Green Washing our Butts

There are certain products that we use every single day where there are very few acceptable alternatives for Americans.

Toilet paper is one of these products. The few potential alternatives are probably not acceptable or not convenient for most of us: do nothing, follow the deposit with a quick shower, or the proverbial yesterday’s newspaper. Groups offering an alternative to toilet paper are also suggesting that we use medicated wipes, but these don’t breakdown well in septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems, and do we really need to freshen up with witch hazel every time we go?

There are hundreds of Toilet Paper brands at the grocery, so which one do we buy and what are the environmental effects of the brand we buy?

Seventh Generation

Peter Senge writes a lot about a sustainable world. In his book The Necessary Revolution he introduced the 2010 management team at the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati to one vision of a sustainable world. In Necessary Revolution he introduced the team to Seventh Generation consumer products using their business model as a good model for a $100,000,000 business, which was about the size of the MSD budget at the time. I have been a loyal fan of Seventh Generation since. But does Seventh Generation greenwash?

Necessary

Seventh Generation Bathroom tissue is made from 100% recycled fiber, of which 50% is post-consumer. The twelve pack is packaged in a thin plastic casing which they also imply is made recyclable. How do they stack up?

The hidden trade off – Seventh Generation does not cut down trees and the product does not use chlorine bleach. Many of their recycled paper products are not whitened at all. They seem to be ok on this one.

No proof. The recycled content of the product is not certified. However, In Necessary Revolution Peter Senge goes into detail on their business model. Based on Senge’s writing, I accept their statement.

Vagueness. Since they give numbers and geographic areas, the product and packaging don’t appear to be vague.

Worship of false labels. Packaging implies that wrapper is recyclable. Kroger collects this type of wrap for recycling, but this material is not recycleable curbside in Greater Cincinnati. For Cincinnati, this claim is accurate, but can be confusing. The company passes in Cincinnati on this claim, but may not elsewhere.

Claim of Irrelevance. Claims on this package fit with my worldview: a world of unprecedented wealth based on the responsible and sustainable use of all our resources – people, nature and technology.

Lesser of two evils. There are poor alternatives to toilet paper. Toilet paper made from recycled fiber is about as good as it gets.

Fibbing. The label appears accurate and the company and its products were vetted through Peter Senge’s efforts. The product performs for me and is the same price or less expensive that most of the competitors brands.

Overall this product does not appear to be greenwashed. It is the greenest toilet paper I can find at Kroger.

Mike Cappel

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8 thoughts on “Green Washing our Butts

  1. I’m not from the Cincinnati area and I have never noticed a green toilet paper, but it looks like you found a good product that does not greenwash. It seems as though this company is really doing their part to make a difference in the environment. Thank you for your post!

    -Courtney Snyder

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  2. I’ve never seen or heard of this brand before, but based on your evaluation it seems like a legitimately sustainable product. It is uncommon that a product will pass all 7 of the sins of greenwashing like it seems that this product does. I will definitely start investing in greener toilet paper. Great post.

    Katie Clontz

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    • Part of the company’s green profile is that they do not advertise. So their products are on the shelf along with all of the other competitors products and Seventh Generation relies on their relationships with customers to drive business.

      The money that they would have spent on advertising is used to fund social justice/environmental college level scholarships.

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  3. I have always wanted to look into Seventh Generation but I always forget to, probably because they do not advertise so they subliminally slip my mind. I like what you say they do. I wish they would maybe just remove the plastic packaging and us 100% post-consumed recycled paper instead because even with Kroger’s program, plastic like that tends to only be able to be recycled one time, if it ever makes it to recycling. I definitely like the reallocation of advertising money that is going towards social justice and environmental college scholarships. That is amazing!

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  4. I am actually a little surprised with this one. Seventh Generation seems to be a brand that is made by Kroger, and while they definitely are greenER than other products, I am excited to learn they passed this test. My only issue is their products definitely tend to be more expensive than some other brands you can find at Kroger. But nevertheless, this is great!

    ~David Bohm

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  5. I can’t find investor information on their webpage, other than they are a type B corporation based in Vermont. Since Kroger now offers their own brand of environmentally friendly products, I assume that Kroger does not own Seventh Generation. In support of ownership other than Kroger, Seventh Generation is sold in stores other than Kroger as well.

    The day I bought the 12 pack in the photo Seventh Generation was $7.99 and the store brand was $9.19. So the Seventh Generation twelve pack was about four cents per roll cheaper.

    Mike Cappel

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  6. This brand seems sketchy. I think I’l stick to Scott or something name brand. It might sound bad but i don’t care about ecofriendly when it comes to wiping my butt.

    -Emma Kidder

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