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Nurturing Nature

Sustainability Report, 2012
Nurturing Nature

Nurturing Nature

We aspire to care today for seven generations of tomorrows by choosing plants not petroleum, sourcing sustainably, decreasing our carbon footprint and producing zero waste.

Products that Serve the Next Generations

Seventh Generation brought 48 new products to market in 2012, including 90 new products, sizes and scents. Building on our strengths with related products, we entered the adult and baby personal care categories, while also developing several new specialty cleaners. Finding suppliers that meet our quality and sustainability expectations is vital for us to branch out in new directions. In 2012, we developed and nurtured five new supplier partnerships.

Whether dish liquid or lotion for a baby’s tender skin, we won’t put our name on anything unless we are sure that it meets our standards for human and environmental health and is both effective and affordable. We rely on the principles of green chemistry and on our own rigorous protocols.

We introduce our new line of personal care products in this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cANmxLNTSP8

Formulas that Nurture Nature

Heather Beach, Senior Research Chemist

“When our team was asked to develop the new lines of personal care and baby care products that we launched in 2012, I knew what a challenge this would present. We aspire to ‘nurture nature,’ with a goal to use ingredients that come from plants not petroleum. This gives us a much more limited palette of ingredients to draw from in our formulations.

“We don’t manufacture our own products so we have to choose creative suppliers as partners. A great example of this is the way we improved the surfactant (a key ingredient in soil removal) in our laundry detergent. We partnered with Rhodia to develop a bio-based version from a combination of sugar cane and palm kernel oil. The new surfactant is not only 100 percent plant-based, but very effective. As part of our commitment to exert a positive influence on our entire industry, we are not seeking exclusive use of this surfactant but making it available to other manufacturers.

“Another policy is having biodegradable formulas. We found that we could use coconut oil as a shine agent in our specialty cleaners instead of silicone, which is not biodegradable. This was a really interesting design solution. Our ingredient standards regularly lead us to find innovative solutions to product formulation challenges. We are still searching for a bio-based preservative for our laundry detergent that meets our efficacy standards. It will be interesting to see what species will contribute the solution to this challenge!

“It was thrilling to work on our new plant-based skin serum, Boost, launching in July, 2013. We have developed a unique plant-based, preservative-free skin care system that is both high-performing and affordable. We will have the first mass entry into this market.

“Full of petroleum-based ingredients and water, conventional moisturizers can strip the face of moisture. So, many people get stuck in a cycle where they need to apply even more moisturizer and their skin is not able to achieve a healthy balance. Direct-to-skin products based on essential oils are prevalent in beauty care in Europe. To help North American consumers with the switch to having oil on their faces, we are using a fast-absorbing carrier oil system of three oils with a dry powdery feel. There are also two or three botanical nourishing ingredients in each product and the mix is preserved with rosemary oil. Essential oils provide the scent for each of the six products in this line.

“My background is as a chemist and an herbalist, so I was very excited for the opportunity to source botanical extracts and essential oils from plants grown around the globe for the Boost skin care serums. These include Tamanu oil from the island of Vanuatu, Baobab from Africa, Acai from the Amazon, Argan from Morocco and many others. The products contain these oils to drive amazing skin benefits along with a botanical carrier oil blend that gives them a non-greasy, fast absorbing feel.”

Director of Corporate Consciousness Reed Doyle shares the story of how our fragrances come from fields not factories in this video.

Exacting Ingredient Standards

Heidi Raatikainen, Associate Scientist

“It’s not just the right formula that matters; it’s the raw materials as well. We ensure the quality of our ingredients through strict ingredient standards and rigorous testing. We adhere to the Precautionary Principle, meaning that substances are guilty until proven innocent in our eyes.

“We do our own research examining lab results and reviewing literature on each of our ingredients and others in the same family. Our switch to plant-based sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) in our cleaning products demonstrates the care we take in ingredient selection. For years, we used sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) as a surfactant while we worked to eliminate a problematic byproduct: 1,4-dioxane. Switching to SLS proved effective but there was a public perception that it is harmful. We investigated each issue and found that the only negative impact from SLS is that it can be an irritant. Our chemists were able to develop formulas where that is not a problem. We are happy to see that some of our competitors are also following suit.

“We conduct a multi-faceted review of our ingredients that encompasses potential health and environmental safety concerns. These include reviewing ingredients as possible carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, sensitizers, mutagens, and the list goes on. We do not want to put chemicals of concern in our products. Our review is first and foremost to ensure that the ingredients meet our own high standards, but also to support any claims (such as no animal products). Our material suppliers provide 13 types of documentation covering topics including the plant-based percentage, biodegradability, country of origin, and proof the ingredient meets the Leaping Bunny standard (no animal testing).”

Testing and Transparency

“We confirm everything about our products through extensive testing. When a product meets our rigorous standards, we know we can feel good about it.

“In addition to the human-effects testing (such as for irritation) that occurs during product development, we add another layer of assurance by testing our finished products. We engage independent, third-party laboratories to screen our products annually for numerous chemicals, including some such as parabens and phthalates that are not in our formulas but are of concern to consumers. These labs use standard methodologies to test for the presence of: 1,4-dioxane, alcohol, formaldehyde, hypochlorite, phosphates, latex, nitrosamines, parabens, phthalates, triclosan, monoethanolamine, nonylphenol diethoxylate, and organic halides (chlorine in fibers).

“It is always possible to have cross-contamination occur and when we detect anything unexpected, we immediately focus on figuring out why. We also try to bring our consumers into the conversation so that they understand what has occurred and how we are handling it.

“For example, we have always wanted to ensure that our diapers do not contain natural rubber latex that could possibly cause an allergic reaction in our smallest and most sensitive consumers. In 2012, we were surprised to find the presence of synthetic latex during one of our routine product screenings. We did some research and found the source of the synthetic latex in the diaper glue. Synthetic latex does not contain the proteins that cause an allergic reaction and is actually used as a substitute for natural rubber latex. Regardless, this got us thinking about how relevant the claim really was. Natural rubber latex is rarely used as an ingredient in modern disposable diapers and we’ve tested our diapers for irritancy, so we know they meet our strict standards. It feels like greenwashing to use a claim that is no longer relevant to the product, so we’ve decided to remove the claim from our diapers and training pants in the near future. Rest assured, the diapers are still free of natural rubber latex, so they can be safely used by anyone with a latex allergy, but our claim didn’t feel any more authentic than claiming that our hand dish liquid is free of rocket fuel.”

Talking About Biobased Products

Seventh Generation’s belief in using ingredients from plants not petroleum is a powerful point of difference for our company. It wasn’t until 2011 that we had an effective way of talking about this with consumers. That was when the Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced a new program to certify the biobased content of consumer products. The new BioPreferred Program gave us a rigorous, scientific way to measure our plant-based content and to communicate our results on our labels.

In most cases, we rely on our own standards, as formal certifications do not distinguish between products that greatly exceed a standard and those that meet the minimum requirements. In effect, Seventh Generation’s name is its environmental seal. We made an exception for the BioPreferred Program as the label specifies the degree of biobased content, allowing comparison among products. We set an ambitious goal of certifying all of our formulated products by 2012 and tied this to our Annual Incentive Program. We achieved this with all 74 of our eligible products currently certified, most with verified biobased contents of 90 percent or higher.

The USDA program was suspended for a few months due to a lapse in funding but is resuming its work in July 2013. We are continuing to test the biobased content of our new products and all new eligible products will be submitted for certification.

BioPreferred Certification Goal Update: 2012 Goal Met

Product Improvements

The Path to FSC Certified Diapers with Bio Brown Pulp

Ensuring that our diapers, a hallmark product for our brand, embody our concern for healthy babies, healthy forests and healthy streams, has been an ongoing exercise in ingenuity, flexibility and persistence. Our hard work paid off in 2012 with two major improvements to our diaper’s environmental profile.

Seventh Generation will be the first diaper brand in North America to have earned the right to bear the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification logo in late 2013. This verifies that the forests where we obtain our diaper pulp are managed according to stringent environmental and social standards and that we can trace our pulp through a chain of custody protocol. We will pursue FSC certification for the virgin pulp used in our other products next.

Starting in 2013, our diapers will contain bio brown pulp, which has not been processed with bleaching chemicals. We have been using totally chlorine-free (TCF) processed pulp in our diapers but are now able to obtain pulp that uses 10 percent less energy and water, eliminates bleaching chemicals, and is associated with better wastewater quality. The new process even improves wood yield, meaning that we can use 7-10 percent less wood to obtain the same amount of product.

“These are exciting steps forward in our efforts to continually evolve the sustainability of our diapers,” says Reed Doyle, Director of Corporate Consciousness. “Having achieved these improvements, we’re not going to stand still. We have some interesting ideas in the pipeline - including a focus on pushing innovation in the outer materials of the diaper.”

The story of our diapers’ evolution illustrates an unheralded aspect of product sustainability – the hard work involved in finding raw materials that meet our high standards and in locating manufacturers who can produce to our specifications. When we first started producing diapers in 2004, we couldn't find a U.S. manufacturer who could meet our specifications so we began working with a company in Germany using fluff pulp procured from forests in Scandinavia.

To understand the true environmental and social costs of our consumption, we took two trips to visit these forests in 2006 and 2008 to ensure that they were being managed sustainably on the 80 to 100 year cycle necessary in northern Scandinavia, and that a healthy biodiversity was being maintained.

“We consider FSC certification to be the gold standard for its approach to protecting forest ecology and water quality and preventing the loss of natural forest cover,” says Martin Wolf, Director of Product Sustainability & Authenticity. “Despite the difficulties in converting a large collaborative of forest owners to this standard, the forestry operations of our pulp supplier UPM Rauma Cell became FSC certified in 2010. Now our pulp comes through UPM Rauma Cell from FSC-certified wood obtained in Sweden while our diapers are produced in the U.S.”

We use highly absorbent virgin pulp in several products in addition to our diapers: our Facial Cloths, Baby Wipes, Disinfecting-Wipes, and feminine care Chlorine-Free Pads.

Sourcing Palm Oil

Our concern for the sustainability of our ingredients does not end with our selection of plant-based materials. As palm oil is a significant feedstock in our cleaners, laundry detergents and personal care products, ensuring that we source this material responsibly is a high priority. Increased global demand for palm oil has led to the rapid conversion of high conservation value forests into palm oil plantations. This has had a devastating effect on local communities and habitats in Malaysia and Indonesia – with orangutans the most publicized victims.

As members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a global alliance that is moving the palm oil industry toward sustainable practices, we are supporting a global palm oil supply solution. To address the social and ecological consequences of our own use of palm oil, we have purchased sustainable palm oil offset credits for all the palm oil we have used since 2009. In 2012, we introduced the first line of Bar Soap formulated with segregated sustainable palm oil and bearing the RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil Seal. This gives our consumers the assurance that the palm oil’s harvest and production followed social and environmental safeguards.

We explain our approach to palm oil in this movie.

“Our goal of using segregated, certified palm oil – instead of palm oil credits – for all of our palm kernel oil by 2014 now seems infeasible,” explains Reed Doyle, Director of Corporate Consciousness. “We are stepping back to try to understand the true cost of our consumption and how we can make a difference. If you picture 600 trucks full of palm oil loading their goods into one tanker where sustainable and unsustainable palm oil streams are comingled, you start to truly understand the complexity. We have only been able to identify one company that offers fatty acids from certified palm oil – but these are not the variety we use in our products. We are now working on sustainable sourcing guidelines to promote change through that approach.”

While we work for a global supply of responsibly harvested palm oil, we are deepening our palm oil initiatives through our support of the Philadelphia Zoo’s work to raise awareness and drive demand for sustainable palm oil. A leader in public education and conservation, the Philadelphia Zoo has embarked on a five-year Dr. Seuss-inspired “Unless” Campaign. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Through both on-the-ground conservation activities in Indonesia and online and zoo visitor education, our gift supports use of sustainable palm oil as a means of protecting the endangered orangutan.

Reducing Our Impacts

Environmental Savings

Our use of plant-based ingredients and our packaging improvements saved enough petroleum in 2012 to drive all the way around the earth more than 1,100 times!

To substantiate the savings from manufacturing our products sustainably, we calculate the environmental savings that result from our use of renewable or recycled materials and from alternatives to ingredients such as chlorine bleach and phosphates.

We determine our savings data by comparing our products made with renewable or recycled ingredients to our products as if they were made with conventional, petroleum-derived ingredients. Because of improvements in our formulations as well as regulatory or other changes outside our company, the savings don't index to sales consistently each year. When our industry embraced a voluntary ban on phosphates in 2010, for example, our savings (as compared to the rest of the industry) dropped to zero and we no longer track this metric. We’re proud to have played a role in influencing that change!

Packaging Pete Goes After Virgin Plastic

“I always have several sizes and shapes of Seventh Generation plastic bottles spread across my work area but I’m never happy with everything I see. At the beginning of 2012, our company was already known as a leader for the high post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in our plastic bottles, with dozens at 100 percent PCR (less colorant) while only 25 – 50 percent PCR is the norm across the industry. We had a tremendous amount to be proud of — but all I could see were the bottle caps. Ours were still entirely virgin plastic.

“Our plastic caps are made from polypropylene, or #5 plastic, a sturdier plastic than the high density polyethylene (HDPE) liquid dish and laundry detergent bottles they stopper. The caps are colorless and I had been searching for a source of colorless recycled polypropylene for some time but the only available batches were colored. I always let our suppliers know my goals because they are such powerful allies in helping us push the envelope. Eventually, one of our suppliers located an adequate supply of colorless polypropylene for us.

“The next challenge was to figure out how much recycled content we could put into the caps and still reach the correct melting point needed to form the caps properly. I wanted to go as high as we could. After experimenting, we were finally satisfied that we could incorporate 50 percent PCR and still have a well-formed cap. I don’t know of any other company that has gotten this far – most have zero percent-recycled caps. I’ve always enjoyed paving the way and proving to the big guys how far we can go.

“We want to move beyond this and have set a 2013 goal to reduce our use of rigid virgin plastic by 25 percent in one year. This goal is tied to our Annual Incentive Plan so I know I will have my workmates to answer to if I don’t do my part. In fact, we’ve already reduced our virgin plastic in packaging by 31 percent since 2009 even though sales increased. That means we have eliminated 361 metric tons of virgin plastic in three years. Early in 2013, we had success in bringing three of our trickiest bottle types up to 100 percent PCR reducing our virgin plastic use further. The main challenge is that we have also had some backsliding with one of our large laundry bottles and one of our spray cleaner bottles. As we have moved to new designs, our packaging partners have had trouble incorporating the same high percentages of PCR content they were able to achieve in the past. We are working on it but meeting our 2013 goal will be difficult - but then we don’t like to set easy goals for ourselves.”

Changing Recycling Habits

Our team has made some great changes; now it’s time for Seventh Generation to help consumers do their part. Two events made it possible for us to focus on improving recycling rates in a new way. First, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) came out with their How2Recycle labels. Second, our marketing team unveiled new packaging designs with an engaging look that unifies our brand.

We signed on as one of 11 ‘early adopters’ of the How2Recycle labels. The clear instructions will help consumers make sense of complex recycling requirements. For example, the sprayer on our Natural Tub & Tile Spray Cleaner can be recycled but the pumps on our 12 oz. Hand Wash cannot, as they contain metal. No wonder consumers have been confused. Now all of our packages will come with a large, clear label with instructions on proper recycling. We are also going to be embossing the package’s recycled content percentage right on the front of our bottles, showing what a priority this is for us.


Two of our 2020 goals directly address the impacts of our product and packaging material choices. Monitoring the materials in our products and packaging closely helps us track our progress toward these goals and understand trends in our cradle-to-gate greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Choose plants not petroleum with all products and packaging using plant-based (renewable) or recycled content. This addresses our aspiration to nurture nature.
  • Produce Zero Waste with all products and packaging recyclable or biodegradable. We seek to design products that return benignly back to the environment at the end of their life or, in the best scenario, are actually nutrients.

Total Materials, Metric tons, 2008–2012

Virgin Plastic

Seventh Generation has focused for many years on reducing our use of virgin plastic. We think that moving away from petroleum-derived plastic is so important that we linked our 2012 annual employee incentive to reducing our virgin plastic use by 10 percent in just one year. We blew past that goal with a 15.6 percent overall reduction in our virgin plastic use – helped by our achievements in packaging and by removing viscose and incorporating wood pulp into the substrate for our Baby Wipes. For 2013, we are zeroing in on reducing our rigid virgin plastic use, with a portion of our annual incentive tied to achieving a 25 percent reduction in just one year.


Greenhouse Gas Accounting

Climate change concerns us deeply and we are tackling this pressing issue with wide-ranging initiatives in product and packaging design, the use of plant-based materials which have lower carbon footprints than their petroleum-based counterparts, and logistics initiatives that maintain our decentralized network of distribution centers. As members of the Ceres Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), we are joining other progressive companies to advocate for strong climate change policies.

A highlight from 2012 was our 13 percent decrease in normalized greenhouse gas emissions and 6 percent decrease in absolute emissions, both critical metrics for our company. The GHG emissions associated with our products and packaging dropped 7 percent in one year due to our use of more sustainable materials. The 13,582 metric tons of GHG emissions we eliminated since 2008 — while sales rose 28 percent - are equivalent to the removal of 2,830 cars from the road for a year.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Metric Tons/Year)

Our methodology is discussed in the GRI Content Index.