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Can a Private-Equity Giant Invest in Oil While Saving the Planet?

Carlyle sees itself as a force for good, even while investing in some things that aren’t.

An aisle of cleaning supplies at a Walmart in Secaucus, New Jersey. The retail giant sells cleaning products made by Weiman, a company that’s been transformed with a focus on sustainability under the ownership of the Carlyle Group. 

An aisle of cleaning supplies at a Walmart in Secaucus, New Jersey. The retail giant sells cleaning products made by Weiman, a company that’s been transformed with a focus on sustainability under the ownership of the Carlyle Group. 

Photographer: Timothy Fadek/Bloomberg
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Carlyle Group Inc. bought a business that sells harsh chemical cleaning products to put streak-free shines on kitchen appliances and swiftly remove dried paint. Then private-equity executives set about changing the products and even the office lightbulbs. Now the company, Weiman Products, sells a line of cleaning sprays made to emphasize sustainability and appeal to eco-conscious shoppers. Business has improved, which should help when it’s time to sell the company.

This process plays out hundreds of times each year in the world of private equity, and an investor like Carlyle would be expected to tout improvements in revenue and profit margins. In this case, though, Carlyle also wants to position the deal as proof of its commitment to fighting climate change—and a demonstration that moneymaking private-equity investors can be a force for progress.

“We fundamentally think Weiman will be worth more upon exit because of this focus on the sustainability of their products,” says Megan Starr, the head of impact at New York-based Carlyle.