Seventh Generation's Jeffrey Hollender Explains Why He's Working With Walmart

Walmart

Earlier this week we discussed the recent announcement that Seventh Generation is teaming up with Walmart in a strategic partnership that will see the green cleaning brand sell products in 1,500 Walmart stores. It's the most unlikely of alliances, considering that Seventh Generation's co-founder has said in the past that "hell would freeze over before Seventh Generation would ever do business with Walmart." But at the same time, the partnership has been a long time coming, Jeffrey Hollender explains to FastCompany.com.

"They aren't the same company they were when I said what I said," Hollender concedes. "I'm the first one to admit that I was naive in thinking it was impossible for them to change."

Hollender's thinking has slowly changed since meeting with former Walmart CEO Lee Scott in 2005. At the time, Walmart was "fundamentally unwilling to engage in dialogue with its critics." But thanks to guidance from Seventh Generation and a slew of other organizations, Walmart has slowly come around--and in many cases, it has bested its competitors in the sustainability arena.

"I think that the fact that we were as persistent for so many years being engaged with helping [Walmart] become more sustainable helped contribute to positive change, which led to us reexamining and ultimately changing our perspective," Hollender says.

Walmart still has a long way to go, of course. The company's Sustainability Consortium is a start, but Hollender has plenty of other ideas on his wish list. "I think there are huge opportunities for them to push companies to not include chemicals that are proven to be unsafe," Hollender says. Walmart could also stand to improve its abysmal labor practices.

But as Hollender explains, the Walmart of today is hardly recognizable compared to the Walmart of, say, 2006. "Our conclusion is that they are doing more than most. When we see a potential partner exhibit the amount of change that they've exhibited over the past three years or so, it warrants you to reevaluate your position."

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

Add New Comment

5 Comments

  • Sean

    Wal-mart has made the business case for sustainability. Other companies should take notice and start imitating. Wal-mart has made their suppliers completely dependent on providing goods to fill their shelves. It is now using this influence to force them to reduce packaging and measure their carbon footprint while not offering them any additional incentive besides the vague suggestion that they might choose to offer preferential treatment to responsible vendors in the future. Wal-mart's main rule on sustainability is that it can't add any additional costs to the products they are buying.

    Only Wal-mart has the power to change entire markets. They are abusing their suppliers into sustainability and it is working. With Wal-mart leading the way small and medium businesses have more leverage to demand sustainable practices from their suppliers. While I cannot agree with most of the side-effects of a Wal-mart world, what they have done to to green the international supply chain will be taught as a lesson in business schools for years to come.

  • C lyon

    I always am amazed at the ability of Megalowmart to appear as a shining example in one area (sustainability) by shaving off a fraction of a percentage for the cause. While I appreciate the contribution their dollars make towards renewable energy, etc. I am dumbfounded by their blatant disregard for labor laws and human rights from right within their workforce. As for Seventh Gen, the company isn't what it used to be and is forced to start defending market share by reaching into the corners it wrongly judged when it was younger a hipper entity. The real shame here is that somehow this is o.k. with most of us in this country.

  • Sylvia Lafair

    Thanks to the tenacity of people like Jeffrey Hollander we can make the world a greener, kinder place. Seventh Generation products are needed everywhere, and Wallmart is everywhere. This alliance that once looked like an impossibility is now happening. I applaud all those who have created products to sustain and heal this planet and have not sold out to greed. I also applaud the folks at Wallmart who are willing to make a difference and become part of the change we need in order to thrive.
    Our company program, Leadership in Action, takes executives to New Mexico for hands on learning about indigenous wisdom. As we enter the sweat lodge, a sacred Native American ritual that offers the opportunity to "see more clearly" we all say quietly we are doing this "unto the seventh generation".