Your Competitive Advantage Lies in Your Social Responsibility–with Seventh Generation’s Jeffrey Hollender

I started Cause Capitalism to convince you that having a social mission will help grow your business and to show you how. I want you (and me) to be able to create a sector-changing business like Jeffrey Hollender did with Seventh Generation. Long before it was fashionable, Jeffrey took toilet paper and dish detergent and used them to help individuals (and soon other companies) make better environmental choices.

In his new book, “The Responsibility Revolution,” Jeffrey shows companies how to surpass sustainability and makes a clear case that going beyond sustainability is a competitive advantage.  Click the player below to listen or right-click and save for the MP3.

Here are a few points from our conversation, but you should hear it as Jeffrey tells it.

  1. Sustainability is a system of doing business.
    It starts by how you think and is followed by what you do.
  2. It’s an (sustainable and competitive) imperative that your business starts creating good, not just less harm.
    More companies are providing revolutionary change that goes beyond the incremental actions that we call CSR.  These companies will be better prepared to meet shifts in resources and consumer and employee expectations.
  3. Prioritize scaling your impact over scaling your business.
    Raise the industry to a higher standard. When Seventh Generation took the risk of being the first household-cleaning products company to reveal the ingredients in its products, it won trust and loyalty from its consumers and pushed SC Johnson to do the same, setting a higher bar for safe cleaning products throughout the whole industry.
  4. If you’re not scared by what you’re revealing, than you’re not being transparent enough.
    The point of transparency is to not only reveal problems but also to solve them. “We ran tests and worked with suppliers. But we didn’t take that one essential step: to share our trials and tribulations with everyone outside the company who might have wanted to…challenge our progress,” explains Jeffrey about the public criticism Seventh Generation faced over a toxin in its cleaning products.
  5. Lead with innovation to achieve sustainability.
    “In today’s competitive environment, it’s absolutely critical that we implement sustainability in innovative ways. It’s not the incremental or cautious innovations that will win, it’s the innovations that make great leaps forward,” says Jeffrey.  In his book, he writes about how Nike’s become more sustainable by emphasizing product innovation. Simultaneously, Nike uses the goal of sustainability to drive innovation. “[We’re] into sustainability because [we] think it will drive innovation,” says Hannah Jones, Nike’s sustainability chief.
  6. Consumer relationships aren’t transaction.
    These relationships aren’t about buying bathroom tissue. “It’s about providing consumers products that align with their values and giving them an opportunity to feel good about the products they buy from us,” he says.
  7. Sustainability isn’t all green.
    It can be social. Linden Labs, creator of Second Life, lets every single employee decide who gets bonuses and for how much because they feel that the community is a better judge of real performance than upper management.

About Jeffrey

Jeffrey Hollender’s latest book is “The Responsibility Revolution.”  You can buy it here. He is the co-founder, Chairman and Chief Inspired Protagonist of Seventh Generation, the leader in green household products. He also writes The Inspired Protagonist.  A link to the Sustainability Institute that Jeffrey mentions in our conversation is here.

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  1. Megan Strand March 16, 2010 at 1:55 am #

    Great interview with Jeffrey Hollender – thanks so much for making this available. I got about 9 minutes into this interview and had to stop and write a blog posting, I was so impressed with Mr. Hollender’s take on competition.

    Here’s the post I wrote: – would love your input.

    Thanks again for a great and inspirational interview – will definitely keep listening!


  2. admin March 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    Megan, great piece on the new litmus test for CSR. Couldn’t agree more. It takes an individual or business with a real mission and desire for change to see the competition (and even copycats) as affirmative.