Founder of Seventh Generation Speaks Out on Responsible Business
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 receiving a Social Venture Network (SVN) award for being an environmental evangelist is unique because it recognizes a sustained commitment over a long period of time.
Hollender, co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, is one of 25 SVN Hall of Fame honorees who will receive an SVN Impact Award at a Nov. 13 awards ceremony and celebration.
SVN is marking its 25th anniversary and paying tribute to pioneers who led the new economy, proving that businesses can succeed while focusing on the triple bottom line.
Honorees are being recognized for creating an enterprise of more than $50 million in annual revenue while demonstrating leadership that helped sow the seeds for the modern organic food and sustainable business movements.
Reflecting on the past 25 years, Hollender says one of the most important achievements has been bringing issues to the concern of business in general and widening the public’s engagement.
“My experience is that our impact through our own companies is often very small relative to the way in which we affect other companies and help change their behavior and their outlook,” he says.
While there have been many changes, at the same time not enough has changed, he notes.
An important strategic shift in business thinking has happened with the framework that companies have a responsibility for more than their bottom line, says Hollender.
One challenge is that no one can agree on what is a responsible business, including the indicators and measurements that need to be attained, he adds.
In contrast to 25 years ago, there is now a “glowing interest” in the financial community to invest in sustainable and responsible businesses.
“The fact that there’s a recognized and more structured capital market today is a great thing and the number of companies looking for money way outpaces the supply of capital,” he says.
Hollender has been involved in SVN for more than 20 years, and says his first memory is being in a swimming pool in San Diego with Eric and Nina Utne. He says he has maintained friendships with many SVN members over the years including SVN co-founder Josh Mailman, Richard Perl and the late Anita Roddick.
Having not graduated from college, Hollender says he is proud that through his business career he has achieved a level of competence. He will be teaching sustainability and economics at New York University this fall.
With his oldest daughter going to business school focusing on corporate responsibility, he says it’s exciting to see a new generation of 20- to 30-year-olds committed to corporate responsibly and sustainability that were in some ways influenced by his work and SVN.
In 1988, when he started Seventh Generation, a leading brand of green cleaning products, he says he never expected to build a company of the scale and influence that it became.
He is also proud to have stayed married for 30 years, as business can put strain and stress on a personal life, he says.
Growing up at the end of the Vietnam War, Hollender says there was a compelling sense of social activism and an environment of engagement and responsibility that left him feeling that anyone who could make a contribution should.
“There were many questions about how I would affect a positive influence, but never a question about whether I would,” he says.
Hollender founded Jeffrey Hollender Partners, a business strategy consulting firm. Learn more at jeffreyhollender.com.
Photo Credit: Rose Murphy