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What Gaiam Knows: How One of America's Most Trusted Brands is Playing Possum on BPA

[Editor's Note: Sound off on OCA's Forum about Gaiam and Sigg's greenwashing.]

Gaiam may be best known among the public at large as a retailer of all things yoga in an age that can't get enough of low-impact, vaguely spiritual forms of exercise. But being the U.S.'s largest creator and distributor of fitness and yoga DVDs (Gaiam owns more than half of the U.S. market, has over 7,000 store-within-a-store displays at major retailers nationwide, and distributes tens of milions of direct-mail catalogs a year) and one of the country's top retailers of reusable aluminum water bottles (one industry source ZRecs spoke with considered them the second or third biggest player in the metal water bottle market, depending on whether you consider the now-shamed SIGG to be down for the count) - that's just the beginning.

Gaiam's gift has always been selling products using original (and often high-quality) content, and in the last decade Gaiam has become as much of a media empire as a retail giant. The company is a prolific pillar of the LOHAS community ("lifestyles of health and sustainability," a term Gaiam's founder coined in the 1990s to better describe their customer than the not-quite-right "cultural creatives,"), thanks in part to acquisitions of the Lime.com content site (ranked among the top 35,000 websites worldwide by Alexa.com), Gaiam's absorption of Whole Foods' ailing WholePeople.com site in exchange for a minority stake in the content-rich direct retail portal Gaiam.com (yep, Whole Foods owns 49.9% of Gaiam.com), and Gaiam also purchased the biggest LOHAS community site online (Gaia.com, which boasts nearly 300,000 members and contributes to Gaiam.com's ranking in the top 3,000 websites, according to Alexa).

In other words, if you have a sustainable bone in your body (and for your sake, I certainly hope that you do!) you probably interact with someone who is drawing their paycheck from Gaiam.

So here's where I spell it out. Millions of U.S. consumers were shocked and dismayed to discover that SIGG aluminum water bottles contained "trace amounts" of bisphenol-A, particularly because they had purchased those bottles thinking they were making a healthy and environmentally responsible choice. BPA is bad for people and it is bad for marine life, at a minimum. If that's why people bought SIGG bottles, I'm going to guess that it's also why people bought Gaiam's aluminum water bottles.

My goal in this post is to lay out evidence that makes it crystal clear that Gaiam is doing exactly what SIGG did prior to their announcement that their water bottles contained BPA. Whether Gaiam is working on a solution to this problem, as SIGG reportedly spent two years doing and then another year rolling out while consumers continued to buy their BPA-containing bottles under questionable assumptions - well, that's anyone's guess, at least for now. But I suspect that a lot of people, like me, expected more from a company that has claimed the title of cultural visionary on health and on personal, if not corporate, transparency.

First, I'll show why we believe Gaiam is not telling you the whole story about their aluminum water bottles and the endocrine-disrupting, yogi-hating chemical we like to call "the big B." I'll source and provide links throughout. Then I'll tell you why this situation bothers us as much as, if not more than, the hard truths we learned about SIGG.


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