, but for me it seems so hard to put it into words).
    We don’t have Tom’s here in Belgium. But we have kind of the same thing with Alpro (a brand that started out with only soy products, but now has some other non-dairy milks as well) and it’s organic sister Provamel. Alpro is owned by Dean Foods since 2009. A lot of vegans say they don’t buy Alpro anymore, simply because it is owned by Dean Foods. They still work very hard to make new and delicious plant based foods and drinks. They still do a lot for the environment. And, like you say with Tom’s, it is available in every supermarket, for everyone to buy.

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  • Jesscia

    I’ve tried to type out a comment a dozen times, but I think you’ve already said it more eloquently than I can. Congratulations on your partnership, you really deserve it.

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  • Cara

    Sayward wrote:

    I know what the other side says – that the money trickles up, that buying Tom’s will ultimately line the pockets of Colgate. And I understand that, I do. It’s just that . . . I don’t necessarily find that to be a productive way of thinking.

    it is, nonetheless an accurate way of thinking. And I’ll wager Tom & Kate made a pile of money on the sale, as well. I apologize for being blunt, but the pros seem like rationalizations. Bottom line is that Tom’s is owned by Colgate and 90% of the profits are going to a corporation that is not green and tests on animals. With the internet, it’s easy to find superior alternatives to Tom’s.

    Every dollar you spend is a political statement.