Just before the Fourth of July, while the country steeped in memories of its birth and recalled the rebels who midwifed not just a new nation but a new way of thinking about such things, one of Seventh Generation's founding fathers was singled out for his own historic efforts. And it's an honor our former longtime leader has more than earned.
Jeffrey Hollender has been named one of the top 10 social entrepreneurs of all time for his successful effort to transform Seventh Generation from an obscure mail-order catalog into a leading voice for environmental sanity and socially responsible commerce.
Like Jefferson and Adams, Franklin and Madison and the rest, Jeffrey saw great wrongs, and to right them created something that had never been before. Just as the signers of the Declaration of Independence established a new country whose influence would spread far beyond its borders, he fathered a new entity that would change the world. And like the framers of the Constitution, he wrote the rules that not only governed this new company but formed the model that many others would emulate in later years.
He did it all in the wilderness, too. Back then, in the 1980s, the idea of corporate responsibility was a radical fringe notion practiced by oddball companies you could count on one hand. Environmentalism was a joke. Environmental products were the punchline. And the company that combined them all was the laughing stock of the button-down business world and the rest of the planet as well.
But Jeffrey didn't care. He had a vision and wasn't going to let it die no matter how grim things got. And believe me, they got grim. I was there. Sales shriveled and money dried up many times as the times themselves changed. There were anguished decisions that put circles under Jeffrey's eyes and layoffs that left a lasting sadness in them, too.
Yet the endless chain of near-death experiences and moments of tremendous doubt never stopped him from evolving his ideas and innovating ways to make these dreams come true. At one point, you could literally fit the entire company around a small conference room table, but there was Jeffrey designing employee ownership plans, writing revolutionary mission statements, buying back stock to protect the company from vulture capitalists, and taking dozens of other bold steps to ensure that Seventh Generation would never be like other companies.
No matter how dark the days got, Jeffrey always found the physical and spiritual means to keep our company alive when everyone else had left us for dead. He cheerfully ignored the odds and persevered, and because he did, I am writing these words today, and you are reading them. Because he never gave up, lots of people have jobs today, millions of families are healthier, and thousands of companies not only know there is a better way, they know how to get there.
One man did all that. And his name is Jeffrey Hollender. A top-ten social entrepreneur of all time? Certainly. But when I look back on all he did and all he meant and continues to mean to the company I have known for 20 years, I see just one thing: a hero who's making the difference the world has long been looking for. That's the shortest list in the world. And if you ask me, it's the only one that matters.
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!