FTC to mattress companies: Don't pad your green claims

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If you or your clients make environmental marketing claims, don’t sleep on three actions the FTC just announced against companies that sell mattresses.  What's more, the pleadings in one case offer insights into a course of conduct advertisers should avoid in the use of seals and certifications.

According the FTC’s lawsuit against Relief-Mart, based in Westlake Village, California, the company advertised its Biogreen memory foam mattresses without having its claims tucked in.  Relief-Mart, which markets through its tempflow.com site, said the products don’t contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), have no VOC off-gassing, and don’t have the smell consumers often associate with memory foam.  One aroma the FTC detected from Relief-Mart’s representations was the whiff of deception, which is why the complaint charged that the company didn’t have a reasonable basis for its claims.

A second lawsuit challenged statements in ads by Quebec-based Essentia Natural Memory Foam Company, which has retail stores in six U.S. cities.  The FTC charged that Essentia didn’t have appropriate proof to back up claims that its mattresses are VOC-free, have “[n]o chemical off-gassing or odor,” and — unlike other memory foam mattresses that “can emit up to 61 chemicals” — are “free from all those harmful VOCs.”  In addition, the complaint disputes Essentia’s claims that its memory foam mattresses are chemical-free, contain no formaldehyde, don’t emit chemical fumes and odors, and are “made with 100% natural materials.”  The FTC also challenged the truthfulness of Essentia’s assurance that testing confirms that its memory foam mattresses are VOC- and formaldehyde-free.

(An aside about “smell” claims:  The FTC doesn’t normally challenge subjective representations like smell.  What’s different here is that consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances are likely to interpret a claim that a mattress doesn’t have that memory foam smell to mean that it’s VOC-free.)

In a third action, the FTC alleged that San Diego-based Ecobaby Organics short-sheeted the truth in how it marketed its latex mattresses.  Through its purerest.com site, Ecobaby touted its mattresses as “chemical free,” with no formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, VOCs, or toxic substances.  The company also said its products contained fewer contaminants and chemicals than competitors’ memory foam or latex mattresses and that it had sound testing to back up its chemical-, formaldehyde-, and VOC-free claims.  Not so, said the FTC, which alleged that Ecobaby didn’t have appropriate testing to support those statements.

What about the certification angle?  Ecobaby’s promotional materials prominently featured the seal of NAOMI, the National Association of Organic Mattress Industry.  The FTC says the ads conveyed to consumers that NAOMI was an independent certifying organization with appropriate expertise that grants its seal based on objective standards.  The truth, says the FTC, is that NAOMI is run by Ecobaby and is really an alter ego of the company.  Thus, the company awarded its own seal to its own products without applying objective standards, a practice that (surprise, surprise) ran afoul of Section 5.

Proposed settlements with the three companies should put misleading representations to rest.  You’ll want to read the orders for the details, but savvy green marketers will pay close attention to provisions addressing VOC-free claims.  The orders prohibit the companies from making VOC-free claims unless the emission level is zero micrograms per cubic meter or if they have competent and reliable scientific evidence that the products in question contain no more than a “trace level” of VOCs.  The “trace level” standard comes from the FTC's Green Guides’ guidance on making “free of” claims.  As the Green Guides explain, companies meet the “trace level” test if:

  1. The level of the ingredient is less than what would be found as a background level in the ambient air;
  2. The presence of the ingredient doesn’t cause the harm consumers typically associate with it, including harm to the environment or health; and
  3. The ingredient hasn’t been intentionally added to the product.

The orders also bar a host of unsubstantiated environmental benefit or attribute claims and prohibit certain health claims without appropriate scientific evidence. 

In addition, the settlements address particular forms of deception challenged in the individual complaints.  For example, the Essentia and Ecobaby settlements ban claims that products covered by the orders are “free of chemicals” and prohibits misrepresentations about tests, studies, or research.  The Essentia order bars unsubstantiated “natural” claims.   And under the Ecobaby settlement, the company can’t make “non-toxic” claims unless it has scientific evidence to back them up.  Addressing the deceptve use of the NAOMI seal, the Ecobaby order puts a provision in place to end misrepresentations about certifications.

You have until August 26, 2013, to file an online comment about the proposed Relief-Mart, Essentia, or Ecobaby Organics settlements.  Looking for more resources about keeping your green claims compliant?  Bookmark the BCP Business Center's Environmental Marketing page.  Today’s cases also offer a timely reminder to take a fresh look at the FTC’s revised Green Guides if you haven’t reviewed them recently.



As of today, July 25th, they are still saying on their website that they make the world's only natural memory foam. I went into their store and their salesperson told me they make their foam with pine cone and water
My wife and I heard the a similar claim at an Essentia store in Denver, Colorado, only a couple of weeks ago. (Around 24 October 2013).
Essentia is continuing to mislead consumers! Their website is full of false claims and lies!
Where's the GREEN marketing penalty for the spray foam insulation industry who consistently deceive consumers into filling their walls and attics with this stuff?
So does the FTC have ANY proof what these companies claim is not true? Seems to me the big mattress lobby has the FTC on a witch hunt against competitors.
Time has passed. Do we have more current information? Or is it a witch hunt? And the opposite question comes to mind. Do the standard mattress companies have to reveal the exact toxins and percentages and off gassing that are part of their products? All we all want is safe health, with honest information. Can anyone provide that with regard to mattresses? Thanks.

Sadly many complaints to the FTC are not from customers but from competitors and s no further action is generally taken since the FTC has provided them with sufficient documentation to give them a competitive edge.

Was this written by a high school student? Humor is not expected or needed in an article of this nature. Save the over-earnest stand-up for a more appropriate time.

Does anyone know where to go to get reliable and honest information regarding how to effectively evaluate mattress companies? I spent time researching mattress companies and thought I had found a non-toxic and safe mattress when I purchased an Essentia mattress. Then I go online and find that the company had been making false claims. I want to purchase a new mattress. How do I avoid getting duped again. Also, is there a class action suit being brought against the Essentia Natural Memory Foam Company?

I have just recently ordered a mattress and was assured there were no fire retardants, I went over how important it was as I am sensitive to chemicals. I was never told the ones coming to the US by law have to have a thread of fire safe materials (fire retardants) in the mattress. I am now pretty upset as it has just been shipped and I hope they are going to contact me soon and take care of this. apparently if we get a Dr's note to say we have health issues which require this chemical not to be in it then they are legally OK to not include it. Otherwise it is the US law that it has to be included. this is what I was told by the store today in CA. If you here anything else to help me get this taken care of please contact me. I feel like I have been very mis lead by the store I ordered it from.

Susan, I know exactly how you feel. I am also very sensitive to chemicals and very allergic to a lot of things. I'm allergic to latex, soy, fermaildihide, & about everything they make foam with. I found a mattress from saatva mattress. It was all natural with little to no off gassing. They said the foam was made from corn. I didn't find out until I got it home that it was made from corn & soy. I'm very allergic to soy. So are my dogs. So no one could smell it but the dogs and I. We got very sick. I couldn't breathe. We had to send it back. I really hated it though, cause it was a very good mattress & so comfortable. Best one I have laid on. Well, until it closed my throat up. If your not allergic to corn oil or soy oil., you should be fine. For me, I still haven't found anything to sleep on. As far as a fire retardant. Wool from sheep acts as a natural fire retardant. There are a lot of beds that has a layer of wool for that reason. Saatva also has a latex bed that has a wool layer for fire retardant. Then a layer of cotton, for comfort. There latex is made from the sap of the tree,not rubber. The only thing is : they put there foam around the edges. Of course, it contains soy oil & corn oil. So I can't have that one either. I hope this helps you on your quest. If you have anything that could help me on my search for a mattress, please pass it on.

can you please tell me if there is any updated information on this company. $4000 is a lot of money for a mattress if it does not live up to its claims. I have researched alot before buying but now its on its way I find out I have been misled

Any and all mattress industry insiders knows the fact that there is no trouth in the marketing claims. They couldn't care less about your health or even your simple comfort and a good nights sleep. Someone with authority should step up and start enforcing deceptive practices and advertising by this industry.
Even retailers making claims such as "The ONLY mattress proffessional" in my opinion is misleading.
No one should be allowed to make such claims. The word "proffessional" has a meaning and one has to
substantiate such claims. Let me conclude by saying : It is unfortunately a non regulated industry with no
specified regulations and no enforcement" God Bless America.

I did research, and bought from Essentia - but coughed much more when I slept on their mattress than I did on my old, dusty, but long-since off-gassed regular mattress from The Bay, Their "20-year warranty" only covers sagging,something they do NOT mention. I cannot afford to lose that money, but had to purchase another bed. So much "non-toxic" advertising is greenwashing, and all they get is a slap on the wrist.

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