What a long strange trip it’s been: How the Social Venture Network changed business in America

Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry’s renown, is asking me for money, and he’s not selling ice cream. I give him a dollar bill, he stamps it in red ink — NOT TO BE USED FOR BRIBING POLITICIANS — and returns it to me. It’s part of his new crusade to get corporate money out of politics.

“Corporations are not people, and money is not free speech,” Cohen declares.

The 61-year-old ice-cream mogul sold Ben & Jerry’s to Unilever in 2000.  (He’s on the left, without his trademark beard, next to his longtime pal Jerry Greenfield.) The T-shirt says: “Stamp Money Out of Politics.” These days,  as “Head Stamper” at StampStampede, Cohen is working for an amendment to the US Constitution to get money out of politics.

It sounds improbable but no more improbable than this: That a gathering of about 70 people, including Ben and his partner Jerry Greenfield, at the rustic Gold Lake Mountain Resort not far from Boulder, Colorado, Colorado back in 1987 could spawn a movement that has changed the way millions of Americans think about and do business. The Gold Lake get-together led to the creation of the Social Venture Network (SVN), a group of business people, investors and philanthropists, many of them shaped by the political and cultural movements of the 1960s, who believe that business can change the world for the better. About 700 SVN members, friends and family gathered last week in New York for a 25th anniversary dinner and celebration–a time to assess how far their movement to remake business has come, and how far it needs to go.

The dinner was a star-studded affair, at least for those of us who pay attention to businesses that aim to build a more just and sustainable economy. On hand along with Ben and Jerry were Eileen Fisher of the eponymous clothing company, Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, Drew and Myra Goodman of Earthbound Organic, George Siemon of dairy co-op Organic Valley, Jeffrey Hollender, formerly of Seventh Generation, Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels, Roger Brown and Linda Mason of Bright Horizons, Amy Domini of Domini Social Investments, all of whom were named to the SVN “Hall of Fame.” Spotted in the crowd of 700 or so were Gifford Pinchot III, president of of Bainbridge Graduate Institute, my friends Seth Goldman of Honest Tea and author Mark Albion (More Than Money: Questions Every MBA Needs to Answer), Danny Kennedy of Sungevity–the closest thing to a power elite of the sustainable business movement.

None of them, to be sure, run FORTUNE 500 companies. But the movement birthed by SVN powered the field of corporate social responsibility, opened up new possibilities for entrepreneurs, raised expectations that big companies now need to meet and helped shape the way companies ranging from Google (“Don’t be Evil”) to Walmart do what they do. [click to continue…]

Sustainable business, at the White House

Thanks to my friends at GreenBiz, I wangled an exclusive invitation to cover a business gathering earlier today [June 12] at the White House. The meeting itself didn’t produce much in the way of excitement or surprises, but it was noteworthy because the companies on hand weren’t asking the government to leave them alone–they were asking for more regulation, and taxation, and investment, to bring about a more just and sustainable economy.

The group that organized the meeting, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), was started a few years ago by Jeffrey Hollender, who was then CEO of Seventh Generation. Here’s my how story begins:

Corporate executives lobby Washington every day.

Not many come to plead for higher taxes and stronger regulation.

This week, though, a group called the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) convened in our nation’s capital to issue A Business Call for a New Economy that is built around “triple bottom line” principles, shared prosperity and environmental stewardship.

The ASBC members–about 125 showed up for a couple of days of meetings–are supporting, among other things, higher taxes on big companies, closing overseas tax havens, tax credits for renewable energy, EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and stricter regulation of chemicals.

In the Business Call for a New Economy [PDF, download] , the group says it wants to preserve the efficiency and dynamism of markets, while curbing what it calls capitalism’s “destructive tendencies” toward “overuse of resources” and “extremes of wealth and poverty.”.

“When too few have too much and too many have too little, society cannot be sustained,” said Roger Smith, CEO of American Income Life, a fast-growing insurance company that provides life insurance to working families. “On the public policy side, the key word is investing. We are not going to cut our way to shared prosperity.”

“I am a big, big believer in unions, and a big, big believer in the collective bargaining process,” Smith said.  Unions help build a strong middle class which is good for business, he said.

The ASBC was started in 2009 by Jeffrey Hollender, the former CEO of Seventh Generation, and David Levine, an entrepreneur, in part as a counterweight to conservative corporate lobbies like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Its members were welcomed to the White House (actually, the Executive Office Building) today [June 12] by officials from the Obama administration; tomorrow they’ll visit Congress. The ASBC, a coalition of state and local business networks, says it represents 150,000 business and social enterprises, many of them small businesses that don’t have the time or resources to lobby. Among the better-known companies on hand in D.C. were Stonyfield Yogurt, Eileen Fisher, New Belgium Brewery and BetterWord Telecom.

You can read the rest here at GreenBiz.

Best books on corporate sustainability?

Judging by the number of books about business and the environment piling up on my shelves, the corporate sustainability movement is alive and well.

One of the best is Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist by Ray Anderson, the founder and chairman of the commercial carpet company Interface.

I’ve been provided with two signed copes of the paperback edition to give away. I’m expecting a signed copy of Howard Schultz’s book, which I’m also going to give to a blog reader. More on that, in a moment.

But first, a few thoughts about Ray and his book. Ray is a terrific guy who has had a great influence on business people across America, by tirelessly promoting the idea that a truly sustainable approach to business  is good for business. (See my 2009 interview, Ray Anderson, Radical Industrialist.) “Take nothing from the earth that cannot be replaced by the earth” is how he puts it. [click to continue…]

Seventh Generation’s new CEO: John Replogle

Seventh Generation, the pioneer of the “green cleaning” industry, needs to become more stylish and innovative in order to grow.

So says John Replogle, the former chief executive of Burt’s Bees who was named CEO of Seventh Gen last week.

“We makes the best products in the market,” Replogle said. But the competition is intense, from companies like Procter & Gamble, SCJohnson, Method and Clorox’s GreenWorks.

To grow, Seventh Gen will need to update its tired packaging and continually improve its offerings, Replogle told me when we spoke by phone last week.

“We are going to out-innovate the competition in terms of meeting consumers’ needs in an environmentally-friendly way,” he said.

This means changes are coming to the Burlington, Vt-based firm. In a press release, Peter Graham, the company’s board chairman, said that Replogle’s job is

to ensure that Seventh Generation’s untapped growth potential [emphasis added] is fully realized in the years ahead, both financially and in our continued efforts to make our world a safer place for our children and the next seven generations.

Replogle, who is 45, is an interesting choice to lead Seventh Gen. [click to continue…]

Seventh Generation: help wanted

Chuck and Jeffrey: going and gone

Chuck Maniscalco, Seventh Generation’s CEO, will leave the company.

Maniscalco, you may recall, is the former PepsiCo executive who was hired in June 2009 to take over for Jeffrey Hollender, the company’s co-founder and longtime CEO.

Last October, Hollender was ousted from the company by its board, whose chairman is his former high school chum Peter Graham.

It’s an unfortunate sequence of events, and it only goes to show the difficulty of making transitions from entrepreneurial leaders who build companies to executives with the skills to leader bigger organizations.

The leadership gap at 7G comes at a challenging moment for the company. The so-called green cleaning category is getting crowded, with the rise of the Method brand, the commercial success of GreenWorks from Chlorox and continuing environmental leadership from S.C. Johnson. Seventh Generation, to its everlasting credit, invented the category and under Jeffrey’s leadership and has consistently helped advance the practice of corporate responsibility.

Chrystie Heimert, company spokeswoman, confirmed that Chuck would not be staying on in an  email to me this morning:

As shared in Peter Graham’s October 26th letter to Shareholders,  Seventh Generation’s Board of Directors had expressed their commitment to having the best leadership for the company and to that end, had immediately commenced a CEO search, which continues today.  At that time, Chuck Maniscalco had indicated that he would let the Board know if he wished to be included as a candidate for the position.  As you’ve learned, Chuck has decided not to pursue that opportunity.

It’s more complicated than that: Chuck and Jeffrey had butted heads, Chuck resigned, Jeffrey was forced out, Chuck agreed to stay on as an interim CEO, and now most people involved think hiring Chuck was a mistake.  The full story remains very much unclear because nobody has been talking. (See Seventh Generation sweeps out its founder and Seventh Generation: not coming clean.)

UPDATE***This just in from Seventh Gen:

BURLINGTON, VT — (MARKET WIRE) — 02/09/2011 — Seventh Generation today announced that its Board of Directors has named John Replogle to serve as the company’s Chief Executive Officer and President.

Replogle, 45, has served since January 2006 as President and Chief Executive Officer of Burt’s Bees, the leading Earth-friendly, natural personal care products company. Replogle previously spent three years at Unilever as General Manager, Skin Care, North America. Prior to joining Unilever, Replogle served eight years with Diageo as President of Guinness Bass Import Company, Managing Director of Guinness Great Britain and had several roles in Marketing, Sales and Strategy with Diageo. Replogle started his career as a Case Leader with the Boston Consulting Group.

Jeffrey Hollender: Life after laundry soap

For Jeffrey Hollender, the longtime chief executive of Seventh Generation, business has always been about more than selling laundry detergent and paper towels.

At Seventh Generation, Hollender looked for ways to do business better–better for customers and their health, better for its workers (who were also owners) and better for the environment.

Those efforts came to a abrupt halt in October when he was unceremoniously ousted by Seventh Generation’s board, which was forced to choose between Hollender and Chuck Maniscalco, the CEO he’d recruited as his replacement 18 months ago.

The story behind the falling out remains murky. Neither Seventh Generation nor Hollender have been willing to air their dirty laundry, presumably because their break-up agreement included a promise not to speak ill of one another.

Hollender broke his silence last week, not to talk about the past, but to discuss his future, which he says will involve business and political work to address social and environmental problems that he thinks are mostly getting worse.

“I’m very worried about where the country is headed,” he told me, when we spoke by phone.

Jeffrey, who is 56, divides his time between Burlington, Vermont, where he has lived for years, and New York, where he grew up. (Disclosure: Jeffrey and my wife Karen Schneider were high school classmates.)

So what’s next? [click to continue…]

Seventh Generation: Not coming clean…

Seventh Generation’s ouster of co-founder Jeffrey Hollender remains something of a mystery, even as details emerge about the sequence of events that led up to his unexpected departure last month.

The company’s version of events is, in essence, that Jeffrey couldn’t let go of the place to which he’d devoted the last 20 years of his life, even after he’d hired a new CEO, Chuck Maniscalco, to replace him. Jeffrey’s associates say there’s more to the story, but they won’t be specific. And he’s not talking.

I’ve been in email communication with Peter Graham, the chairman of Seventh Generation’s board of directors (and Jeffrey’s childhood friend), and I’ve talked with Chrystie Heimert, the firm’s PR chief, as well as with an associate of Jeffrey. Jeffrey told me by email that he’d like to speak but cannot. Presumably, he’s working out terms of his exit and has agreed, in the meantime, to keep mum.

A friend of his told me: “They basically have Jeffrey handcuffed and his mouth taped shut.”

Here are some things we know: Jeffrey hired Chuck Maniscalco in June 2009, fully intending to step back from his day to day work at Seventh Generation, a leading brand of green cleaners, laundry detergent, dishwashing soap, diapers, baby wipes, etc. Previously Maniscalco had been president and CEO of PepsiCo’s Quaker, Tropicana, Gatorade division. (All healthy products, I might note, for those who would like to cast Maniscalco as the evil seller of sugary water in this drama. Fact is, he’s spent most of his career with Quaker.) Jeffrey was enthusiastic, both about the opportunity to explore new arenas — writing books, working with other business leaders, imploring Washington to deal with climate change and toxics — and about the new boss. He wrote:

It may surprise you to learn that my decision was a relatively easy one to make.

…While I knew I still had many meaningful contributions to make to Seventh Generation, it became clear to me that what I could not do was supply the managerial wisdom and experience needed to steer the company on the next stage of its voyage.

In addition to this extraordinary track record as a business leader, Chuck embodies the values and vision necessary to lead us. He “gets” our company’s culture, passion, and entrepreneurial spirit as well as our commitment to corporate responsibility.

So far, so good. [click to continue…]

Seventh Generation sweeps out its founder

Here’s some sad and shocking news: Jeffrey Hollender, the pioneering co-founder and longtime CEO of Seventh Generation, has been forced out of the company.

Details on what happened and why are scant—I hope to tell you more, before long—but Jeff has told friends that his ouster came as a surprise. It evidently followed months of tension with his board and  with Chuck Maniscalco, the former senior exec at PepsiCo who was brought on as CEO of Seventh Generation in June 2009.

Maniscalco, who previously ran the Quaker, Tropicana and Gatorade businesses at PepsiCo,  resigned as CEO in September. But he remained on to manage a transition and is now once again a candidate for the position, according to a letter to Seventh Generation shareholders and employees from Peter Graham, the company’s board chairman. The letter — dated October 26 — said that the board has “reluctantly voted” to put Hollender on leave of absence from the company and remove him from the board.

The board action “came as a surprise to me,” Jeff told a friend, via email. “My sincere hope and intent was to have resolved these issues with the company.”

I emailed Jeff today, requesting an interview.

“Not much I can say,” he wrote back. He did share with me the company announcement and an email he sent out, both of which are pasted below.

Seventh Generation, as most of you know, is a leader in the “green” household products arena. It makes green cleaners, laundry detergent, dishwashing soap, diapers, baby wipes, tampons, recycled toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels. As a private company (though it was publicly traded for a time), Seventh Generation doesn’t report sales or earnings. In a June 2009 blogpost, Jeff said the company had sales of about $150 million. The board hired Maniscalco to drive sales to $1 billion. (See: A new CEO for Seventh Generation)

Jeff’s impact has been felt far beyond the walls of Seventh Generation, which is based in Burlington, Vt. He’s co-author of an excellent book, What Matters Most, about the corporate responsibility movement. He speaks frequently about business and sustainability, and has  been politically active on behalf of climate change, among other issues. He sits on the board of Greenpeace USA. He recently formed a joint venture with the Kpalan education company called the Sustainability Institute. His Inspired Protagonist blog is a model of corporate transparency.

Speaking of transparency…. there’s not a word (as of Monday Nov. 1) on the Seventh Generation website about his departure.

Interestingly, Peter Graham, the board chairman, is a childhood friend of Jeff’s. They attended Riverdale Country Day School together and several years ago traveled to India. It’s not clear whether Graham backed Jeff in the power struggle at Seventh Generation, or turned against him. [Disclosure: My wife Karen Schneider went to high school with Jeff, who I’ve known for years, and Peter Graham, who I’ve never met.] Obviously there’s more to this story than we know; if any readers of this blog have insight, by all means, be in touch.

In the meantime, here’s an email that Jeff  shared with me:

[click to continue…]

Jeff Hollender: Greenwashing is getting worse

img_JeffreyToday’s guest post comes from Jeffrey Hollender, the founder, executive chairperson and chief inspired protagonist of Seventh Generation, which makes safe and environmentally-responsible products for the home. Jeff is energetic and multi-talented–he is an entrepreneur, the author of several books, including a brand-new one, The Responsibility Revolution, which he wrote with longtime journalist Bill Breen, a lively blogger at the Inspired Protagonist and an activist who sits on the board of Greenpeace USA. (He’s also a good guy and always has been, at least according to my wife; they went to high school together.) I’m looking forward to reading Jeff’s new book and will review it soon. In the meantime, here’s an edited and expanded version of a recent blogpost that he wrote about the challenges that face consumers who face an onslaught of green and sometimes misleading marketing.

As companies step up their spending on green marketing, the confusion about what’s truly green is getting worse.

For consumers, it’s a challenge to cut through the clutter and decide whether to buy green products or support green companies.

Here’s a guideline that is easy to follow:

We should absolutely not support green products from companies that use them to distract us from their larger negative environmental and social impacts. We need systemically green companies to address the challenges we face, not business-as-usual companies that hold up one green hand while hiding another toxic, CO2-emitting, waste-producing one behind their backs.

Two examples: [click to continue…]

A new CEO for Seventh Generation

Anyone who knows Jeffrey Hollender, the co-founder and longtime CEO of Seventh Generation, knows that his ambitions go way beyond selling laundry detergent and paper towels.

Hollender wants to help business do business better, so that companies can help create a better world for future generations. That’s a big dream, but it explains why he has become an author of several books, the host of a new cable TV show, an outspoken blogger and a supporter of an innovative, worker-owned green cleaning business. Busy guy.

That’s also why Jeffrey said today that he is stepping down as CEO of Seventh Generation, the Burlington, Vermont, based company that makes healthy and safe household and personal-care products. He has led the company for the past 20 years.

Over the phone last week, Jeffrey, who is 54, told me that his decision to step down would be both a good thing for him and great news for Seventh Generation. “I’ve got so many things I want to do,” he said. “Two books coming out in the next nine months. The television show. And about at the same time as I was working on all that, I came to the conclusion that the growth and complexity of the business was going to require an executive with more experience.”

Today, Seventh Generation announced that its new CEO is Chuck Maniscalco. He’s got an impressive business resume—he spent 21 years at Quaker Oats before PepsiCo bought that bran in 2001, and until 2008 he was president and CEO of PepsiCo’s $10 billion Quaker, Tropicana, and Gatorade businesses. He launched Propel Fitness Water and grew its revenues to over $500 million—a nice thing for PepsiCo, although bottled water (oops, I mean “fitness water”) is not exactly a favorite product of the sustainability crowd. Most recently, Maniscalco started a company called Manifest Leadership. Here is his first blog as the CEO of Seventh Generation and here is personal website. (Very cool that he is a guitar player, singer and composer—check out his tunes! And he is a runner, too.)

Seventh Generation has about $150 million in sales this year and so is well past the point where it has to worry about survival. The goal for  Maniscalco is to drive sales to about $1 billion, while retaining the company’s fierce commitment to environmental and social responsibility. That won’t be easy, particularly because the market for green household and personal care products is becoming more crowded all the time. (See my GreenBiz column on The Evolution of Laundry Detergent.)

As for Jeffrey, he’s got a couple of books to promote,  both aimed at sharing the ideals that shaped Seventh Generation with a broader audience. In Our Every Deliberation, Seventh Generation’s Journey toward Corporate Consciousness will be published by the company next month and Good Company will be published early next year by Jossey-Bass. (Jeffrey’s 2006 book, What Matters Most: How a Small Group of Pioneers Is Teaching Social Responsibility to Big Business, and Why Big Business Is Listening, which he wrote with Stephen Fenichell, is very good. I probably should disclose here that Jeffrey, Stephen and my wife Karen Schneider were 1970s high school classmates in The Bronx.) Jeffrey’s also hoping to keep on producing episodes of his TV show, called Big Green Lies, the pilot of which was shown on Earth Day on the Fine Living Network.

Perhaps most interestingly, Jeffrey has been working with a nonprofit called WAGES (Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security) to launch a series of cooperatives called Home Green Home in San Francisco. These are cleaning services owned by women, most of them Hispanic immigrants who before then had been cleaning homes but working for others.

“These women are making two to three times more money than they were making before,” Jeffrey told me. “They all have health insurance. And they are owners of their own business. It’s proved to be a very successful model.”

“The challenge we are trying to figure out is how to scale it up more quickly,” he said. In that regard, the challenge is figuring out how to deliver training in new markets; each woman gets extensive training both in business skills like accounting and marketing andaround more personal issues such as “what happens when the woman in the family ends up making more money than the man.” The Home Green Home coops use Seventh Generation products, of course.

You can read Jeffrey’s account of his decision here on the Seventh Generation blog. Among other things, he writes:

It may surprise you to learn that my decision was a relatively easy one to make. For some time, I’ve been deeply involved both personally and professionally in teaching myself and everyone here at Seventh Generation how to break free of old patterns….My passion to transform the way business does business by grounding companies with a new sense of purpose and possibility, teaching the next generation of business leaders about a new way to lead, and helping our customers to become more conscious about their consumption will no doubt keep me very busy.

You can be sure that whatever Jeffrey (below) does next will be worth watching.