The relationship between SIGG USA, manufacturer and marketer of hip, trendy aluminum water bottles -- the green alternative to plastic bottles -- and Patagonia, outdoor goods retailer and a company known for its environmental activism, seemed made in heaven.
The two companies sealed their love for one another and the earth by creating a co-branding and co-marketing agreement. The touchstone? An advertisement in Outside Magazine and Backpacker depicting Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Chouinard holding a SIGG bottle with a 1% for the Planet logo on it.
And then, oops. SIGG owned up to its long-held secret: the lining of its bottles was formulated with BPA, one of the plastic chemicals that parents and young consumers were spending big bucks to avoid in alternatives like Nalgene bottles.
When the company first found customers were flocking to its $20+ bottles as an alternative to Nalgene bottles -- which had long been the choice of hip green sippers -- instead of owning up, SIGG covered up, asking environmental groups who suggested its proprietary lining contained the ingredient to remove mention of it, or prove the chemical was there. The groups backed down.
The company went on to use its social media cachet to build up a fantastic, loyal customer base who loved its fashion-forward designs and its symbol as an investment in environmental care. It wasn't until a year after the bottles' lining had been reformulated that SIGG admitted to the presence of BPA in its old bottles (many of which were still in retail outlets up until early 2009).
Evidence suggested the chemical didn't leach into liquids, but the fact remained: SIGG had knowingly allowed customers and partners to trust its product for its relative chemical purity.
Last week, Patagonia announced it was terminating its relationship with SIGG, noting, "We very clearly asked SIGG if there was BPA in their bottles and their liners, and they clearly said there was not. After conducting such thorough due diligence, we are more than chagrined..." The ad was pulled from Outside Magazine, but wasn't able to be pulled from Backpacker, and for this, Patagonia is deeply sorry.
The glibspeak from SIGG's chief executive that talks around the issue of the company's knowledge of BPA in the liners is obliterated by Patagonia's strong statement.
"We did our homework on the topic of BPA, going all the way back to 2005 when this subject first emerged in discussions in scientific journals," writes Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia's VP of environmental initiatives. "We even arranged for one of the leading scientists on BPA research to come to our company to educate us on the issue. Once we concluded there was basis for concern, we immediately pulled all drinking bottles that contained BPA from our shelves and then searched for a BPA-free bottle."
For SIGG to lie-by-omission to consumers is really terrible -- and it destroyed trust for me and many of my friends who had been evangelistic in their love of SIGG (I'm even a frequent contributor to SIGG's flickr group). But lying executive-to-executive to another company with a soapbox, a co-marketing agreement, and a much deeper relationship of trust with its consumers? That's crooked business. And I'm done with SIGG.
Patagonia has pulled all of its SIGG products from its retail shelves, and is accepting SIGG returns from its customers for a full refund. And it's searching for a new bottle vendor.
As am I.
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