How the world perceives chemicals and the mom's dream for chemical free was questioned this past September when the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus questioned advertising messages of "CSR" famed brands Seventh Generation Products and Procter and Gamble Detergents. Both companies conceded after the issue was raised that their products are not "chemical free."
Comments on the Seventh Generation Blog announcing the departure of Jeffrey Hollender reflected teh tradition of protest from consumers that lacked the depth of educated analysis on a very complex topic.One consumer offered a link to the NAD post and positioned Seventh Generation as a green washer who used false advertising tactics. Mixed in with the post were protest-driven remarks about Seventh Generation adding Walmart to its distribution channels.
Last week, I featured a post that spoke of the end of an era of doing business led by a CSR hero and offered a more balanced overview for any reader from any sector in terms of the evolution of Seventh Generation (and for that matter any CSR company with a heroic founder).
CSR advocacy and protesting is often based on the mixing of "apples and oranges" that should have been give more careful analysis. Recent press suggested that Hollender has been fired and is taking the fall for Seventh Generation distribution through Walmart and other mainstream channels. Others insisted Hollender took the fall for describing Seventh Generation products as "natural" when chemicals are in use.
I offered this viewpoint on the Seventh Generation Blog with this comment:
There is a reality not spoken here that has to do with price points and innovation. It is similar to some of the challenges in the biopharm market today.
Pricepoints for new products is often higher. The LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) for years had a price point higher than usual retail or discount chains. The market research of the 90's showed that people would go into Whole Foods and spend more on Muir Organic tomatoes before they would go to Walmart. Walmart sold the same product.
It was presumed that the market of LOHAS folks would not go to WalMart.
The economy has changed and consumer profiles have changed. What people spend on anything now has changed. If the expenditure is for a product that is new and not as easy to purchase, they will pay a high price point. Look at what happened to Apple: Apple is now accessible to everyone.
The other issue is health. The new generation of parents are wise, organic and green and select this way of life no matter their politics. They live within their means and not on credit.
Hence the Seventh Generation customer has changed, the market has changed and step by step, practices and markets are emerging that base their purchases more on education of ingredients and less on who the person is behind the brand.
I received an email about my post from Germany pointing out that I did an analysis that was not about CSR martyrdom.
CSR is a buzz in journalism. In life it is a quiet practice that is not about personality. It is about finding a "new normal."
To stay viable and sustainable, Seventh Generation will have to find a "new normal."
I also have this view regarding chemicals and #safechem practices that is not easily understood by manufacturers, consumers and government. Safe chemical practices implies finding substitutes for chemicals in use. The cost for innovation and research for finding substitutes is often beyond what one company can fund on their own.
In June 2010, I attended the American Sustainable Business Council Meeting on safe chemical practices in Washington DC. Hollender was a panelist where he spoke clearly about his commitment to transparency and the challenges and needs to build a safe chemical practice.
Through his leadership, Jeffrey Hollender has invested in educating people to the needs for a Safer Chemicals practice. I have dedicated four years of time to research on this topic as well that include my investigations of the impact of REACH and Green Chemistry. While Jeffrey and I do not agree on method and approach, at least we are both doing something about the issue.
I am always open to meeting with Jeffrey and Procter and Gamble at the same table to work out our disagreements with other experts presesnt to forge ahead on a new innovative practice with others to work out an approach to safer chemicals that can accelerate change, research and innovation. I
I know that this new method of practice for chemicals is not going to be sparked by new regulations. I also know I cannot depend on businesses alone innovating these practices in a vacuum.
Seventh Generation and Procter and Gamble responded to the claims of greenwash and false advertising that reflects their practice of transparency while they both continue to be change agents who impact the world to build a sustainable economy. Procter and Gamble, like other companies similar in size such as General Electric and Walmart, are altering the way they work, globally influencing changes with their supply chains, global consumer communities and internal practices.
With the departure of Hollender, Seventh Generation as a company faces a door of change where the its future is not clear. Once a new permanent CEO is selected, it may neither achieve nor accelerate a sustainable agenda and grow into a global giant. The world of Safer Chemicals also requires a response different than what has already been authored by GE, Walmart and P&G. I know this with certainty.
In my investigation on how to impact and lead change for Safer Chemicals, I have been digging more deeply into the history of oil spills before BP and thinking through the challenges of supply chains in working with manufacturers to assure Safe Chemicals and replace harmful chemicals. I am learning as much as I can in between all I do. Riki Ott's NOT ONE DROP is becoming my primary resource.
It is an excellent crash course for me on the science behind what I observed through my years of participation in the social network that introduced knowledge management at British Petroleum and my short-lived chaotic experience working to implement a KM software application to track data for Shell Oil re: Oil and Drill.
I have been a supporter of chemical-related REACH legislation in the European Union since its inception and have recently come to realize the bureacracy and cost of REACH in addition to how the US-proposed TSCA Reform is not addressing the real issue. The amount of chemical used is not addressing the actual dose of chemical it takes to cause harm.
Recently, I received a copy of Green Chemistry is Good For Business, a letter posted on Forbes.com by Craig S. Criddle, Robert G. Bergman and their colleagues at Stanford and UC Berkeley. Their post validates the concerns I am synthesizing through my own research on Safer Chemical and Non Ionizing Radiation Practices.
Written as a response to California's Bad Chemistry, Dr. Henry I. Miller's post on Forbes.com, the authors state that the California Green Chemistry Initiative is a "proactive regulatory effort" to create a process to "identify chemicals of the greatest concern [and] provide an analysis of safer alternatives."
By contrast, the Forbes blog post from Dr. Miller is written from a narrow view similar to the original post from Aneel Kunarni that sparked the #csrdebate in September. I feel that this post invites a similar debate with representatives who are working in the arena to eliminate harm to human health and environment through chemical toxicity.
Our public health research is always ahead of public opinion and government capability. My belief is that there are many good people working in manufacturing that stay abreast of the current public health research and opinion and the cost of media, promotion and education is exceeding the investment that many good people want to invest in programs of Safer Chemicals.
The Swedish-based non-profit ChemSec.org has become a premier example of a non-monetary incubator that can influence manufacturing and supply chains directly. Funding sources for this kind of venture are sourced through a lot of hard work and energy.
The expense of media, protest, debate, lobbying, drafting and campaign for legislation is costly and the time lines to organize laws out of fear continue to be the dominant drivers for change reported on by the press.
I believe we need to develop new formats of innovation and communities of practice that lead this change. It is not going to come from the tradition of how science, advocacy and business has worked in the past. It is going to invite new forums of communities of practice, like the forum my partners and I are launching for WE Care Global Health.
I have a professional background as a health care program manager, leader and capacity building of change. I have a personal passion for working on a safe chemical practice and defining a new capacity to insure every person's right to the best health possible in a world where one out of two people are likely to encounter chronic illness.
I am one person of millions of men, women and children who lives with a chronic illness due to unsafe use of chemicals. As a former health care program leader and manager, I understand more than most that safe chemical practices may in fact be the one of the best vehicles for reducing health care costs in the United States and any country if a perspective of "do no harm" is integrated into how we live, consume and care for health.
An advocacy approach to attack Seventh Generation or Procter and Gamble will not build the capacity we need in a sustainable economy to build safe chemical practices to "do no harm." We need new methods of building capacity, funding research and resources to manage the use of chemicals and identify chemicals that are hazardous no matter their volume of use. The amount of chemical in use is never the issue; it is the impact of chemicals of any amount that can be hazardous.
Jeffrey Hollender and I do agree on the importance of convening people of different views to a table to work on this issue. I believe this table has to invite representatives from industry, government and the non-profit sector to pull together to do the hard work, rather than simply present what each person is doing to contribute from the perspective of the sector in which they work.
I view there is a need to stop investing in educating politicians and congressional working groups to the need and how to author legislation and invite them to invest resources into community of practices who will seek out the right education on chemicals to find replacement for toxic chemicals or determine "precautionary toxic chemical use."
It is my goal to continue to contribute to build a new forum of "sustainable excellence," that impacts the health of women, children and men battling chronic illness as a result of exposure to chemical, environmental and non ionizing radiation.
While I happen to be a citizen who lives with the impact of this harm on my own health, I am also a former health care program manager, business woman and capacity builder. I have learned to live as best I can with my health challenges while developing the skill and capacity to define the necessary agenda to build "sustainable excellence" for the health and well-being of all global citizens. While this work is challenging on many fronts, it is the only way I know how to make a difference in a confusing world where chaos and protest often obstruct healthy progress.
If Seventh Generation, any company, consumer or politician wants to support this form of capacity building, I welcome any support in which to build this kind of forum of "sustainable excellence."