P&G Disputes Seventh Generation's Green Claims

P&G Disputes Seventh Generation's Green Claims

Image - Screenshot from a Seventh Generation commercial

Seventh Generation took down a video on its website after Procter & Gamble (P&G) challenged ads that imply Seventh Generation's products do not contain hazardous chemicals and are completely natural.

The National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus reviewed P&G's complaint and made a number of recommendations about what statements Seventh Generation should stop making or clarify. The NAD is a voluntary self-regulatory program funded by the business community and makes non-binding decisions.

P&G (NYSE: PG) initiated the challenge over a Seventh Generation commercial and a video on its website that claimed, explicitly or implicitly, Seventh Generation cleaning products don't contain hazardous chemicals and its detergents are natural. The advertising also claimed all competitors' products are not safe, are not as safe as Seventh Generation products, require people to hold their breath when using them and are leading to increases in autism, cancer and other illnesses in children. 

At issue was a Seventh Generation commercial that said:

  • "people everywhere are saying no to hazardous chemicals...and yes to a safe and naturally effective way to clean"
  • "when the five second rule is extended" while showing a pacifier picked up from the floor and put in a baby's mouth
  • "no one holds their breath while cleaning" while a child cleans a counter with a Seventh Generation product

Seventh Generation also had a video on its site that includes Procter & Gamble's Tide laundry detergent and pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene saying, "...chemicals in our cleaning products can be some of the most toxic chemicals...think for a moment about all of the illnesses that are rapidly increasing in children - things like autism, ADHD, asthma, allergies, diabetes, cancer in babies...It's not our genetics that have changed, it's the environment...I would minimize or stop the use of things that have to say on the label: danger or warning, or harmful, or harmful or fatal if swallowed, and instead choose product that are made from nontoxic ingredients."

Before the NAD made any recommendations, Seventh Generation took down the video with Greene and said it would discontinue showing it. "The advertising in question had already run its course prior to this issue," said Jeffrey Hollender, Seventh Generation's executive chairperson, co-founder and Chief Inspired Protagonist. "The only thing we did was, there was one video on our website that we took down."

The NAD recommended that Seventh Generation stop making explicit or implied claims that suggest there are no hazardous chemicals in Seventh Generation products. Both Seventh Generation and Procter & Gamble told the NAD that their products contain hazardous chemicals. The NAD, however, added that nothing prevents Seventh Generation from promoting its reduction of hazardous chemicals in products. 

The NAD also said Seventh Generation should stop claiming that one product is safer than the other since the NAD determined there is no evidence that Seventh Generation products are any safer than other cleaners.

As for the use of "natural," a word whose meaning is unregulated, the NAD said there is no consensus in the household product industry about what "natural" means and that Seventh Generation should be clear that when it refers to "natural" it should be specific that it is talking about its plant-derived or plant-based surfactants. The NAD added that Seventh Generation should avoid any statement that could be seen as a claim that its products are 100 percent natural.

Hollender did not say if his company would follow the exact recommendations. "We are taking the NAD recommendations into consideration," he said. "They may influence future decisions."

He expressed concern, though, over NAD's statement that no cleaning product is safer than another. "I think that one of the things we're most concerned about and want to work on and explore," he said, "is this question of 'Is it really true that all cleaning products are equally safe when used as directed?'"

Hollender said that thinking doesn't take into account what happens when people do not use products as directed. "While the ruling deals with this area in general, it is important that we continue to encourage manufacturers to make safer and safer products, and not rest on the idea that all products are equally safe as long as they are used as directed," he said.

Image - Screenshot from a Seventh Generation commercial