This week on Nature of Business I spoke with Jeffrey Hollender, founder of Jeffrey Hollender Partners and former CEO of Seventh Generation. We talked about his time at Seventh Generation; his reflections on the company and how these reflections shape the work he does now at his consultancy, the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative and the American Sustainable Business Council; and the importance of reshaping the role that corporations play in reshaping public policy and much more.
Hollender is perhaps best known as Co-founder of Seventh Generation, the largest distributor of non-toxic, all-natural cleaning, paper and personal care products in the United States. He did so back in 1988 when, as he mentions, “the language of green products didn’t exist and nobody was thinking about products sustainability and supply chains as a way of mitigating some of environmental challenges we face.”
This experience certainly solidified Hollender’s reputation as a CSR pioneer. But as our conversation revealed, his sense of purpose and drive in the last two years since this transition runs much deeper.
Jeff mentions two primary reflections from his almost 25 years in the sustainability field. First, the problems that humanity faces are not going to be solved by a handful of businesses trying to do the right thing. Second, as wonderful as Seventh Generation is, the company was inherently designed to do “less bad,” as opposed to doing good.
Hence, his higher calling to corporate/societal resilience and regeneration.
He talked specifically about and is very proud of his work with the aforementioned Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative, which as their site indicates, “harnesses local assets and drives a comprehensive regional economic development strategy that is focused on building wealth, ownership, and business leadership among low and moderate-income residents of the Bronx while fostering an environmentally just and sustainable regional economy.” Here Hollender works tirelessly to create a model for the economic bottom up approach for other communities around the world.
It’s all about rule changing for Hollender. His work at the American Sustainable Business Council exemplifies this. A public policy organization whose mission is to “advance public policies that ensure a vibrant, just, and sustainable economy,” this organization helps elevate businesses into active public policy roles whether it be, as Jeff states, “mitigating climate change, raising the minimum wage, changing the tax structures to level the playing field between small business and large business.”
I don’t expect Jeff to slow down anytime soon. He is focused on what unites us and not divides us and is determined to change the negative trajectory where he believes we are headed. He is working tirelessly to as he puts it, “find the breakthroughs in the log jams” and won’t stop until our education system is fixed, more people are off food stamps, and businesses account for their negative externalities so they can reverse the bad decisions that are being made due to an inherently broken system. Fortunately, for us, he feels it possible to do so — possibly more than ever.