Jeffrey Hollender Shares Four Reasons He Got Fired from Seventh Generation

Jeffrey Hollender onstage with Gil Friend and Chip Conley shortly after his big announcement (photo courtesy Kate Drane)

Jeffrey Hollender took the stage at Sustainable Brands yesterday and he didn’t need a powepoint for the message he was going to deliver. It was time to come clean about his departure from Seventh Generation and he was not going to mince words:

“I was fired 6 months ago after 23 years and I was never allowed to set foot back in the company. I was fired because my view of the role Seventh Generation should play in society fell out fell out of step with the board’s view of the role.”

Despite being summarily dismissed from the CEO position and then the board, Hollender was not afraid to take responsibility for his role in his firing.

How did I fail? How did I get myself fired?

  • I didn’t institutionalize values in the corporate structure
  • I took too much money from the wrong people
  • I failed to give enough of the company to the employees who would have protected what we’d built
  • I failed to create a truly sustainable brand

Because these elements were not in place, Hollender lost power and was unable to maintain his vision for the company.

The first three bullets are words for the wise for any sustainable business entrepreneur. If Hollender had paid closer attention to bullet point number one, numbers two and three would have been irrelevant. Sustainable business owners would be wise to ensure that triple bottom line values are reflected in your corporate structure- either within the bylaws or through a sustainable corporate structure like the B-Corp.

The fourth bullet was more difficult to accept. Hollender elaborates:

Seventh Generation was never a sustainable brand, not even close. I struggle to find any truly sustainable brand, though I continue to look. The problem is that we’ve confused less bad with good. The fact that we make chlorine free paper towels with 100% post consumer waste doesn’t make the product good- it’s just less bad….

[Climate change is coming faster than we can imagine] All we’ve been able to do is tap lightly on the breaks of the car that is hurling towards the wall.

Given that Seventh Generation is one of the classic examples we point to of a company that truly has embedded sustainability into it’s core, it was difficult to hear Hollender admit failure. Of course, he’s right. A consumables company is never going to do more good than harm. But, we need cleaning products. What’s a sustainably minded person to do?

Hollender went on to paint a picture of a society that continues to become more divided between the haves and the have nots. It’s a story that will be familiar to most TriplePundit readers: corporate tax lobbyists have successfully pushed for the tax code to be so unfair that hedge fund managers have a lower tax burden than their secretaries and CEOs with responsibility for the financial meltdown receive million dollar payouts.

Luckily Hollender has an idea — his latest venture. Yes, it’s a bit cheeky to point to his next project as the golden ticket to solve the monstrous problem he laid out, but given Hollender’s 23 years at as a sustainable business leader and his willingness to speak honestly to a crowd of 300+ about his own failings, we should give him the benefit of the doubt.

The American Sustainable Business Council is Hollender’s counterpoint to the conservative US Chamber of Commerce . The idea is that economic prosperity does not have to be realized at the expense of society or environment. The ASBC currently has a membership of over 100,000 SMEs, and it uses their membership dues to lobby at the state and federal level on the following issues: financial reform, health care, chemical safety policy, climate change, broad-based economic development, and business taxes.

Hollender’s bold call to action in the face of his own personal struggle was powerful, yet I fear the audacity of his truth-telling might be so outrageous that it overtakes his advocacy for the ASBC. What do you think? Are you moved to join up?

Jen is editor in chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and lives in Oakland with her husband and baby. 
Hit her up at on twitter @jenboynton to discuss diapering strategies or sustainability reporting methodology.