Bottle Rocket: SIGG Faces Class Action Suit

siggBottlesIt turns out that even trace amounts of BPA, or bisphenol A, can create a public relations – and public trust – nightmare for a product marketed as an eco-friendly and reusable alternative to single-use plastic water bottles. This is especially true when the manufacturer is caught in a lie about it.

Just ask SIGG Switzerland and its U.S. subsidiary, the maker of hip, colorful reusable water bottles. It has what could turn into a damaging and costly lawsuit on its hands as a result of what was at the very least is a gross misrepresentation and marketing blunder.

BPA is a manufactured chemical compound that is commonly used in the production of plastics and epoxy resins. It mimics the estrogen hormone and is considered a possible health risk. When concerns about BPA and SIGG products were raised several years ago CEO Steve Wasik said testing showed “no presence of lead, phthalates, Bysphenol A (BPA), Bysphenol B (BPB) or any other chemicals which scientists have deemed as potentially harmful” in SIGG aluminum bottles.

That wasn’t exactly true, as revealed in a Huffington Post article last month in which Wasik, in a written apology, admitted he “made a mistake” when he decided to not announce that the company’s old bottle liner contained trace amounts of BPA. He then said he had learned about the liner’s content in 2006, “when there was debate in the scientific community about the effects of BPA.”

Wasik says scientists remain split on the BPA issue, but that is somewhat beside the point in a case where trust, transparency and perceptions can override any continuing scientific debate.

So Wasik owned up, adding, “I was wrong to have waited this long.”  Wasik, the first American-born chief executive of the 100-year-old company, says he is still learning to be a green CEO.

But the damage is done.  For one thing the clumsy admissions did not come until the legal wheels had started to turn.

In the inevitable class-action lawsuit that followed, the plaintiffs allege they paid significantly more for SIGG bottles than other alternatives because they “believed SIGG’s representations that their bottles were BPA-free.”

The suit goes on to say that SIGG continued to make those representations about its bottle “and even marketed and sold children’s versions of these bottles to concerned parents – until August 2009 when SIGG finally revealed that their bottles contained BPA and that SIGG had been trying to develop new bottles without BPA since 2006.”

It alleges, among other things, that SIGG concealed the presence of BPA in its bottles, breached its contract with consumers and its expressed warranties related to the fitness and quality of its bottle and engaged in “unfair, false, misleading or deceptive acts or practices regarding its marketing and sale of the bottles” in violation of consumer protection laws.

The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief, restitution, and decisions on compensatory damages and punitive damages. Although no specific amounts are suggested in the suit, the latter two claims could involve big bucks, especially if the case goes before a jury as the plaintiffs have requested.

SIGG likely will survive as a green company once the legal wrangling – can someone say settlement? – ends, but with a lot of red on its face and its books.

writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by

14 responses

  1. What I don’t understand is why Sigg didn’t just switch to an alternate liner in the first place? surely, they had the resources to do so. As co-founder of Back2Tap (a company that runs reusable bottle fundraising campaigns) and as a firm believer in the precautionary principal, I did the research and knew not to go down the epoxy liner/BPA path way back in 2007.

    1. Sigg began looking into manufacturing bottles without BPA (in 2006). The problem is their lax in informing the public about the switch and the different liner materials.

  2. SIGG capitalized on 250% growth since 2006 with eco-conscious consumers opting for a reusable bottle expecting it to be BPA-free. But their own CEO admitted to knowing since 2006 that their ‘custom-liner’ contained BPA content. Until they fessed up in August 2009, SIGG was intentionally misleading about their proprietary liner. I’m not surprised by the lawsuit. As a co-founder of Planet Forward, we also established from the forefront that our reusable bottles had to be certified BPA-free. Our stainless steel bottles don’t require an interior epoxy liner to protect you from aluminum, it’s good old-fashioned stainless steel. Clean tasting with no chemical liner required and 100% BPA-free.

  3. This is not as clearcut as the authors and commenters would lead you to believe.

    Some of the evidence indicates that SIGG did tell some of its customers, it just did not trumpet that announcement, which was a surprise to them too, it appears.

    And then there is the scientific evidence, which is very much in favor of BPA being safe. And no one suggests that the levels found in leachate are dangerous. Ask whether BPA is in the bag holding the blood parts you are getting at a hospital. Yeah, it’s in there as it is safe.

    Are there potential problems with plastic, steel, and aluminum containers? Yes, and it is worth a lifecycle analysis.

    Are these sorts of discussion worth using the precautionary principle? No, as it is neither.

    1. Norman,

      I notice you work for the plastics industry, so…of course you would say BPA is safe, am I right?

      In this case, what do you say about all of the studies linking BPA and other ingredients to autism, hyperactivity, and heightened feminine qualities in boys (and girls for that matter)? Are they all bunk, like climate deniers are saying numerous studies illuminating Humankind’s deleterious effects on the Earth are?

  4. Oh, you are about a million times more likely to be killed in a fire caused by a short in the computer you are typing on right now than you are to be killed by BPA in a bottle liner.

    Quit wasting your time.

  5. Be careful about SIGG bottles even with BPA-free linings. The linings on the two SIGG bottles I’ve bought began peeling off after about six months of use – leaving bare aluminum, which some find even scarier than BPA.

  6. As one whose had business dealings with Steve Wasik and SIGG, I can tell you that they are deceptive through and through. I for one am thrilled that these guys, who sought to profit by hanging-on to the sustainable movement, are finally getting their comeuppance.

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