The Next Stop on the Way to a Healthier World | Seventh Generation
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The Next Stop on the Way to a Healthier World

26 comments
Author: Inspired Protagonist

It seems several lifetimes away, but 22 years ago, work began on a tiny mail order catalog called "Seventh Generation." Its vision was a big one: to bring sustainability into every home and make it as much a part of daily life as brushing one's teeth.

Two decades plus down the road and we're not there yet. But we're about to get a whole lot closer. In a few weeks, our products will appear in Walmart stores around the country and on Walmart.com. When they do, we'll have passed a historic company milestone, and the world will be that much better for it.

I say that knowing that a lot of people, some of them among our most loyal long-time customers, will raise an eyebrow (at least!) at this news. Walmart, as we know, has a notoriously checkered corporate past and there aren't many neutral opinions where the company is concerned. Its reputation hasn't been great, often deservedly so, and many, including myself, assumed that Seventh Generation and Walmart would never have any relationship. But you can't see into the future, and it's always subject to change. Now it has and in ways we didn't envision.

So why are we selling to Walmart? The short answer is because it's time and we should. By this, I mean two things:

  • First that Walmart is not the same company it was even five years ago. It's a much different organization that has fairly dramatically and with little fanfare transformed itself into a serious sustainability leader. A few months ago, I wrote a long post about just how much remarkable progress the retailer has made and the tremendous level of positive influence it's now wielding on its employees, customers, suppliers, and communities. I won't repeat all that here. Suffice it to say that Walmart has come a very long way and is committed to going a great deal further.
  • Second, Walmart's size means we'll reach people and places we couldn't reach before and help countless more families lead safer, healthier lives. From rural outposts to inner cities, we'll get much closer to fulfilling our mission to help all consumers protect the planet and themselves from harm.

New access to our products will do some of this work, but not all of it. We're also partnering with Walmart to advance our shared sustainability goals in part through participation in a Walmart working group focused on improving the safety of chemical-intensive products, and we'll be helping Walmart educate shoppers about why the product choices they make matter so very much.

I've given all this a great deal of thought, and I'm not the only one -- many of us here at Seventh Generation have been deliberating on this for a long time. In the end, the consensus was clear: Between our longstanding mission and Walmart's legitimate turnaround, it's time to move beyond the past, acknowledge the present, and work together toward what can be.

None of which is to say that's that. Certainly any retreat on social or environmental progress would trigger some rethinking. Our positions on responsibility, accountability, and transparency aren't subject to change, and we expect our partners to keep working toward these goals. Nobody has to be perfect. We aren't ourselves, and I'm the first to say that Walmart isn't either. The difference now is that they're trying and starting to succeed in a meaningful way. As long as that positive journey continues, I think they're a company worth working with.

I realize some of you won't see it that way. I can only ask you to keep the kind of open mind we all so often wish others had and give things the chance to work the way I believe they will.

Our world, after all, stands at a crossroads with two choices before us. We can continue down the same path toward a future that is looking increasingly dark or we can change direction and create the kind of world we've all long envisioned. With the hour getting late, it's time to come together with anyone who's ready to change course and make a difference. It doesn't matter who they are or have been. It only matters that they're ready to do things differently. This is the next step in that process. Take it with us and let's see where we can go.

To talk directly with Jeffrey about this topic, please post to this blog (requires Nation registration) or send your comments or questions to jhollender@seventhgeneration.com.

26
Comments

alexander.frantzen picture
alexander.frantzen
02/28/11
If Walmart is changing to become more environmental, that's great. But that's just a corporation. If you turn around and look at yourself, do you need half the products/things you buy - green or not? A world with the same (unsustainable) over-abundance of products, even though they're green, is not necessarily the world we've all long envisioned. That model still relies on overconsumption, even though it's green. It's a step towards the human species' next transition from homo sapiens to homo conscious.
10ftdoll picture
10ftdoll
08/27/10
I'm kind of on the fence with this whole issue. It's true that Walmart's prices are quite competitive, however I don't feel that confident yet that they have turned their practices around. I'm not rich by any means, but I've chosen not to support a company that does not do right by their employees. On the other hand, this might be the way to finally break into the mainstream and spread the message of caring for our environment to everyone. I just hope this is a good business decision for Seventh Generation.
Robbin picture
Robbin
08/18/10
I personally cannot afford to shop at other places and I am so grateful every time Walmart adds yet another organic or environmentally friendly item. Don't try to deprive lower income people from being able to buy good American products because you have some moral dilemma with Walmart! Thank you, Seventh Gen. I will be a faithful buyer of your products as soon as they show up in my local Walmart!
DavidStober picture
DavidStober
08/03/10
Everything about this move by Seventh Generation is consistent with their mission and focus on Restoring the Environment, Creating Awareness, and Creating a Just and Equitable World. Rather than sitting on the sideline and throwing rocks at the machine (industry, retail, big box, Walmart) and telling it how evil it is, Seventh Generation has chosen to work within the system to affect change - change we all claim to want. Real and sustainable change will only come at scale and by having the business model to support working within the existing channels and retail that have been around for decades - whether anyone likes it or not, they aren’t going away and neither is Walmart. Suggesting this is selling out is very short sighted. Furthermore, I would argue that not making it work with the biggest of big box if they can would actually be inconsistent with their mission. We should all applaud Seventh Generation and Mr. Hollender for working tirelessly to arrive at this point - where a responsible product company can compete at scale with less responsible ones. As consumers we should continue to use their great products to support the mission and cause. However, we should also continue to hold Seventh Generation to account in maintaining their current high standards, while they continue to bridge the gap from niche and ‘green’ to mass, in terms of price. Hooray for Seventh Generation. Hooray for real and sustainable change.
momofkoby picture
momofkoby
07/31/10
I, for budget and time considerations, have to shop at my local Wal-Mart for all the staples I need for my growing boys. Yes, we do have a target nearby, but their prices are not always the best. Whole foods and Trader Joes are more than an hours drive. We try to make the right purchases as much as we can, but we HAVE to work hard to stick to our budget. I have seen many organic and green products come and go from our local WM because not enough people are buying. I hope that bigger companies offering their products at WM will help smaller organic/green companies keep their products on the shelves. This move to offer SG products could open the doors to more companies reaching more people. Thank you!
GRISW picture
GRISW
07/29/10
Yes, yes, yes, is good for educating the public about more green practices and 7th generation pockets, but I agree with the people supporting all those local and small business that have carried and supported their products since the beginning, they are going to hurt; as a good company 7th generation should consider them not just thinking like 'Corporate America' does, but as a sustainability and honest company image, that has always showed to us and many of us follow them for that reason. Yes we love the planet being green is the right path, but we love our communities too and we don't want our neighbors hurting. Besides, what about more coupons available (just 2 prints in months), I use your diapers and my God more than once I almost go for the Pampers and huggies brand just for the coupons and sales (could get them almost free ), but sit hard on my premises and sacrifice budget. Not easy choice, and yes I don't shop at Walmart unless nobody else around has whatever I am looking for and I am better of going online.
dwolfe919 picture
dwolfe919
07/28/10
I'm also on a tight budget and have a hard time finding 7th gen products at local stores so I applaude them for this move. 7th generation will be able to reach more people this way. Like someone else said 'Walmart isn't going anywhere' especially in these tough times!
Seventh Generation picture
Seventh Generation
07/27/10
We are very committed to all of our retail partners, and have a special place in our hearts for all the retailers that have helped get us to where we are today. With that said, the law requires us to sell our products at the same price to all retail partners. A lot of people don't realize that we don't set retail prices. We do, however, work with retailers to deliver competitive retail prices to shoppers in all types of stores and are committed to continuing to do so.
jcatmom picture
jcatmom
07/27/10
maybe this is just from an emotional need to counterbalance "all things walmart", but has anyone else ever noticed the quality differences of products when you buy from walmart versus buying from another store? Well, I have! Please SG, don't compromise with walmart standards. Yes, I do shop there occasionally, but for the most part, try to shop locally.
Seventh Generation picture
Seventh Generation
07/27/10
Retail prices are determined by retailers and not by us, but we expect our products to be priced competitively at Walmart, consistent with their commitment to deliver low prices.
pokie8127 picture
pokie8127
07/26/10
I have read some of you posts and can tell most of you are what i consider HARDCORE environmental /carbon reuducing people. I would just like to say from those of us who are just starting and trying our best, i am glad it is being offered at walmart. B.c hopfully now i can actually buy more of the product w/out having to drive 1 hr or pay for shipping. My town doesnt have a local shop that promotes reducing of carbon footprints and what not. i am on a VERY limited budget and i find the more you try to eat good foods and be less wastefull the more it gonna cost you. so hopefully with it being offered at walmart i can broaden what 7th generation products i can buy other than just the cleaning supplies. besides. walmart is a GIANT store that reaches MILLIONS of people. it would make sense to have your product where the most people can be exposed to it. thus maybe helping to convert the masses to your ideals. im sure mother nature wouldnt mind that.
rogue21us picture
rogue21us
07/26/10
I know some of the people who commented about are having a fit about (the evil) Walmart. Now, I am not a Walmart lover by any means but it can not be denied that they have a giant cut of American retail sales. If they are now offering green alternatives to their shoppers, it will make it all the easier for the average person to make a green transition. The more people that have access to 7th Gen the better- no matter who ever or what ever the retailer happens to be. I know personally it will not impact me much as I don't shop at Walmart since I prefer and am closer to Target. Sadly my Target doesn't seem to have the full line of products so I get anything else I need from Drugstore.com which sells many green, organic and recycled products.
bbott picture
bbott
07/26/10
I travel in a motorcoach 7-8 months out of the year. While I am able to find SG products at my local grocery store, on the road it is difficult. And when you are not familiar with an area, you don't know the local mom and pop place that would carry SG. Let's face it, WM is every where. Most rvers like WM because they let you over night in there parking lot, hoping you come into the store to shop, and it works. I am constantly in WM. They tend to be near campgrounds too. Many rvers are very eco-conscience as they enjoy the outdoors. So Thank You SG for partnering with WM. I can't wait to see SG on the shelves!
wife.earthfriendly.unique. picture
wife.earthfriendly.unique.
07/26/10
I'm really excited about this! I currently moved to a small town & the closet Target (which is closet store that carries 7th gen products) in an hour away! Which is doable, but I need to mae a day of it rather than just run to buy some items real quick. We have a Walmart though that is only 10 min away.
lilmissdisney picture
lilmissdisney
07/26/10
Well, there is good and bad. The biggest thing is if Seventh Generation does not start compomising on the way they make their products or their beliefs there shouldn't be a problem. Getting products out to mass amounts of people is a good thing. The average person/family cannot afford Sev. Gen. or have no clue about the company because they can't afford to shop at Whole Foods. Seventh Generation can also create an example by carrying their products at Wal Mart and end up having WalMart think more about how they do business environmentally. This could be the start of products like Seventh Generation being the norm and all the other greenwashing products being the "other" products. Ok, maybe i'm thinking a bit too big ;o). Now if Seventh Generation were selling to Procter and Gamble just so they can get more nationwide (as most companies seem to do) then i'll definately understand your complaining. P.S. Though do still think of the little shops who can't sell your products super cheap like WalMart probably will.
Keith Levine picture
Keith Levine
07/26/10
I've read some of the posts that have come before mine and feel compelled to remind people that not everyone can afford to pay higher prices for necessities. That being said I ask to some who have posted here; as people who really care about the planet and environment and understand the importance of the fight, do we turn away from offering many more people the option of a better choice just because we do not agree with a companies former business practices? Furthermore, how will that company every have the option to change their ways and do better if they are never allotted the chance.
bjremkes picture
bjremkes
07/26/10
I know Walmart is not the best choice but those of us in the military do not always have much of a choice. My family has been station at Lauglin AFB in Del Rio, TX and now Altus AFB in Altus, OK. The only places to shop with or without green products is the commissary and Walmart (unless you want to drive 6 hours round trip all the time). The idea that I do not have to stock up once every couple of months or order online all the time is so refreshing. My family tries to be as green as possible in the situations we are given and I am very thankful that I can be even greener by shopping at a local store.
netball picture
netball
07/26/10
Love your products with a passion but as for me and my house, we do not enter the door's of WalMart or Sam's Club. The way thy treat their employee's is unforgiveable.
alittlelove picture
alittlelove
07/26/10
While I am not a fan of Wal-Mart, there aren't a ton of options for green products in my area. I'll appreciate being able to drive a few minutes to WM to get my 7th Gen, vs over an hour to another store. For those of you in large cities with a more eco friendly population, I can see why you are hesistant about this because it probably doesn't make sense when you have other retailers that carry 7th Gen. I hope WM carry more than just cleaning supplies. I would love if a local place carried feminine hygiene products, too. @CS7 I think you're right about one thing- when the economy is tough, we need to save money where we can. Not having to shop at WM is a luxury that many don't have (due to distance, money, etc). I would love to be able to drive an hour to Whole Foods and buy great organic foods and buy higher quality items. But I can't. It's too much time and gas and money.
lrich17us picture
lrich17us
07/26/10
I know that many supporters of Seventh Generation are thinking this is not something they applaud, however, I feel that this is a monumental step in educating the public. So many people just don't know how many companies like Proctor and Gamble produce products that are so harmful to our environment. This relationship opens the door to providing that education where it is needed to the general consumer. It will allow people from all economic backgrounds to make the right choices by having these products on the shelves in a store they do all of their shopping in.
KeeKee picture
KeeKee
07/26/10
I'm sure you have gone through the business options but this is an option I feel you need to re-think. Probably too late the ink is dry. You may well gain more customers through Walmart than you will lose with the move but at what cost to the ethics and integrity you have built through the years? It may be a profit now but it will be a loss in the future. Sad indeed.
weetziebat531 picture
weetziebat531
07/26/10
I commend Seventh Generation on their very thoughtful approach to working with Wal-Mart. The bottom line is that Wal-Mart is here to stay. We can provide all the education we want on buying local etc., but now that Wal-Mart has been around for years families have come to depend on Wal-Mart for discounted household products, including the types of products Seventh Generation offers. Seventh Generation is making a smart business move by putting their products to Wal-Mart's shelves, and has been transparent with Wal-Mart about holding up their end of the bargain. Earth friendly products should not be exclusive to a particular group of conscious consumers. Wal-Mart has the brand power to reach/educate millions of consumers and is finally doing this, even if it is 20 years too late. Let's not knock them for being late to the game and embrace their market power as an opportunity.
CS7 picture
CS7
07/26/10
I'm in the middle somewhere. Although I've always struggled financially, I've adopted green choices where I can. And being on a tight budget, I do have to spend money wisely, meaning a balance of quality and price. Walmart helps me a great deal and I also support other stores with certain products. If I can buy 10 things at Walmart with the money I have, but only 6 at another store, why not be frugal where I can? If I don't have enough money for living expenses because I shop at a more expensive store, that store won't help me with my bills later, right? When money is limited, I cannot shop just anywhere because of principle. More money = more choices.
piscesranch picture
piscesranch
07/26/10
I agree wholeheartedly with Daisalea (above)....we do not shop at Walmart under any and all circumstances...they represent what we do not want in our lives (at least in our family)!!! Every time I see a "made in China" (most items at walmart), I am reminded of a communist country that despises the USA...now, is that really where we want our money to go??? Walmart and seventh generation is a corporate "wrong" move, IMO
Enrique62 picture
Enrique62
07/26/10
I would like to answer the following questions: 1)Are you going to give the small stores who has supported the company for over 22 years a better wholesale discount than you will to Wal Mart? I agree with you that you will be able to reach more customers and help the enviroment by selling to Wal Mart.
Daisyalea picture
Daisyalea
07/26/10
Honestly, I am conflicted as to Seventh Gen's partnership with WalMart. Regardless of the new "green" image - they still represent all that is wrong with the large retail business model. Their corporate model is to convince everyone that cheap goods are desirable and needed. Their model encourages consumerism at its worst. Their human resources record is notorious. Their lower-prices at any cost business requirement has put their suppliers out of business. Regardless of their supposed "greeness" their corporate greed is absolute and terrifying. My question is - are you (Seventh Gen) going to offer the same discount rates to all of your retailers that you will have to offer to WalMart? What about the small independent stores? Will they benefit from your "new partnership" too? Or will you keep your prices to them high because they don't have the "purchasing" power that WalMart has? OR will you do what everyone does, give WalMart the "best" wholesale pricing while the small independents struggle to stay afloat against WalMart?