seventh generation

WORDS // Lucy Higgins

For most cleaning companies, social responsibility is not nearly as important as making a decent toilet cleaner. Seventh Generation, based out of Burlington, VT, begs to differ. Creating a line of products that are plant-derived and toxic free, and they are also tackling larger social issues.

Founded in 1988 by Jeffrey Hollender and Alan Newman, Seventh Generation is based on an Iroquois law: consider the impact that your decisions will have on the following seven generations. Running a business with this mindset can be tricky in a capitalist economy. Yet Seventh Generation seems to be doing just fine. In 2012, Seventh Generation’s retail sales reached over $200 million, 10% of which is donated to non-profit organizations.

The bottom line is that Seventh Generation’s success is measured on more than just profits. The 2012 Sustainability Report highlights what those measurements are: “nurturing nature, enhancing health, building communities and transforming commerce.”

A major goal that Seventh Generation is currently tackling speaks directly to their “nurturing nature” initiative; the company aims to stop sending their waste to landfills by 2020 and will use completely renewable packaging materials to do so. They are already on track by producing only plant-based materials for their products.
Seventh Generation prides itself on fair and inclusive treatment of employees, which takes form with an incentive program that awards those who come up with their own sustainable ideas. Employees also have 16 paid hours annually to volunteer within their community, and in 2013, the first year of the community volunteer program, the rate of participation was 100%.

On a larger scale, the company follows its own suggestions to its employees and takes an interest in the Burlington community. In December 2011, Seventh Generation announced its partnership with The Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes Elementary School, located in Burlington’s North End. The entire elementary school operates on a sustainability-based curriculum, and Seventh Generation helped construct an outdoor classroom and donated $10,000 to help install a solar array system. Not only do the solar panels decrease wasteful energy consumption, but they also serve to offset Seventh Generation’s corporate electricity usage.

The future for Seventh Generation is looking just as green as its past. Their biggest initiative of late is to buy Bobble, a reusable filtered water bottle brand, in an effort to address the problem of wasteful consumption of plastic water bottles (the Bobble website notes an estimate that 200 billion single-serve water bottles end up in landfills every year). The filters in Bobble water bottles can be used upwards of 300 times before needing replacement. This is Seventh Generation’s first acquisition of a business that is not within their realm of cleaning products, but given their success in social responsibility campaigns, let’s hope it’s not their last.