Seventh Generation's Response to OCA | Seventh Generation
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Seventh Generation's Response to OCA

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Author: Inspired Protagonist

We applaud the Organic Consumer Association’s (OCA) recent research efforts to educate consumers about the safety of personal care and home cleaning products. It is important for consumers to know that Seventh Generation’s dish liquid, which does contain a minute amount of the ethoxylate 1,4-dioxane, is deemed safe according to the FDA’s and our own strict guidelines.

We are committed to eliminating all harmful chemicals from household cleaning products. Consistent with our core mission, we have worked with surfactant manufacturers for many years to reduce levels of 1,4-dixoane in ethoxylated surfactants and it is our intent to completely eliminate 1,4-dioxane from all of our products.

The OCA research reviewed personal care products such as hand soaps and shampoos alongside household cleaning products with different usage and efficacy requirements. As noted in the Los Angeles Times on March 14, 2008, “Dishwashing liquids are particularly hard to keep free of 1,4-dioxane because they require surfactants that are powerful grease cutters.” Liquid laundry detergents also require surfactants for stain removal.

We share the OCA’s concerns about the misuse of terms such as “organic” and “natural” and the lack of disclosure requirements. We have championed this cause and have led the market for twenty years. We also believe that the decision to stop using conventional synthetic chemical cleaners is one of the most important ones you’ll ever make for the health of your family and the safety of your home. While our products are not perfect today, we will continue to improve them and are confident that they are a much better and safer choice than traditional cleaning products.

Is There An Alternative to Ethoxylates?
We don’t believe that today there is a better or safer choice. Ethoxylation is used to modify plant oils to make them function as surfactants. It is possible to create surfactants without ethoxylation, but there are trade-offs. One alternative, for example, is to use exclusively petroleum-derived materials. However, this is less sustainable than using renewable plant oils. Petroleum-derived surfactants may also have less desirable biodegradability and toxicity profiles. For anionic (negatively charged) surfactants, another alternative is to not ethoxylate the plant oils. The resulting surfactants (SLS, for example) are more irritating than the equivalent ethoxylated surfactant.

It is also worth noting that all of the dish liquids tested by the OCA contained ethoxylates. Furthermore, according to the OCA, no viable alternative currently exists and will need to be developed and thoroughly tested.

For our dish liquids and liquid laundry detergents, ethoxylates help deliver products that work. While that is true for now, we are working to eliminate ethoxylates from all products in the future.

Our Commitment To You
Consumers want to know what ingredients are in the products they use in their homes and they want to be informed about the potential effects of these chemicals on their health and the health of their families. At Seventh Generation, we believe the best way to produce this information to consumers, at the point of purchase, is through full disclosure of ingredients on product labels.

That’s why we’re proud to have led the industry as one of the few manufacturers of household cleaning products to voluntarily disclose ingredients. Seventh Generation has instituted a two tier system of disclosure, using consumer-friendly descriptions on our packaging (for example, "coconut oil derived cleaning agent"), and specific chemical or INCI names on our Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which are available on our website. In addition to ingredient disclosure on our labels and MSDS, as described above, consumers are able to call our toll-free number for ingredient lists, or for additional information about each ingredient.

Seventh Generation has submitted testimony to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking that they include definitions for "organic" and "natural" in the revised edition of the Green Marketing Guidelines. This will assure that all manufacturers use the terms "organic" and "natural" in a consistent way.

At present, the term "natural" does not have a regulated definition. In the absence of regulation Seventh Generation has defined "natural" to mean "derived from natural materials." Surfactants that are made from plant oils and minerals are "natural" by this definition. This includes the surfactants used in our products.

Learn More
There are a number of organizations working to educate consumers about safer household and personal care products. We encourage consumers to learn more about Women’s Voices for the Earth, their Safe Cleaning Products Initiative, and to get the facts about safe cleaning products in their report, Household Hazards.


sk536 picture
Are all the dish detergents being sold today now dioxane-free? Also, any plans on developing a concentrated version of the dish detergent or some other refill-friendly or bulk-sized dish detergent?
Seventh Generation picture
Seventh Generation
Our new 1,4 dioxane-free formula will be available this fall. Thank you, The Team at Seventh Generation
Seventh Generation picture
Seventh Generation
jyoseph picture
I should say though, I will continue using your products. Forgot to throw that in. Anyone who says they will completely stop using seventh generation products because of this is being a bit harsh. They should wait to see what steps you will take to correct the issue.
jyoseph picture
I commend you for this blog entry, for acknowledging the subject and for allowing open comments. As a new organic/natural consumer I want to take a very pragmatic approach to addressing the 1,4-dioxane news, your article and your most recent follow up comment. When you wrote "This is disclosure beyond that of any other company in the household products industry." you were 100% correct. I noticed that right from the start and felt confident purchasing your products for this (among other) reasons. This disclosure leads to trust which leads to dedicated buyers, sort of like me. I specifically pass up other comparable and sometimes less-expensive products for this reason. While the above should not go unmentioned, neither should the fact that it seems the entire "organic/natural" community was taken by complete surprise to hear that some of your products do in fact contain 1,4-dioxane. I think the comments by zjraby and rhtredo clearly illustrate that point. That leads me to one conclusion. Although your company has been diligent in listing each ingredient used to make your products, you failed to mention that some of your products may contain 1,4-dioxane. You are sending a mixed message to your consumers when on one hand you go through such great lengths to be "transparent" yet knowingly leave out this vital information. This breaks down the trust issue in a major way which may cause consumers to look in other directions. If your products contain 1,4-dioxane and you knowingly withhold that information from your dedicated consumers, you're doing wrong. It's compounded by the fact that the very same products may be listed as non-toxic. The word "toxic" may be defined loosely here but anything the EPA labels as "Group B2, probable human carcinogen" is toxic enough for me. You did well by putting things in perspective as you noted your dish liquid contained the lowest amount at 1.4 & 1.9ppm. But I'm not entirely sure you get the point. The major issue here isn't the 1,4-dioxane for most, it's the fact that you didn't disclose this information. Had you said "Yes, it does contain dioxane but so does every other dish liquid on the market" and then noted the fact that yours contained the lowest amount, I would have felt better (still would have avoided the product but hey, you get high marks for "transparency"). A possible solution: Offer a 1,4-dioxane-free dish liquid, label it as such. Label your other dish liquids accordingly and let the consumers choose. They may not like the cleaning power of the 1,4-dioxane-free liquid but may feel better choosing it as an alternative to a dish liquid that contains a chemical that is a widely known as a carcinogen.
scienceman picture
Seventh Generation is committed to making products that are safe for you, your family, and the environment, and that are as effective as conventional products. That is a commitment that each of us at Seventh Generation takes seriously. Indeed, it is a personal commitment more than a company commitment, and it drives what I do as well as defining who I am. Unsaid in the media reports, but published on the OCA website, are the levels of 1,4-dioxane detected by OCA. Of the hand dish liquids tested, Seventh Generation had the lowest levels detected (1.4 and 1.9 ppm, compared to 2.4 ppm for Ecover and 20.0 - 97.5 ppm for the other brands). This was no accident. We work hard to keep the level of 1,4-dioxane in our products low. And we are working hard to eliminate 1,4-dioxane completely. We also pride ourselves on our transparency. And, you are right. In this case we failed to meet our standard for transparency. We failed to clearly disclose this issue on our website and in our Corporate Responsibility Reports. You will see that change, not because the issue is now public, but because it is the right thing to do. Finally, this issue needs to be put in perspective. What conventional cleaning product divulges what surfactants they use for cleaning? Perhaps NPEs? Or which solvent they use for their synthetic fragrances? Perhaps phthalates? Or which solvents they use to cut grease? Perhaps butoxyethanol? When you look at the back of a Seventh Generation label you see each ingredient we use, expressed in consumer-friendly terms. And if you go to our website, you see them listed using their chemical name and CAS number. This is disclosure beyond that of any other company in the household products industry. This is not a perfect world. If it were, there would be no need for change, no need for evolution. Seventh Generation products, and our communications, change over time because we are not perfect. We are evolving. And we will provide products that are as safe for you, your family, and the environment, and that are as effective as we can make them.
zjraby picture
I too must echo the comments made about my disappointment with your company. With all the talk on your website about "transparency" and being concerned about how your products will impact the "seventh generation" I expected better from you. Yes, you are correct in that you do put the ingredients on your label, but this incident makes clear that you don't disclose "contaminants" or "by-products" of which 1,4-dioxane is one. Why does it take a third party to get you to admit this fact? What other "contaminants" or "by-products" are you not disclosing? Also, my understanding is that the FDA has not set any limits regarding what levels of 1,4-dioxane are safe ( so your assurances otherwise appear misleading. And yes, you are correct that other company's products contain 1,4-dioxane but does that make it right? Is that supposed to excuse your neglecting to inform customers of the fact that your products contain it? Justifying the existence of 1,4-dioxane in your products by pointing to others around you doesn't absolve you of it - it just makes you look as dirty as the rest. I myself certainly won't be buying your products any longer and not because they contain 1,4-dioxane, but because you failed to mention it before the OCA called you on it.
rhtredo picture
I just read the LA Times article of March 17, 2008. I have been purchasing Seventh Generation products by the case for a number of years from United Natural Foods. These have included SG's free & clear Natural Laundry Detergent, Baby Laundry Detergent,(for my 9 month old grandson since his birth), natural lavender scent Natural Laundry Detergent, Natural Fabric Softener, Chlorine Free Bleach, and free & clear Dish Liquid. I read labels of products I use for myself & my family, and feel betrayed by your company and your lack of honesty in revealing on your ingredient labels that your products contain at least 2 parts per million of carcinogenic material formed by processing surfactants with ethylene oxide or similar petrochemicals. I certainly hope you correct this problem in the near future. In the meantime, I'm stuck with a considerable amount of your products that I no longer feel comfortable in using. rhtredo
lemurian picture
Thank you for posting this response. I was disappointed to learn that a product I use daily (your dishwashing liquid) was among the products found to contain this carcinogenic ingredient, and I'm even more disappointed to learn that all dishwashing liquids contain it! Your honesty in approaching this subject is appreciated.. I do realize that we all have to strike a balance between what is environmentally-friendly/healthy and what is practical. I'll continue to purchase SG products and applaud your continued efforts to create effective products with the least possible toxicity to the Earth and her inhabitants.