Seventh Generation’s Jeffrey Hollender on Holistic CSR

Corporate Social Responsibly is more than just about selling sustainable products, issuing annual reports, and reducing carbon and water footprints: it’s also about how businesses treat employees and the corporate culture that’s promoted within company walls.  Jeffrey Hollender, Seventh Generation’s Co-Founder, Chairman and Chief Inspired Protagonist, spoke about this holistic approach to CSR during his visit to the Presidio Graduate School yesterday.

Throughout his conversational presentation, Hollender gave examples of companies that are not only doing well by doing good, but are also doing well by being nice.  According to Hollender, a truly sustainable business is one that values its employees and acts responsibly from the inside out.

Hollender mentioned one company in particular, Linden Lab, which he also writes about in his new book, The Responsibility Revolution.  Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, uses an in-house software tool called the “Love Machine” that helps employees recognize fellow staffers’ achievements in an online forum.  Hollender said that on average a Linden Lab employee appreciates a colleague once a day.  Imagine that.

Seventh Generation itself has been applauded for its corporate culture.  This year Outside magazine ranked the company in its top 10 of “Best Places to Work,” and last year the Great Place to Work Institute named Seventh Generation one of the best small companies to work for in America. (An interesting side note: Seventh Generation has a salary cap of 14:1, which I’m sure contributes to a positive corporate culture.)

This should be no surprise if you’ve taken a look at the company’s Corporate Responsibility statement, which starts with the following line:

We work to create a corporate culture in which people are energized and fulfilled as members of an intentional community.”

During his talk at Presidio yesterday, Hollender joked that such flowery language almost makes his lawyer have a heart attack.

Hollender has also written about this topic in his Inspired Protagonist blog.  In early April, Hollender commented on a Fortune Magazine article that claimed that companies that value employees have shown to be the least affected by the recession.  Citing that article, Hollender wrote that the three most admired businesses in the country were less likely to have laid off people or frozen hiring and pay in the past two years.  That says a lot.

In an interview with Triple Pundit’s Nick Aster earlier this month, Hollender called this holistic and systematic approach to doing business “CSR 2.0.”  Gone are the days when CSR is viewed as a one-way stream of philanthropy, cause marketing, and better packaging.  We live in a world today of Responsibility Revolution where more transparency, authenticity, justice and systems thinking are expected from businesses.

Thankfully, Hollender is helping to redefine the word responsibility and bringing it to the sustainability conversation.  And Seventh Generation is showing us how business can be done responsibly, and profitably.

Nayelli Gonzalez

Nayelli Gonzalez is Managing Director of Marketing & Strategic Partnerships at, a capacity building organization that supports the growing ecosystem of impact-focused conveners, accelerators, and mappers. A sustainability innovation strategist and storyteller dedicated to purpose-driven work, Nayelli has advised startups, nonprofits, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies to drive engagement and amplify positive impact in the world. She's a trained journalist with an MBA who writes on sustainable business and social impact trends for a variety of publications.

3 responses

  1. I loved his quote on transparency with respect to CSR, the GRI, and any form of reporting, “Transparency is not about what a company decides to tell its stakeholders, it's what the stakeholders want to know about the company.”

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