The company

seventh-generation.jpg“In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” Seventh Generation, a 20-year-old company based in Vermont, takes its name and inspiration from this quote from the Great Law of the Iroquois. The company provides products such as all-purpose household cleaners and laundry detergent for a safe and environmentally conscious lifestyle. Seventh Generation claims to envision a product’s life “from manufacturing to product use, disposal and education” while making its products as efficient, safe and nourishing as possible. The 2008 Corporate Consciousness Report outlines improvements Seventh Generation is planning, as well as steps it has taken thus far for a healthier and cleaner lifestyle for its business and its employees. Employees are offered loans and rebates as encouragement to overhaul their homes for energy efficiency. Seventh Generation also listened to their customers’ requests and now offers a larger-sized laundry detergent, which helps minimize packaging.

The products

Here are several safe and effective products from Seventh Generation: chlorine-free baby wipes, diapers and training pants; chlorine-free feminine products; 100% recycled facial tissue, paper towels and toilet paper; 55% recycled trash bags; natural dish liquid, dishwasher gel, powder and rinsing aid; nontoxic and biodegradable tile, kitchen, all-purpose, glass, shower and carpet cleaners; and natural laundry detergent, fabric softener, chlorine-free bleach and dryer sheets. You can view products and print coupons on Seventh Generation’s website. Seventh Generation voluntarily discloses all of the ingredients in each product right on the label. The company states, “You have the right to know what makes our cleaning products SAFE for people and the environment as well as EFFECTIVE at getting the job done. We include a full ingredients list for all of our cleaners, and explain the components of our feminine care, diaper and paper products.”

Listing of ingredients in the industry

The other cleaners around my house are less informative. My Target brand fabric softener packaging says, “Ingredients: Contains biodegradable fabric softening agents (cationic).” But wait, those aren’t ingredients. What are those agents, and what do they do? The Publix brand all-purpose cleaner under the sink doesn’t even begin to list ingredients, but it does list hazards. It discloses this not-so-settling information: “Environmental Hazards: This product is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms. Physical and Chemical Hazards: This product contains bleach. Mixing this product with any other cleaning products such as ammonia, toilet bowl cleaners, or other chemicals may release hazardous gases irritating to eyes, lungs and mucous membranes.” Further down on the label it reads: “Do not reuse container but place in trash collection.” Now I carefully place this product back under the sink, confused. Why am I spraying this into my air?

The industry’s problems

Regulation for cleaning products is basically nonexistent. There isn’t a quick way to tell if the product you’re buying is green or if it could have harmful consequences on your body and your environment. Jeffrey Hollender, Seventh Generation’s co-founder and “Chief Inspired Protagonist,” wrote a Huffington Post piece regarding environmentally friendly products and their lack of regulation. He speaks of the confusion many consumers have and what could be done to clarify and identify truly green household cleaning products. In this article, he addresses the need for a universal symbol of environmentally friendly cleaning products, yet he also questions whether such a standard would go far enough: “Will they employ a simplistic set of narrowly defined environmental safety or resource conservation litmus tests? Or will they dig deep and get meaningful by considering a full range of impacts and benefits that address critical issues like the climate crisis and endocrine-disrupting chemicals? And what about social concerns like human rights and labor practices, which are crucial to any claim of true sustainability.” With “going green” becoming such a corporate catchphrase, it’s hard to tell whether companies that claim to be green and eco-friendly actually evaluate all aspects of their business and products, or just simply recycle their office paper in their neighborhood bins. Hollender also states in his article, “Pretty much any company can claim environmental benefit for any product regardless of whether an advantage really exists. Terms like ‘natural’ and ‘non-toxic’ lack legal definitions and can have whatever meaning a manufacturer chooses.” Until these terms are defined and regulations are set, consumers will need to step up and do a little digging about the company and the products they choose. So far, Seventh Generation seems to be a trusted company with quality products and compassionate leaders.