Obviously, one of the benefits of being socially and environmentally responsible today is the investment it makes in sustaining people and planet in the long term. No one represents this concept better than Seventh Generation, a company built upon the principle of preservation by considering the impact our everyday decisions will have on the next seven generations. In this spirit, Seventh Generation is the gateway for responsibility by equipping consumers with the details they need to make informed choices and eco-friendly products that help save natural resources, reduce pollution and keep toxic chemicals out of the environment.
While they develop and market a profitable branded line of non-toxic household products, their core focus is on education and shifting consumer mindset to one of giving back and living responsibly toward creating a healthier world. It is this conscious mindset that sets the tone for the company and drives all facets of their business practices and culture. And through an unwavering commitment to positive change, they have assembled a team fueled by passion, ideals and hope and pacakaged it as their gift for the children of tomorrow.
1. How do you define for-profit philanthropy?
All companies talk about “returns.” Returns on invested capital; returns to shareholders. We think that the concept of returns also applies to our communities. In this model, what a company is able to return to its communities becomes as important as what it is able to return to its shareholders. When I say “communities” I mean that very broadly. There is the community of the company, its employees and other stakeholders. There is the larger community of human beings in which it does business, a community that might have many segments and be based on geography, common interests or other factors. And there is the natural community to which all human beings belong, the environment and its many different parts.
Companies need clean air, fresh water, and natural resources to create products or support services. They require healthy communities and a certain level of individual wealth in order to be able to sell what they provide. They need a stable, enthusiastic, and healthy workforce to achieve their goals. A wise company understands that as much as it can and must measure success in terms of income, it also has to measure success in terms of how well it’s managing and contributing to its other more intangible assets, the commonwealth upon which it ultimately depends.
There’s the money you make and there’s the health of the things that allow you to make it. You have to support both in equal measure because both are equally important to your success. That’s for-profit philanthropy.
2. Please describe your philanthropic business plan and your current charitable activities.
Seventh Generation’s plan is pretty simple: We give 10% of our pre-tax profits to community, environmental, health, and non-profit responsible business organizations. Within that framework we’ve chosen to focus on Vermont-based groups, climate change organizations, and non-profits that deal with children’s health issues. There’s a dedicated donations program ongoing throughout the year that supports these causes. But we also do things like assist WAGES, a group of cooperative, worker-owned home cleaning franchises in the San Francisco area. We’re working with the Whole Planet Foundation to fund micro-loans that help people in impoverished regions of Latin America, Asia, and Africa start their own businesses to support their families. We’re working with Replant New Orleans to help that city reforest itself after Katrina. And we offer discounts on our products to the non-profit community.
3. How do you communicate the impact of these efforts to your customers?
We talk about these things in various places – on our website, on our blog, in our corporate responsibility report.
4. Why do you think it’s important for companies to adopt philanthropy as part of their revenue model?
It’s really quite simple: A sustainable business needs sustainable communities, so it is in our best interest to do what we can to support sustainable communities, especially in places that are in most need and that have the fewest resources to do the job themselves.
But I also think that adopting philanthropy and making it a part of your revenue model makes it part of your company’s culture. And when it becomes part of your company’s culture, it tends to open people eyes about a lot of things they probably haven’t stopped to consider – the needs that exist out there beyond the company’s walls, the interconnectedness of all things, the idea that we have to support not just ourselves and our immediate benefactors but the many unseen and unaccounted-for things that support us. In a larger sense, I think philanthropy begets thought, which over time begets a more serious brand of giving that goes well beyond giving for its own sake or any PR return it might provide. It becomes part of a holistically balanced corporate system that gives back what it takes on all levels to become a genuinely sustainable proposition. That’s really why we should build philanthropy into everything we do as a business. It’s a door to a kind of enlightenment that ultimately expands consciousness, and improves the world on more than just a surface level.
5. What would you say is the most critical element in successfully implementing philanthropic endeavors?
It depends on how you define “successful.” If you just want to give away some money, all you need is a checkbook and a bank account with some cash in it! But anyone can do that. If, however, you choose to define success in more meaningful terms like how much of an immediate difference you’ve made or what kind of positive changes have rippled out from your actions, then I would say you need passionate compassion above all else. That is, a fierce and fiercely earnest desire to help for its own sake not for anything that that help will bring back to you combined with a living sense inside yourself that this is something you must do because it demands to be done on any number of levels. If you’ve got that, what you’ll give to the world is more than your company’s money. You’ll give it your energy and your grace, and when that happens anything becomes possible.
Name: Chuck Maniscalco
Company: Seventh Generation