Avocado Mattress is facing a class action lawsuit. The popular mattress brand faces accusations of falsely advertising its latex products as free of synthetic and non-toxic materials. Is Avocado in for the pillow-fight of its life? Could the Avocado lawsuit undermine faith in MadeSafe™ and other green certifications? Is this the beginning of the end for the natural bedding industry?
Table of Contents
- What the Avocado Mattress lawsuit says
- What do the plaintiffs want from Avocado?
- Avocado products may contain these toxic chemicals
- Is there any truly ‘natural’ mattress?
- Is there merit to the accusations against Avocado?
- Why is Avocado facing this lawsuit and not other mattress companies?
- What the lawsuit means for Avocado
- What the Avocado lawsuit means for consumers
Update to Avocado lawsuit:
On August 11th, 2023, the lawsuit against Avocado Mattress LLC was dismissed in a Californian court. Since the case was filed in April, 2023, the company has held firm in its stance that the claims made in the suit were ‘baseless’ and ‘unproven’.
In an email on August 11th, Avocado said:
We are pleased to report that the proposed class-action lawsuit against Avocado has been dismissed. As is common in these legal matters, we cannot discuss further details, but we are glad to put this issue behind us.Avocado Mattress LLC
See more from Avocado about the case’s dismissal here.
What the Avocado Mattress lawsuit says
A case filed April 28, 2023, in California claims that Avocado Mattress LLC falsely advertised its latex mattresses, organic pillows, and mattress toppers as being free of synthetic and non-toxic chemicals. In a 57-page filing (view pdf here), the plaintiffs (customers of Avocado) allege that “Avocado intended to mislead consumers with its false advertising, and it has done so for years.”
Specifically, the mattress company is accused of using terms such as “natural,” “eco” and “organic” in a manner that misrepresents the true nature of its products. Moreover, the suit alleges that Avocado uses its MadeSafe™ certification to suggest its products comprise “100 percent healthy ingredients” when, in fact, they contain known toxic chemicals.
What do the plaintiffs want from Avocado?
The plaintiffs in the case against Avocado are Akeem Pina and Richard Roberts. They are seeking compensation for themselves and anybody who bought certain Avocado Mattress latex products in the United States.
The plaintiffs are demanding a jury trial in the Northern District of California. The legal charges against Avocado are:
- Class action complaint for fraud, deceit, and/or misrepresentation
- Violation of the consumer legal remedies act
- False advertising
- Negligent misrepresentation
- Unfair, unlawful, and deceptive trade practices
- Unjust enrichment
- Breach of contract.
Avocado products may contain these toxic chemicals
The lawsuit against Avocado says “Avocado’s advertising is false. Contrary to its longstanding, pervasive marketing, Avocado’s mattresses contain synthetic, toxic chemicals.”
The plaintiffs allege that the mattress company uses synthetic chemicals at “virtually every stage of the latex manufacturing process—from harvesting and stabilization to vulcanization and drying.” It also includes the results of laboratory tests commissioned by the plaintiffs of a mattress bought from Avocado by the plaintiff.
|Wingstay-L||contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive harm||contains substances listed with the State of California as hazardous waste, and it is not readily biodegradable|
|Pentyl Furan (AKA amylfuran)||is acutely toxic and causes eye, skin, and respiratory irritation||Is flammable|
|Zinc diethyldithiocarbamate (ZDEC) – a possible accelerator used in the rubber manufacturing process||may form carcinogenic substances during the vulcanization process.||is irritating to the eyes, respiratory system, and skin is toxic to aquatic organisms, and it may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment|
|2, 2’-dibenzothiazyl disulfide (MBT/MBTS) – a possible accelerator used in the rubber manufacturing process||may cause skin sensitization following repeated contact and its dust may cause respiratory irritation, including the symptoms of bronchitis||is toxic to aquatic organisms, and it may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment. Is not readily biodegradable|
|1,3-diphenylguanidine (DPG) – a possible accelerator used in the rubber manufacturing process||is associated with adverse effects on the reproductive system, including fetal development||can cause irritation to eyes, skin, and the respiratory system is also toxic to aquatic life, with long-lasting effects|
|Naphthenic hydrocarbon oils – rubber processing oil made from petroleum||is a naphthenic-type oil associated with eye, skin, and respiratory irritation||Is flammable|
Most of these chemicals are on the Restricted Substances List (RSL) for GOTS certification and are not allowed under MadeSafe™ certification rules (with some caveats). Avocado carries both such certifications, which throws into question the company’s transparency over product ingredients and the rigor of the certification processes for MadeSafe™ and GOTS.
Are MadeSafe™ and GOTS credible?
GOTS has outright bans on many hazardous chemicals, even for the 5% of non-organic materials allowed in a final product. However, GOTS does not actually test products, so it could issue an organic certification even for a product that doesn’t fully comply with the standard.
Similarly, MadeSafe™ certification doesn’t involve product testing. Instead, both certifications rely on companies being transparent about the chemicals and materials it uses to create products. And with MadeSafe™ there’s an extra caveat. The certification gives companies a little wiggle room by saying:
“Some substances may have category specific allowances or technically unavoidable content, in which case either additional testing or threshold requirements may apply.”
This could, then, apply to the chemicals Avocado and other mattress companies use to produce natural latex mattresses. After all, there is currently no way of making molded latex without synthetic additives that act as accelerators and drying agents. This means the chemicals are ‘technically unavoidable’ under MadeSafe™ rules.
Is there any truly ‘natural’ mattress?
Does this matter? That depends. Some chemicals are so egregious that even miniscule amounts can cause irreparable harm, whether to workers, the environment, or a customer using a product. Other chemicals are still harmful at higher amounts but could be deemed acceptable as a trade-off if they allow for the creation of products, such as latex mattresses, that are generally far healthier and more eco-friendly than straight-up polyurethane foam mattresses.
Where you draw your line depends on your personal risk tolerance. In the case of Avocado and other companies, though, it may also depend on whether you’re forgiving of marketing that ignores the realities of latex manufacturing in favor of creating an illusion of products that are pure, clean, and natural.
Is there merit to the accusations against Avocado?
I will admit to being surprised by the chemicals the plaintiffs claim to have found in the Avocado Green Mattress. It’s also notable that Avocado hasn’t outright denied using these chemicals, although this may simply be for legal reasons given the freshness of the case. (UPDATE: The company did maintain its stance throughout proceedings that the claims were ‘baseless’, however, and the case was dismissed as of August 11, 2023.)
Avocado claims radical transparency about its materials but doesn’t reveal which chemicals it uses to turn rubber sap into usable molded latex for its products.
Given that there are less egregious synthetic chemicals allowed under GOTS and GOLS rules and under the MadeSafe™ standard, it would be strange for Avocado to instead use the more hazardous chemicals as listed in the lawsuit.
It’s an open secret in the natural mattress industry that some synthetic chemicals are always necessary to turn rubber tree sap into usable latex.
Why is Avocado facing this lawsuit and not other mattress companies?
Avocado operates a little differently from most mattress companies, and this may be the reason it is facing this lawsuit while other ‘natural’ mattress companies carry on with business as usual.
Avocado boasts the most vertically integrated supply chain in the mattress industry. It co-owns the rubber tree plantations, organic cotton co-ops, and processing facilities, giving it complete control over every aspect of manufacturing. As the lawsuit notes, this means Avocado can’t claim ignorance of which chemicals are in its mattresses.
Most other mattress companies outsource latex production and buy pre-made slabs of latex. This gives them plausible deniability over the chemicals used to process latex.
While it might end up proving legally difficult for Avocado, the company’s vertical integration is one of the things we value about Avocado. It allows the Benefit Corporation far more control and oversight of processes that could otherwise be vulnerable to fraud and poor practices by bad actors. The caveat, of course, is that you’re placing a lot of trust in the company, rather than independent third-party certifiers and auditors.
Avocado is also rare in that it uses blockchain technology to track raw materials through to final products. This adds credibility to paper-based certifications such as GOTS that can otherwise suffer from fraud.
What the lawsuit means for Avocado
Because Avocado has built its entire business model on making mattresses and other products that are more eco-friendly and natural than standard fare, it has a lot to lose by compromising its own code of ethics.
It remains to be seen if the complaint against Avocado makes it to a jury trial, and it’s not for us to rule on the case. However, there are definitely some lessons for Avocado and other mattress companies to learn from this lawsuit.
Most notably, the company may need to reign in its claims about using 100% healthy materials and that MadeSafe™ certification means it’s totally free of toxic chemicals. The company may even end up in trouble with MadeSafe™ for such statements.
And if it does turn out that Avocado is using chemicals not permitted under GOTS and MadeSafe™ rules, it stands to lose its green certifications (and its perfect Leaf Score), at least temporarily. It may even lose its B Corp status. Should that happen, the popular mattress company may find it also loses previously loyal customers and fails to attract new ones.
What the Avocado lawsuit means for consumers
The Avocado lawsuit serves as a timely reminder to consumers that certain terms and claims are not legally regulated in the U.S. The words ‘natural’ and ‘eco-friendly’ are legally meaningless, for now.
This allows companies to pepper their product marketing with as many photos of trees and rubber tree sap as they like, while claiming products are natural and sustainable, even if they wouldn’t satisfy the average person’s understanding of those terms.
It’s doubtful that this lawsuit will bring about regulation of these oft-used marketing terms. Policing those terms would be a gargantuan task, with no government agency likely to want to take on such a mandate.
Instead, as usual, the onus is on consumers to do their own research. In the pursuit of products that are perfectly natural or sustainable, disappointment is almost inevitable. For most consumer products, the best we can hope for is to find companies doing things more sustainably and with a greater percentage of truly natural materials, while accepting the reality that some synthetic chemicals are often necessary to produce the things we want to buy.
The alternative in most cases is to choose a different kind of product that is more easily made using wholly natural materials, such as an innerspring mattress, or to make do and mend.
See more from Avocado about the case’s dismissal here.
Avocado isn’t the first mattress company to face a lawsuit. Another recent example is Zinus, which makes the Green Tea Mattress (a bestseller on Amazon). The Zinus lawsuit alleges that its mattresses have caused serious health effects from exposure to flame-resistant fiberglass. So far, no other mattress companies have been sued for using terms such as ‘natural’ or ‘non-toxic’.