For me, this presentation was one of this show’s most powerful, yet I will have a challenge communicating it to you, Dear Readers, second-hand. If you’re not familiar with the Seventh Generation line of cleaning and household products, it is a paragon of environmental business. Three years ago their growth was 25%. Two years ago: 45%. Last year, 60%. Yet listening to him speak, you would think President Jeffrey Hollander was anything but a rampant capitalist. At his company, everybody gets a free massage every week. Dogs trot around the offices. And employees enjoy 100% paid life insurance. According to Hollander, although many corporate CEO’s make over 500x the earnings of their average employee, he has voluntarily capped his at 20x and is not close to that yet.
But the essence of his message is that Incremental changes are not going to get us where we need to go. Companies must change their business models to be a force for good in society. While Seventh Generation is lauded for making good products, Hollander says all he can do is lie awake at night and think of how to make better ones. “We have a huge problem.” He says. “We have to regenerate the world. We need products that are GOOD, not just ‘less bad’. And in his view, governments must shoulder some of that responsibility. “We’re in a society that has made bad rules that incentivize customers to make the wrong decisions. We need to change those rules.” This, he says, will take 50+ year business plans that must be related to a new business ownership style. “If we don’t redistribute more wealth from the top layers we’ll have no more consumers left to sell to.”
But perhaps the most interesting question for me, and one we can all ask ourselves is:
“What does the world most need that you are uniquely qualified to provide?”
Hmmmm. Thank you, Mr. Hollander. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
One in a series of articles on Lorne’s Sustainable Journey to the Sustainable Brands 08 Conference in Monterey CA. Click here for the full list of sessions, or here for the ‘Fear & Loathing’ road trip journals.
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