On a recent trip to QFC, I caught myself reverting to old habits. I raced through the store, flipping items off the shelves and into my basket, trying to set a new personal record for “quickest grocery trip ever.”

As I sprinted through the health and hygiene aisle, hurdling small children and hip-checking fellow shoppers, I skidded to halt in front of the deodorants. My standby deodorant-picking algorithm considers the following:

  • Does it exist?
  • Is it the lowest price?

In the past, that’s led me to big brands like Old Spice, Degree and Right Guard – mostly depending on what’s on sale. But this time, personal record be damned, I stopped to consider a more Earth-friendly option. This led me 20 feet passed the big brand deodorants and into the “Natural & Organic” section of the aisle.

Tom’s of Maine vs. Degree deodorant

Upon applying my deodorant-picking algorithm (see above) in the “Natural & Organic” section, I landed on Tom’s of Maine wide stick Mountain Spring. According to QFC’s website, most Tom’s of Maine deodorants cost $7.89, while Degree deodorants cost between $3.19 and $6.19 – depending on how “advanced” the odor protection is.

So where is that extra $1.70-$4.70 for Tom’s deodorant going?

Putting Tom’s to the test

Tom’s Mountain Spring deodorant certainly smells nice in the packaging, but does it hold up to physical activity?

I put it to the test during my weekly salmon survey with the Puget Sounkeeper Alliance. Wearing several layers and a pair of insulated waders, I sloshed up and down Longfellow Creek for about two hours on a sunny, 60 degree day and worked up a good sweat. Afterward, my wife and I both agreed that Tom’s deodorant held up to the challenge (bless her heart for being part of the testing process).

In my opinion, the deodorant works quite well – but so does Degree, and other big brands, for that matter. So what makes Tom’s a company worth supporting?

Choosing Tom’s over Degree is representative of most Earth-friendly consumer choices. Is it worth paying extra to support transparency and sustainability?

Tom’s of Maine (one of 280 Colgate-Palmolive owned brands) is a Certified B-Corp, a group of around 3,000 companies that meet strict tranparancy standards for social, environmental and other practices. According to Tom’s mission page, it donates 10% of its profits to nonprofit organizations and encourages its employees to use paid time to volunteer.

Tom’s is also certified cruelty-free for animal testing by Beauty Without Bunnies, but is not considered vegan because some products contain beeswax and/or propolis. The deodorant I purchased – and most Tom’s products – use plant-based ingredients like Aloe, hops and sunflower oil wherever possible, and avoid “artificial colors, flavors, fragrances, or preservatives.” Information for all of its ingredients can be found here. This feature really sets Tom’s apart from Degree.

Tom’s still uses plastic packaging, which isn’t ideal. The deodorant I purchased was packaged with #5 plastic made with 36% recycled content. All signs from King County suggests it can be recycled curbside. Tom’s partnered with Terracycle‘s mail-in recycling program for customers in areas that won’t accept this plastic.

Bottom Line: Tom’s deodorant holds up to sweaty salmon counting, uses plant-based ingredients, recycled/recyclable packaging. In addition, it avoids animal testing and artificial ingredients and a portion of its profits goes toward nonprofits and volunteering.

What does Degree deliver?

Degree is one of 400 brands owned by Unilever. I’ve used several of its deodorants in the past and they’ve always held up to hiking, running and other activities. Degree partnered with Blue Zones in 2019 to launch its Made to Move grant program, which gave $100,000 each to five cities for projects that promote physical activity.

Like Tom’s, Degree’s ingredients are printed on its packaging and posted online. Unlike Tom’s, however, Degree has little information regarding the ingredients source and seems to have no ambition to use plant-based ingredients. The list of ingredients in its Fragrance (Parfum) alone reads like an Icelandic medical dictionary and runs twice as long as Tom’s total ingredients list.

Unlike Tom’s, Degree is not certified cruelty-free for animal testing.

Degree deodorant is packaged similarly to Tom’s, but with no signs of using recycled materials. Unilever recently set goals to halve its virgin plastic use and move to 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025. In King County, empty Degree containers can be recycled curbside.

Bottom Line: Degree holds up to activity and spent a decent chunk of money on projects to promote physical activity in five cities. However, it seemingly has no desire to use natural, plant-based ingredients and its efforts to reduce plastic waste are minimal.

Conclusion

As a B-Corp, Tom’s of Maine has shown a commitment to transparency and support for social and environmental causes. Its products are cruelty-free, largely plant-based, and packaged using recycled materials.

At this point, the same can’t be said for Degree. Although it’s less expensive, Degree is one of the many big brands playing sustainability catch up, leaving consumers to guess whether their intentions are pure or not.

This is representative of most Earth-friendly consumer options. It costs extra to support transparency and sustainability, but those dollars count a hell of a lot more than likes on Twitter and Facebook. Aside from voting and activism, spending is the most powerful tool to advocate for sustainability.

If the cost of the Earth-friendly option doesn’t bother you, check out Herban Cowboy and other cruelty-free brands recommended by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, let us know what you think!

For those looking for zero-waste and all natural, check out Eco Collective’s personal care products.

Feature photo by Shashank Shekhar on Unsplash.