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.