Is ‘Less Bad’ Good Enough?
Note: In honor of Social Venture Network’s 25-year anniversary, the network is inducting 25 of its most innovative and influential leaders into its hall of fame Nov. 13 at Gotham Hall in New York City. To recognize these sustainable business pioneers, SVN’s news program, ‘Sustainable Solutions,’ is interviewing the hall-of-famers to celebrate their accomplishments and learn what more needs to be done. Read the whole series here.
Jeffrey Hollender says there is a need for companies and products to focus on regeneration and resilience.
“We need companies and products to repair the damage that has been created, not just sustain the rate at which the deterioration is happening,” says Hollender.
Hollender is the co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, a leading brand of green cleaning products. An expert on corporate responsibility, sustainability and social equity, Hollender founded the business strategy consulting firm Jeffrey Hollender Partners and is an author, speaker, consultant and activist.
Hollender says while there is rising awareness of the world’s social and environmental problems, it has not kept pace with the rate at which they are worsening.
“Unfortunately, I think that it will be the tsunamis and the collapse of financial systems that cause a great awakening and major shift that to date has happened far too slowly and far too incrementally,” he says.
The responsible-business sector has some systemic challenges, he says. For example, the economic system is embedded into the legal and tax code where taxes incentivize people to hold onto an investment for a year to get long-term capital gains treatment. But people shouldn’t be encouraged to think of a year as a long-term time horizon, he says.
Another challenge is aspiration, he says, pointing to Seventh Generation as an example. Seventh Generation’s bathroom tissue is made from recycled fiber that isn’t bleached, however this doesn’t mean it repairs the world or is sustainable, he says.
He says there is a fundamental framework problem because most of what responsible business focuses on is making products that are “less bad” than traditional companies.
“People may love the product and it may do wonderful things for them but we don’t tend to think in a particularly holistic or systemic way,” he says.
In a recent blog, Hollender wrote about the need for regeneration, “a biological concept that explains a process of renewal, repair, restoration, and re-growth. Think cradle-to-cradle, versus cradle-to-grave.”
He points to some of his favorite regenerative businesses: Organic Valley, a co-operative dairy product business; Namaste Solar, an employee-owned solar panel company; The Grameen Bank, a microfinance organization that works to eliminate poverty; Dr. Hauschka, a medicine and skin care company with a focus on organic and biodynamic grown raw ingredients; and John Todd Ecological Design, a wastewater systems company that purifies water using plants and fish.
These types of companies embed responsibility holistically into their entire business model, Hollender says, adding those that look for multidimensional aspects of being a force for good show exciting possibility.
“I don’t think we have a lack of will, there are so many people in some many companies who want to do good things but have great difficulty in working together towards the same objective,” he says.
Hollender says he is extremely encouraged to see broad collaboration between a diverse set of stakeholders all working to achieve the same objective.
The American Sustainable Business Council is an example of this type of collaboration, he says, with 100,000 companies coming together to work on a similar set of public policy issues.
“It’s through the mutual support of a common set of issues where they gain power and influence.”