University of Vermont

School of Business Administration

Seventh Generation: Bringing Sustainability Home

As a part of our sustainable business series we have had the opportunity to interview several sustainability leaders in Vermont businesses who are taking steps to make a difference not only in the state of Vermont, but across the world. Most recently we had the chance to sit down with Maureen Usifer, the Chief Financial Officer of Seventh Generation, one of the leading brands in the green household and personal products markets, to talk about what sustainability really means to her, and to Seventh Generation. 

Tell us a little about the history of Seventh Generation and what the thinking was when it started.

MU: Seventh Generation has been around for 25 years and our mission has been to inspire a more conscientious state of the world and reinforce positive changes that benefit the planet.  We were founded as a B Corporation, which means we are certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.  It has been built into our DNA to take into consideration the people and the planet first, and then profit.

When evaluating your performance, what are you measuring and how large is the scale and scope?

MU: As a global company we measure everything worldwide and we use our corporate sustainability report as a road map to see the progress we are making. We developed Gen² which consists of four aspirational goals for 2020 to help measure everything we do. The 4 goals are nurturing nature, enhancing health, building communities and transforming commerce.

Nurturing nature consists of creating the best products and packaging we can. For us this means using plant based materials over petroleum, sourcing sustainably, decreasing our carbon footprint and reducing packaging waste to zero.  

Enhancing health involves keeping toxins and chemicals of concern out of our products, so we only create healthy products.   

Building communities is our, and our suppliers’ way, of strengthening the business communities and helping them to thrive, and creating a vibrant workplace. One goal here, that incidentally we accomplished way ahead of schedule last year, is for every employee to volunteer for 20 hours per year with a company goal of 2,400 hours. 

The last goal is transforming commerce by ensuring that everything that goes into the making, packaging and distribution of our products is disclosed. Seventh Generation was one of the first companies to really push and be an advocate for putting everything on the label giving information about the product and where it’s sourced from. We call this approach of honesty and responsibility; being radically transparent.

Many businesses are now beginning to embrace sustainability, how do you plan to keep a competitive advantage?

MU: Overall we see the growth in this market as a positive thing and not just a point of differentiation for Seventh Generation. Our customers provide us with our best PR, they are very passionate and help spread the word that our products are just as effective as our competitors, and are safer and healthier for their families. So we feel our main differentiators have been our consistent transparency and openness with our consumers for over 25 years. As larger manufacturers and brands try to position themselves as sustainable and open up this market, it benefits us because more consumers will subsequently find our products.

We are proud to be one of the first companies to go down this route, and the fact that more companies are jumping in is very encouraging.

How does Seventh Generation implement its sustainability principles into the local office here in Burlington?

MU: We have a group that focuses on our corporate consciousness, and they make a real difference that shows on a daily basis. 

To reinforce our zero waste goal we have removed individual waste baskets and replaced it with a recycling system that has a place for everything from a yogurt cup to a plastic bag.  We have filtered water in the building and most people use reusable water bottles or a glass instead of buying a one use plastic bottle. To help foster a vibrant, welcoming workplace, we’re also a dog friendly office.

Because of our great employee base we are able to support the causes and organizations they believe in. For example, in the past our staff have volunteered with the Sustainability Academy and Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, which is a safe and fun environment for families who have children with cancer. We’ve also started a foundation from 10% of our profits to support social and environmental progress. The foundation supports sustainability research and development.

Corporate responsibility is in our DNA and we carefully consider our actions and the effect they will have on the next seven generations of the world, which is where our name comes from.

Big thanks to Seventh Generation, Maureen Usifer and UVM star student reporter, Rachel Burt for the interview.