Improved Products

2009 was a banner year for us, as we made significant upgrades to the environmental and health profiles and the performance of several of our products.

Research Chemist Heather Beach describes product formulation changes that increased the renewable (plant- or mineral-based) carbon content, eliminated undesirable byproducts such as 1,4-dioxane, and improved the efficiency of several of our cleaners and laundry products. In this video, you will hear her talk about our efforts to increase the renewable content of our products. This means that we monitor our progress in eliminating synthetic ingredients by tracking what we call the “renewable carbon content” of our materials.


Our 2009 product upgrades will save 1,685,000 pounds of oil in 2010. Research Chemist Cara Bondi details the environmental savings in this video.




Tim Fowler, VP of Research and Development:

on Improving our hand dishwashing liquid

“Product designers often think that improving a product’s effect on environmental health will make it more expensive and less effective. Such trade-offs just mean there needs to be a better solution. Look at what we did with our hand dishwashing liquid in 2009. We increased the percentage of renewable materials by 27%; improved the performance in a technical study by 53%; and upgraded the preservative system and changed to a new surfactant system that does not produce 1,4-dioxane as a byproduct. And we package this improved product in a bottle that is now made from 90% postconsumer resin (PCR, or recycled plastic).

For the past two years, we’ve been on a mission to reformulate our hand dishwashing liquid to remove the small amounts of 1,4-dioxane that had been present as a byproduct of a reaction called ethoxylation. Our previous hand dishwashing formula used a surfactant system based on sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES), which can be a source of 1,4-dioxane contamination. Even though we made sure the levels of this contaminant were extremely low (less than 5 ppm), we were committed to providing our consumers a product without any 1,4-dioxane, a possible human carcinogen.

Our search led us to a surfactant system based on Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) which does not cause 1,4-dioxane formation. This switch from SLES, which is a plant-derived surfactant that is modified with petroleum, to the plant-derived SLS increased the renewable carbon content of the dish liquid by 27%. Patting ourselves on the back, we eagerly awaited the test results that would confirm our success. To our dismay, 1,4-dioxane was detected — despite the fact that none of the chemicals associated with it are present in the new formula. Even worse, the levels we were finding with SLS were almost as high as the levels we had found with SLES. We tested just the SLS; we used different suppliers. The results were always the same.

Diving into this further, we discovered that SLS is often formed on the same equipment used to make SLES. If chemical suppliers don’t clean their reactors properly between batches, there can be cross-contamination with 1,4-dioxane.

We took these findings to our own supplier as well as others in the industry interested in addressing this. Fortunately, there are solutions. Suppliers can change their methods of working with SLES to eliminate some of the 1,4-dioxane, and they can employ better production, cleaning, and wash-out procedures to reduce the likelihood of cross-contamination. Now our hand dishwashing liquid tests do not detect any 1,4-dioxane. And we’ve gone way beyond improving the small amount of SLS we purchase every year; the research has the potential to improve all of the SLS used across the entire industry.”

Read Jeffrey Hollender’s 2007 CC Report letter on 1,4-dioxane.

More information on the health issues associated with SLS and SLES from Seventh Generation’s own “science man”, Martin Wolf, is available here.


Other Product Improvements

Our most significantly improved product, our hand dishwashing liquid, illustrates our commitment to natural products that protect human health as well as to sharing our lessons learned throughout the industry. Read Tim Fowler’s discussion above.

We also addressed a long-term priority by successfully changing from a synthetic preservative that can contribute formaldehyde to the formula to another preservative that, while still synthetic, is not a formaldehyde donor and is biodegradable. We would prefer to prevent the growth of microorganisms with the use of a preservative made from renewable resources but to date there are none that are safe and effective for products like ours. Further details and a list of products affected are available here.

Reducing the Life Cycle Impacts of our Laundry Line

The impact of consumer use: In 2004, we conducted the first Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of our laundry detergents to examine the energy used in each phase of this product line’s life cycle. This analysis and another industry study showed that over 80% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with our laundry detergent come from home use — from the energy used in washing in hot or warm water and from machine drying. We got to work on the one aspect of this phase under our direct control — we successfully reformulated our detergents to work well in cold water. Then we embarked on a campaign to educate our consumers about the benefits of cold water washing and line drying.

Cold water washing for the future: If we are successful in prompting our consumers to make the switch to cold water washing, recent data show the life cycle energy impacts of our laundry products look very different:

  • consumer use phase GHG emissions drop from 80% to 29%, and
  • materials impacts rise to 58% of the product’s overall GHG emissions

The carbon impact of our laundry detergent
and what we’re doing about it

Materials, 58%:

Manufacturing, 5%:

  • Upgraded manufacturing-partner audit program; moved to direct sourcing of raw materials

Transportation, 1%:

  • Added two new manufacturing partners and five strategically located distribution centers to reduce transport miles

Consumer Use, 29%:

Packaging, 1%:

  • Developed 2X concentrate formula and larger sizes to reduce packaging-to-product ratio

End of Life, 5%:

  • Changed to 2X concentrate formula reducing material that needs to be recycled or disposed.

We’ve come a long way since 2004 when we had a cold-water product that was not concentrated at all and contained a formaldehyde-donating preservative. And we’re not done yet. Our new sustainability goals call for us to reduce product lifecycle GHG emissions 15% by 2015. We’re hard at work on this goal and many other initiatives to make this product as sustainable as possible while delivering the performance and value consumers have come to expect from Seventh Generation.

Use the calculator to calculate your savings and make the switch!

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