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Elaine Shannon

Elaine Shannon

Posted: September 4, 2009 04:55 PM

SIGG: It's Not Easy Not Being Green

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SIGG Switzerland AG's roster of stars who tote and tout its aluminum-and-synthetic water bottles reads like a A-list party at Cannes.

Cameron Diaz, Scarlett Johansson, Zac Effron , Lucy Liu, Tobey Maguire, Cindy Crawford, Heidi Klum, Jessica Alba -- and more.

How long will the company hang onto its VIP endorsers, especially glamorous moms like Julia Roberts, Jennifer Garner, Cindy Crawford and Heidi Klum and the pregnant Gisele Bundchen, now that CEO Steve Wasik has disclosed its bottles were lined, until recently, with bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic plastic component?

SIGG slogans like "Eco Logical" and "Friends don't let friends drink from plastic" are ringing hollow in the wake of Wasik's belated admission that the company coated its bottles' insides with BPA-based epoxy resin until August 2008 -- which means that for months afterward, health-conscious consumers plucked SIGG bottles off store racks, thinking they were BPA-free. But they weren't.

That's why my colleague Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, yesterday wrote SIGG's owners, The Riverside Company, asking for a full apology and refunds to dissatisfied customers.

SIGG promotes its pricey bottles as high-end fashion accessories -- "like your cellphone or your iPod," Wasik told USA Today back in 2007 -- and also a better alternative to Nalgene and Camelbak plastic bottles known to contain BPA, a synthetic estrogen found to disrupt the endocrine system. Both companies switched to non-BPA plastics in mid-2008, but SIGG enjoyed a spike in sales as consumers fled plastic. So did Kleen Kanteen and other companies that make stainless steel bottles that don't require a coating.

Wasik's letter to customers posted on the SIGG USA website around August 20 has stirred up a firestorm of controversy about the company's marketing tactics. The Associated Press reported today that "Indignant Sigg owners ...have been blogging and tweeting up a tsunami...The [Wasik] letter landed with a clang. Damning articles posted on the Web were repeatedly re-tweeted, showing the danger of stirring up consumer discontent in the age of social networks."

Advertising Age, the bible of the marketing industry, reported Sept. 1 that "Sigg USA, maker of the metal, reusable bottles that became a badge of consumer eco-consciousness and all-around cool, is in danger of becoming a poster child for brand deception and corporate dishonesty."

How long will all those eco-active stars stay in SIGG's stable?

Savvy celebrities know that to burnish their images, the cause they embrace has to be true green, not green-washed. Celeb-watchers have noses like fruit bats when it comes to sniffing out faux-anything.