A business-friendly, SUV-driving Lorax

Forty years after Dr. Seuss wrote the classic children’s book The Lorax, about a creature who “speaks for the trees” and the greedy industrialist who ignores his warnings, things sure have changed.

Some change has been for the better: Many, if not most, corporations are no longer the evil despoilers of the planet. To the contrary, these days they are often “greener” than consumers, and allied with environmental groups.

Some is for the worse: While Dr. Seuss, to the best of my recollection, resisted commercialization of his characters , now even the anti-industrial Lorax is for sale.

I’ve got The Lorax on my mind because, as you’ve probably heard, Universal Studios this week will release a 3-D animated movie based on the book, with the voice of Danny DeVito as The Lorax. (I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it looks great.) I moderated a panel last week in Washington for HP, one of about 70 companies, nonprofits and government agencies selected as sponsors for the movie, and I’ll moderate another on Tuesday afternoon in  San Francisco (more below, if you’d like to join us). That got me thinking about how dramatically business has evolved in the last four decades–although obviously there’s much more to be done. [click to continue…]

America’s top 10 green brands: Really?

Today’s quiz: How well do consumers understand “green” brands?

(1)          They are savvy.
(2)         They don’t have a clue.
(3)         They don’t care all that much.
(4)         All of the above.

The answer, judging from the results of this year’s ImagePower® Global Green Brands Study,  is (4) all of the above.

Hey, who ever said communicating about “green” is simple?

The survey, which comes from advertising and marketing giant WPP, is based on interviews with about 9,000 people in eight countries.

In the U.S., where researchers conducted 1,200 interviews, consumers identified these Top 10 green brands: [click to continue…]

B the change you want to see

Is shareholder capitalism broken?

Few would argue that it’s working well. Business as usual has us on a path to climate catastrophe. The housing/banking industry collapse threw the world into recession. We’ve seen Fukushima, the BP oil spill, the Massey coal mine deaths. Growing income inequality has become a persistent worry.

The conventional response to all that – indeed, the one that I share – is that smarter (though not more) regulation is needed. But a growing number of business people say the problems go deeper. They say a new kind of corporate legal structure is needed to require companies to operate for the  good of society, not just for their shareholders. These new corporations—they’re called B Corporations—are growing in number, and their structure has been enshrined into law in four states—Vermont, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia.

Here’s what B Lab, the nonprofit behind B Corp, says on its website:

Our vision is simple yet ambitious: to create a new sector of the economy which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. This sector will be comprised of a new type of corporation – the B Corporation – that meets rigorous and independent standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

And in its annual report:

After the latest round of economic and environmental crises, it’s clear we need systemic solutions to the systemic problem that places the interests of shareholders over the interests of workers, community and the environment.

Interesting, no? A couple of months ago, I heard Jay Coen Gilbert, a founder of B Lab along with Bart Houlahan and Andrew Kassoy,  talk about B Corp (it stands for Benefit Corp.) at a GreenBiz conference; afterwards, we caught up by phone to talk some more. [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…]

P&G: A bold green vision but…

Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest consumer products company, today unveiled a bold new sustainability vision.

Don’t start the cheering yet.

Yes, the company eventually aims to power of all its operations with 100% renewable energy, to use 100% recyclable or renewable materials in all its products and to have no waste from the manufacturing or use of its products end up in landfills.

The vision is unimpeachable.

But the path to get there is not so clear.

And the reason to withhold applause? In the next decade or so, if P&G continues to grow, its environmental impact is more likely to get worse that it is to get better.

This is a fundamental conundrum for consumer goods companies with traditional business models and even the best of intentions: The more stuff they sell (and of course they want to sell more stuff), the more they pollute.

What P&G does matters, a lot. It’s an $80 billion company (annual revenues, for the year ended June 30). Its brands include Tide, Pampers, Crest, Gillette, Bounty, Cascade, Oral-B, Pepto Bismol, Ivory, etc.  It reaches 4 billion–4 billion!–consumers around the world and aims to reach 5 billion in the next five years. And like General Electric, P&G is an executive training machine; many ex-P&Gers (Meg Whitman, Steve Ballmer, Steve Case, many more) have gone on to do big things.

You can read a straightforward account of the P&G sustainability plan here at Greenbiz and a thoughtful (and favorable) analysis from my friend Joel Makower here. This is the latest iteration of P&G’s sustainability commitment, and the company has some meaningful accomplishments, as Joel reports. Just the past six months, P&G has:

introduced to the U.S. its Future Friendly campaign, born in Europe, a multi-brand and multi-platform effort to raise awareness about greener products and greener practices;

created a high-profile panel of sustainability experts to advise on its Future Friendly efforts;

launched a supplier scorecard to measure their environmental impacts;

reformulated a bestselling shampooto reduce toxins;

announced concentrated versions of powder laundry detergentsthat significantly reduce packaging and energy use; and

introduced sugarcane packaging to three of its shampoo and makeup brands.

Another good sign: P&G’s chairman and chief executive, Bob McDonald, joined a conference call with Len Sauers, P&G’s sustainability chief, to announce the new vision. Having the CEO put his stamp on the message tells everyone at P&G that sustainability matters to the company.

So why not cheer?

First, these are all visionary long-term goals. No target dates are attached to them.

Second, P&G has been slow to develop this vision–which is strikingly similar to the the one laid out by Walmart in 2005. Indeed, while comparisons are inevitably imperfect, my impression is that when you measure P&G against Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer, or GE, the world’s most admired industrial company, or IBM, whose Smart Planet work is path-breaking, P&G is moving more slowly and timidly than any of those iconic FORTUNE 500 firms. It’s also trailing innovative competitors like Method (See Revolution in the laundry room) and Seventh Generation. More evidence that P&G is following, not leading? P&G’s Tide, the market leader, trailed Unilever’s All in the race to shrink laundry detergent packaging.

Third, and most important, P&G is mostly talking about eco-efficiency, as Sauers, to his credit, acknowledges. To pick just one example, P&G’s interim goals for 2020 include a commitment to reduce “packaging by 20 percent per consumer use.” This won’t be easy, I’m sure, and it’s admirable. But….let’s assume that P&G grows by a not-unreasonable 25% over the next 10 years. The company will then be producing more packaging, not less, than it does today.

P&G also tends to measure its reductions of  greenhouse gas emissions and water usage on a per-unit, rather than absolute basis. Strictly from a business standpoint,  this makes sense because as the company buys and sells businesses, it needs a consistent metric against which to define progress. But, as I wrote back in 2008 at Fortune.com with respect to P&G (See Buy Toilet Paper, Save the Planet):

Relative efficiency doesn’t matter to the planet. What matters is how many tons of greenhouse gases are emitted, and most scientists say those numbers need to first stabilize and then go down, dramatically.

Like most companies, P&G is still wrestling with the challenge of how to grow revenues and limit its footprint at the same time.

Given that, let’s hope that P&G’s talent for innovation will be focused on making consumption more sustainable. This page on P&G’s website offers a few examples, some impressive, most not so. If P&G can persuade more consumers to use Tide Coldwater or, in Europe, Ariel Cool Clean, both of which eliminate the need to heat water for laundry, we’ll all be better off. Opportunities around sustainability also lie in emerging markets, from which much of P&G’s growth will come.

As Len Sauers told Joel & Greenbiz:

I have a firm belief that all issues of sustainability will be solved by innovation. And at P&G, one of our core strengths is innovation, so as we go down this path to tackle these issues that the world is facing, I believe it’ll be our innovative solutions that are very helpful there. I see this as business opportunity for the company.
At least P&G understands that eco-efficiency, by itself, will not get us where we need to go.

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…]