Jeffrey Hollender is the outspoken co-founder of Seventh Generation, the pioneering sustainable cleaning company (which gives 10% of profits to non-profit groups), where he fills the position of "Chief Inspired Protagonist." He is the former director of the Social Venture Network; co-founder and former director of the Community Capital Bank; a past president of the Rainforest Foundation USA; a board member or advisor to the Greenpeace Fund, the Environmental Health Fund, Verite and Healthy Child Healthy World, and the founder and chief financial backer of the American Sustainable Business Council all of which are involved in promoting sustainability, fair labor practices or other environmental or social initiatives. And he's an author of a blog and several books, most recently (with Bill Breen) The Responsibility Revolution: How the Next Generation of Businesses Will Win ($23, Wiley, John & Sons).
In other words, he's about as involved in the sustainability movement as anyone. The Daily Green recently had the chance to ask him a few questions via email. Here are his responses:
Given the recent fallout over John Mackey's comments (Whole Foods), what do you feel are the benefits of being such an outspoken corporate chief?
Before I address the benefits, let me first comment on why I do what I do. Given Seventh Generation's mission, "to inspire a more conscious and sustainable world by being an authentic force for positive change," which to us means:
I find no way to work towards fulfilling our mission that doesn't include being a rather outspoken voice.
In terms of the benefits, I believe that the outspoken voice of the Inspired Protagonist helps to create the authenticity and transparency that is deeply aligned with the brand we are committed to creating. It is also about attempting to be a role model for others, to raise the bar in terms of what's possible and ensure that we have a positive influence that is much larger than our size.
There was just a study out saying that people often do good works for the environment for social validation, and another that said people are more likely to do something "bad" after doing something good for the environment. You've written an entire book, The Responsibility Revolution, about corporate social responsibility. Do you see the same patterns among corporations?
Having read the study, my conclusion is that while mildly interesting, if really true, it's a sideshow and distraction to what is really happening. In the thousands of conversations I've had with individuals who do "good works," it's both completely untrue and offensive to characterize their motives and behavior as "more likely to do something 'bad' after doing something good." When I was in grade school, I took a course titled: "How to Lie with Statistics," and while I'm not accusing the authors of any misdeed, just because the numbers say it's so, doesn't make it so.
While "greenwashing" is rampant among corporations, I don't believe it's usually malicious. It's just stupid, inept and misguided. Far too few companies are even close to being truly responsible; but they rarely do something good to justify doing something bad. Often the right hand doesn't even know what the left hand is doing. They don't understand what real responsibility entails or they've convinced themselves that what they're doing is a lot "less bad" than it really is.
Now that Clorox Green Works has been in the market for some time, has it indeed lifted all boats for the category of sustainable green cleaners (as Clorox has claimed), or has it siphoned business away from the original innovators like Seventh Generation?
I can't tell you about "all" the boats, but ours is floating higher than ever before, with business this year up almost 20%. The category of "green household cleaners, dish liquid and laundry," as defined by IRI in Food, Drug and Mass Market retailers for the 12 months ending November 29, 2009 grew between 18% and 56% while comparable "non-green" products were down as much as 5% and flat at best. Competition has definitely expanded the overall growth of the categories. We're confident we will continue to get our fair share of that growth.
You founded the American Sustainable Business Council in part to counteract the influence of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Why?
Whether the National Chamber is spending its $200 million fighting health care reform, cap and trade legislation, financial reform or chemical policy reform, they don't represent the voices of most small and medium-sized businesses or even many large Fortune 500 companies. The Chamber is held captive to a small group of gigantic, multi-national companies that represent our economic past, not our future. For America to compete and succeed in the global marketplace, create millions of high quality jobs, protect our environment and build a more just and equitable society, we need a new vision that is represented by policies that build a new and brighter future rather than keep us chained to a past that is dying at great speed.
The American Sustainable Business Council is committed to creating the foundation, framework and political influence for a transition to a new economy grounded in principles of sustainability and equity. We need to move beyond the politics and business of the past to create the innovative solutions enterprises, collaborations and ideas necessary for accelerating such a transformation. We cannot afford to fail in this endeavor.
The ASBC will elevate the public presence of the many diverse businesses representing sustainability, local economies, micro-enterprises and corporate social responsibility. In less than six months, over 40,000 businesses and 150,000 entrepreneurs, owners, executives, investors and business professionals have joined this call to action.
I have personally committed $50,000 to launch this critically important effort, the single most important initiative I've been involved in since I started Seventh Generation 22 years ago.
Drawing from your research for the new book, tell us which businesses are making innovations in corporate social responsibility that might surprise people? We might expect a Google, with a mantra of "do no evil" to innovate on this front, but what companies are making surprising innovations?
My favorite stories come from Linden Labs and Philip Rosedale, Linden Lab's charismatic founder and chairman. Linden Labs, the company that is best known for creating Second Life, would never call itself a leader in corporate responsibility, but the practices they've woven into their culture are truly revolutionary. I'll share two examples.
Late on one long night Philip built a simple but powerful tool for stifling workplace fear. He calls it the "Love Machine." The "Love Machine" takes the negativity that flows through most corporations' internal messaging and converts it into something positive and far more effective. The "Love Machine" only sends messages praising people for a job well done. Each message is visible to the whole company. These love letters boost self-esteem and make good work by making those not usually in the spotlight more visible.
The "Rewarder" is another of Philip's creations. Each quarter, every associate is given an equal share of a portion of Linden's net profit that you cannot keep for yourself. You must click on the "Rewarder" and use it to redistribute your share to those whom you believe did the most to help the company over the past three months. You can send the total to one overachiever, or divide it among several co-workers. The "Rewarder" puts the spotlight on unsung heroes those innovative, driven souls who deliver the goods, but aren't particularly adept at advertising their accomplishments. Because they are publicly acclaimed and fairly compensated, Linden has a better chance of holding onto them and a better shot at keeping the community healthy.
What was the most promising discovery you made by writing The Responsibility Revolution?
Because we found businesses large and small, new and old and in almost every industry that had already successfully joined "the revolution," there is hope for all the rest. The amazing success of these revolutionary companies and practices makes abundantly clear that the business case for The Responsibility Revolution is so strong that there are no sidelines to sit on. Either join or get out of the way.
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