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Unilever Acquires Seventh Generation: What This Means for Sustainable Business

In 2000, Unilever widened it’s umbrella of novelty brands and purchased the widely-popular, Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. With much domestic speculation over multi-national changes in business practices, Ben & Jerry’s remained untouched and continued business as usual. Just weeks ago Unilever announced that it was purchasing another sustainable, Vermont-based company, Seventh Generation.

When Unilever originally purchased Ben & Jerry’s it was noted that some of the ice cream companies’ controversial business practices could be in jeopardy, but the opposite seemed to be the outcome. Many conservational, societal and political impacts that were at the core of Ben & Jerry’s business model have not only thrived under Unilever, but have become a core part of Unilever itself.


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Photo: CSR Outline, Seventh Generation Photo Credit: seventhgeneration.com

A purchase price has not been released, but sources say Unilever purchased Seventh Generation for a price somewhere between $600-$700 million. Since 2011 Seventh Generation has been lead by CEO, John Replogle, a former Unilever executive and past CEO of Burt’s Bees. During this time, Seventh Generation has seen extreme growth with a revenue over $200 million in 2015.

With two of the most widely-known “green” companies in America under Unilever’s belt, it will be interesting to see how the relationship impacts both companies. Both Ben & Jerry’s and Seventh Generation are certified Benefit Corporations (B Corps). According to BenefitCorp.net, “to be a Certified B Corp, a company must meet high standards of performance, transparency, and accountability as set by the non-profit B Lab, including meeting a certain score on the B Impact Assessment, which measures a company’s impact on its workers, community, and environment.”

Unilever has recently been in discussion with the Honest Company, a rival of Seventh Generation in the “green” household goods market, owned by Jessica Alba. The price of this purchase is said to be around $1 billion. The biggest difference between the Honest Co. and Seventh Generation is that Seventh Generation is sold to retailers, while Honest Co. is direct-to-consumer, much like Dollar Shave Club (recently purchased by Unilever for $1 billion).

Each of these companies has some sort of impact on Unilever as a whole. Ben & Jerry’s spearheaded activism, like Greenpeace with an ice cream cone in-hand, broadening the idea that a corporation can be a catalyst for change. It is uncertain what mark Seventh Generation will leave on Unilever. Maybe in a few years time Unilever will take the influence of these two Vermont-based companies and become the first B-Corp-certified, multinational corporation. It would be the first multinational corporation of its size to become a b corporation, if this is the case.


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On a smaller scale, Seventh Generation’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report could lay the framework of attributes that Unilever could adopt. Starting with the name — Seventh Generation — this comes from the ideal of a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations.

At the core of Seventh Generation’s business practices is a well formulated and executed sustainable core. This includes, caring wholeheartedly, collaborate deliberately, nurture nature, innovate disruptively, and being a trusted brand. To better understand this, we have to delve further into each of these core attributes.

Climate change

In 2015, carbon dioxide levels reached 400 ppm for the first time in history. Unchecked increases will cause rising sea levels, warming temperatures and threats to health, communities, and agriculture.

Toxins within household cleaners and consumer goods: There are roughly 80,000 inadequately tested chemicals approved for use in commerce that may be concerning for human health.

Social Inequity

In the U.S., the richest 20% hold up to 84% of the country’s wealth, leading to poverty and injustice.

Business as usual

The status quo has failed to meet many human and environmental needs. We believe business can be the most powerful force for positive change in the world.

seventh gen-unilver-impakter

Photo: CSR Outline, Seventh Generation Photo Credit: seventhgeneration.com

Beyond this outline is over 4,000 hours of volunteer time allocated to employees of Seventh Generation, a 3 percent metric ton decrease of GHG emissions per ton of product since 2014, with 81 percent of products being sourced from recycled or bio-based inputs. These impacts can be measured by 272,000 trees being saved by these practices, 2,100 cars being off the road, 146 million gallons of drinking water saved, and 27,000 barrels of petroleum saved. This is a slight taste of the vast Seventh Generation CSR report for 2015. For 2020, Seventh Generation has a vast plan to further mitigate business impacts. According to Ashley Orgain, Manager of Mission Advocacy for Seventh Gen., “We know we’re not the biggest kid on the block but we have a big goal – to transform commerce. We tackle this through our leadership by example, our promotion of the B Corporation standard, and our advocacy and partnership with other groups that share our goals. To create the change we seek in the world, we are very strategic about the campaigns we wage each year. My job is to identify the issues Seventh Generation can uniquely influence, and then to bring the right stakeholders together so that we can work together to change the world.”

Martin Wolf, Director of Sustainability and Authenticity added, “We, business leaders of Vermont, believe that climate change poses a real threat to our state’s economy, the environment and the long term well being of our citizens. We endorse [the] Climate Declaration because we support investment in a low carbon economy, promotion of energy efficiency and renewables, and a price on carbon pollution. We commit to putting these principles to practice in recognition of the economic opportunities associated with reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, the development of renewable energy and alternative fuels and the preservation of our environment for ourselves and for future generations.”

These declarations, coupled with those of Ben & Jerry’s and other recent Unilever acquisitions could very well become the new norm for #109 (Unilever) on Forbe’s Global 2000 list. With fears of change for these much loved Vermont companies put to rest, Unilever’s adoption of these humble practices could easily (and hopefully) become the norm for many multinational corporations.


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EDITOR’S NOTE: THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED HERE BY IMPAKTER.COM COLUMNISTS ARE THEIR OWN, NOT THOSE OF IMPAKTER.COM.
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