Are Criticisms of Bausch & Lomb’s New Biotrue Product Fair?

Bausch & Lomb, a leading maker of contact lenses and lens care solutions, has introduced Biotrue, a multi-purpose solution for cleaning and conditioning contact lenses.  Marketed as the first lens solution that comes close to recreating the tears that occur naturally in eyes, Biotrue has appeared on many drugstore shelves and will launch a new advertising campaign next week.

Biotrue contains hyaluronan, which come about as close as possible to mimicking human tears.  It is packaged in a box covered with soft hues of blue and green, unlike the cartons of its competitors’, which look, well, sterile and austere.  Touting its inspiration as the “biology of your eyes,” Biotrue’s web site extols the value of nature, and makes analogies to other products, including the Prius (boxfish) and smartphones (butterfly wings).  The imitation of nature is a recurrent theme of Biotrue’s branding, and such messaging has landed Bauch & Lomb in trouble with some sustainability professionals.

But are the criticisms of Bauch & Lomb warranted?

Take the packaging, which is imprinted with statements including, “Bausch & Lomb cares about the environment,” and “This carton and bottle are 100 percent recyclable.”   The NY Times took issue with Bausch & Lomb’s claims because the truth is that any cardboard packaging is recyclable, as are most plastic bottles.  Fair point:  perhaps it would be preferable that the company used recycled materials, but criticizing the company for “misleading statements” or even “greenwashing” is going too far.  The product is not claiming to be green, and the company is giving a fact:  the packaging materials are recyclable.  Another objection is that Bausch & Lomb does not mention any charitable contributions—but critics need to give the company some slack; a quick perusal of its web site shows that the company has an ambitious grants and donations program.

Bausch & Lomb’s marketing managers are positioning Biotrue to consumers who have an affinity for products inspired by nature, and are also into health and wellness.  As one product manager explained, people who indulge in yoga or other healthy activities will gravitate towards Biotrue.  So they are spot on:  yoga scores high on the wellness meter, so we drive to the studios by car and aspire to Patanjali’s ideals, splattered across yoga mats made from synthetic foam–and if we are really cool, we stash it in a matching carrying case.  Perhaps we should stalk yoga studios and lecture their customers about how unsustainable all that contorting really is, but I will discuss my idea of a pilot of “The Real House-Husbands of Santa Monica” and the need for a return to compostable straw yoga mats another time.

If Bausch & Lomb waxed on and on about Biotrue’s green virtues and slapped its packaging with trees and leaves, I would say unleash the greenwash police on them.  But the company, like Method Home, emphasizes performance and biology, not environment.  While I hate the thought of some Biotrue bottles ending up in a landfill,  I would rather focus on bottled water, which is a far bigger waste culprit than a product that exists because well, some of us have green or hazel eyes and we want to show them off.  A greenwashing label is earned when a company overstates its products’ “eco” benefits.  Bausch & Lomb does not cross this line.

In the end we are talking about a niche product in a fragmented market.  Personally, I chuckle at the company’s boast that Biotrue is the first solution of its kind to be in a clear bottle—apparently customers were frustrated from not knowing when they were running out of product, which I assumed could be gauged by shaking the bottle.

Finally, remember that if you wear contacts, be sure to get your eyes checked once a year and for Pete’s sake, use products like Biotrue and lenses as directed so your corneas do not get gummy from protein deposits!

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).