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Over the weekend, someone at the office pointed out to me that Philip Slater, a columnist at the political blog the Huffington Post, had written an article in which, as part of a larger argument, he said our decision not to sell our products to Wal-Mart was evidence that I was practicing “prissy puritanism.”
Our Wal-Mart decision didn’t come easy. There was a lot of soul-searching and a lot of debate, and as I feel quite strongly about the position those deliberations led to, I felt equally strongly that a reply to Mr. Slater was in order. It took me a few days to get to it, but here’s the comment I left on the Huffington Post this morning …
For Wal-Mart to effectively seize it’s potential to be a force for good in the world it will take a complex mixture of factors from greener products to independent voices that continue to hold their feet to the fire. Let’s not confuse unwillingness to sell Seventh Generation products with unwillingness to engage in a constructive dialogue. We probably share the same goals, but oversimplifying such a complex process does no one any good.
But when Wal-Mart offered to carry Seventh Generation products, its head, Jeffrey Hollender, declined, because selling to Wal-Mart would be "selling our soul". I have news for you, Jeffrey Hollender: if buying your products helps save the environment, as you claim, you ought to be selling to Wal-Mart, where it will have a tremendous impact, instead of just to middle-class liberals in health food stores. Your precious soul isn't worth one tree, much less the thousands that will now be cut down because of your prissy puritanism.
First, if you were familiar with Seventh Generation, my previous comments about Wal-Mart, or Seventh Generation’s ongoing dialogue with Lee Scott and his management team, you’d know that there is far more at stake here than our “prissy puritanism.” And, by the way I never said that selling to Wal-Mart would be selling my soul. Check your facts, Philip, and you’ll see you took my quote totally out of context!
After the Fortune story, I noted in our own blog, the Inspired Protagonist, that “I believe that no organization on the planet has more power or potential to very quickly effect positive social and environmental change. What you’ve seen is just a taste of what is to come. More fuel efficient trucks is easy low hanging fruit. When Wal-Mart starts telling P&G to reformulate and redesign their products, we’re in uncharted territory.”
I’m passionate about making our products available to as many people as possible. Wal-Mart doesn’t happen to be the only way to achieve that end. I know that when it comes to not selling to Wal-Mart I’m in the minority, but with that minority status comes the ability to provide an objective and critical perspective. I believe that our conversations with Wal-Mart have led to a huge acceleration of their willingness to sell green products and become a more responsible business. Even if the green products they are selling are not our own, the customer and environmental benefit is the same.
Though we quite obviously have different opinions about which routes we think are best, one thing is clear: We’re both trying to get to the same destination. But rather than hurl invective, perhaps a better strategy would be to engage in a dialogue that might allow for there to be more than one viewpoint on this important issue and that would serve through mutual understanding to advance our common goal of creating a more just and environmentally secure future.
To that end, I invite to discuss further with me the issues you’ve raised. I’ve posted this letter on the Inspired Protagonist, and hope very much to hear from you there. I’m convinced that if we can approach our differences from a constructive rather than a destructive perspective we’ll be able to help create the good in the world that we both want to see.
The Inspired Protagonist