Editor's Note: This interview with Seventh Generation's CEO John Replogle took place while Mr. Replogle served as CEO of Burt's Bees. The interview was released now due to Mr. Replogle's new position as CEO of Seventh Generation, in order to better understand his perspective on sustainability. Individuals involved with corporate social responsibility can gleam important lessons regarding the benefits of implementing sustainability strategies at numerous levels of a company's operations and supply chain.
Seventh Generation takes its name from the Great Law of the Iroquois that states, "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." Based in Vermont, the company's mission is "to become the world's most trusted brand of authentic, safe, and environmentally-responsible products for a healthy home."
Interview from the Forbes CSR Blog:
How and when did sustainability start at your company? Why was it seen as something important before “sustainability” became a buzzword? Who were the key players?
Burt Shavitz and Roxanne Quimby, the founders of Burt’s Bees, were eco-pioneers when they started the company over 25 years ago. They had a passion for nature and they had limited resources, which meant they were what we now call “sustainable.” We, the keepers of Burt’s Bees present, have the profound responsibility to articulate their vision in the broadest ways possible as we grow and evolve. So it’s been just that at Burt’s Bees, a journey, carrying the mission of the founders forward.
Our company has always attracted the kind of people who want to make a positive impact, so employees have been key players in getting us where we are today. In fact, 100% employee engagement is one of our 2020 sustainability goals. We’ve made it a priority to support and educate employees so they can be leaders in sustainability at work and at home. Today, Burt’s Bees is recognized by consumers as the #1 Green Brand in the U.S. (according to the ImagePower Green Brands Survey) because we remain rooted in the vision and principles that Burt and Roxanne held 25 years ago.
So many companies, especially consumer-facing companies, talk about their commitment to the tenets of sustainability. How do you break through the noise and communicate authenticity?
Being authentic and transparent are not optional, and actually doing as you say is paramount. By investing in our culture and values, our employees make the right choices in keeping the grassroots green and vibrant. Our products and packaging speak for us as well. In our formulation and packaging decisions, we attempt to pioneer green and sustainable choices. When you practice what you believe it gives you a credible voice to speak. We have shared our progress (and challenges) openly through our CSR report, which is found on our website, and through direct communications with our consumers via Facebook and Twitter.
Generally speaking, can sustainability, which requires long-term thinking for business, continue to grow when so many analysts, investors, and the media are hyper-focused on the short-term, quarterly profits?
We must kill the myth that being sustainable is at odds with driving profitable business forward. Burt’s Bees is a more competitive and profitable business BECAUSE we embrace sustainable practices. We take a systemic approach to design and problem solving which drives waste, in its many forms, out of our business. This is best practice.
Sustainability is no longer optional. Companies that fail to adopt such practice will perish. They will not only lose on a cost basis, they will also suffer in recruiting employees as well as attracting consumers. At the end of the day, companies have to be able to do both well, delivering a positive return for investors, and good, making the right choices for people and the planet for the long term.
Cause Integration's Perspective:
This blog has seen time and again that large companies are integrating sustainability into their companies not only to appease shareholders who balance the concerns of myriad stakeholders but rather because sustainability leads to increased profitability and improved business outcomes at the level of operational efficiency. Seventh Generation's Replogle echoes these findings, speaking that sustainability is no longer an option but rather is a necessity that companies need to embrace in order to enhance their competitiveness and meet their various metrics and goals. Importantly, Replogle focuses on employee engagement in ensuring that sustainability fits a company culture at every level. Sustainability is the new normal for good business in the age of corporate social reponsibility. Corporate stewardship is now intelligent business in the 21st century.