Sustainability in Business: Seventh Generation Brings Sustainability Home


Nurturing nature, enhancing health, building communities, and transforming commerce, those are the four aspirational goals for sustainability leader, Seventh Generation. Learning from examples similar to Seventh Generation is what makes UVM’s online Leading Sustainable Innovation Professional Certificate so relevant in today’s marketplace. Combine that with a unique simulation-based approach that will teach participants how to collaborate, find new sources of innovation and create added value, making this course a critical component to learning how to lead sustainable innovation and change.
Read more in this Q&A from Maureen Usifer, the former Chief Financial Officer of Seventh Generation – one of the leading brands in the green household and personal products markets – as she explains what sustainability really means to her and to Seventh Generation.
Tell us a little about the history of Seventh Generation and what the thinking was when it started.
Seventh Generation has been around for 30 years and the mission is to inspire a more conscientious state of the world and reinforce positive changes that benefit the planet. The company was founded as a B Corporation, which means it is certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. It has been built into the company’s DNA to take into consideration the people and the planet first, and then profit.
When evaluating your performance, what are you measuring and how large is the scale and scope?
As a global company Seventh Generation measures everything worldwide and uses our corporate sustainability report as a road map to see the progress the company is making. The company developed Gen², which consists of four aspirational goals for 2020 to help measure everything we do. The four goals are nurturing nature, enhancing health, building communities and transforming commerce.
Nurturing nature consists of creating the best products and packaging possible. For Seventh Generation this means using plant based materials over petroleum, sourcing sustainably, decreasing our carbon footprint and reducing packaging waste to zero.
Enhancing health involves keeping toxins and chemicals of concern out of our products, so we only create healthy products.
Building communities is our, and our suppliers’ way, of strengthening the business communities and helping them to thrive, and creating a vibrant workplace. The last goal is transforming commerce by ensuring that everything that goes into the making, packaging and distribution of our products is disclosed. Seventh Generation is leading innovation in sustainable business practices and was one of the first companies to really push and be an advocate for putting everything on the label giving information about the product and where it’s sourced from. We call this approach of honesty and responsibility; being radically transparent.
Many businesses are now beginning to embrace sustainability, how do you plan to keep a competitive advantage?
Overall we see the growth in more business taking sustainability seriously as a positive thing and not just a point of differentiation for Seventh Generation. Our customers provide us with our best PR, they are very passionate and help spread the word that our products are just as effective as our competitors, and are safer and healthier for their families. So we feel our main differentiators have been our consistent transparency and openness with our consumers for over 30 years. As larger manufacturers and brands try to position themselves as sustainable and open up this market, it benefits us because more consumers will subsequently find our products.
We are proud to be one of the first companies to go down this route, and the fact that more companies are jumping in is very encouraging.
How does Seventh Generation implement its sustainability principles into the local office in Burlington?
We have a group that focuses on our corporate consciousness, and they make a real difference that shows on a daily basis.
To reinforce our zero waste goal we have removed individual waste baskets and replaced it with a recycling system that has a place for everything from a yogurt cup to a plastic bag. We have filtered water in the building and most people use reusable water bottles or a glass instead of buying a one use plastic bottle. To help foster a vibrant, welcoming workplace, we’re also a dog friendly office.
Because of our great employee base we are able to support the causes and organizations they believe in. For example, in the past our staff have volunteered with the Sustainability Academy and Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, which is a safe and fun environment for families who have children with cancer. We’ve also started a foundation from 10 percent of our profits to support social and environmental progress. The foundation supports sustainability research and development.
Corporate responsibility is in our DNA and we carefully consider our actions and the effect they will have on the next seven generations of the world, which is where our name comes from.
If you are inspired by companies like Seventh Generation, learn more about UVM’s Leading Sustainable Innovation Professional Certificate.
Registration is open now. Discounts are available for groups from the same organization, UVM and UVM Medical Affiliates and Net Impact Members.