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The plant-based homecare designed to protect our planet

Naturals has gone from a trend to a way of life – and Seventh Generation is leading the way when it comes to powerful, plant-based homecare. We talked to the brand’s CEO Joey Bergstein (pictured) to find out how they do it.

Acquired by Unilever in September 2016, the US-based company produces detergents, household cleaners, nappies and feminine care products that are innovative and effective, but gentle on the environment.

As well as being a perfect fit with our commitment to making sustainable living commonplace, Seventh Generation is a thriving business. The company’s turnover exceeded US$200 million in 2015 and it has seen double-digit compound annual growth over the last ten years.

CEO Joey tells us more...

What makes Seventh Generation different from other green companies in the market?

Seventh Generation uniquely balances a complex relationship between efficacy, affordability and human and environmental health.

We try to make it easy for people who’ve adopted ‘natural’ products in other parts of their lives – typically food – but not yet made the switch in home and beauty & personal care products. We do this through products that truly work, that look like conventional brands, but are high in bio-based ingredients and recycled packaging content as well as being very competitive on performance and cost. It’s a tough balance to maintain but it’s effective.

How effective are natural homecare products compare with others which contain more chemicals? Can people expect similar results?

Yes. We can match performance on conventional brands. Today the only thing keeping us from an exact match is cost. Bio-based materials (versus more commonly used petroleum-based ingredients) tend to be more expensive so we formulate to meet consumer needs rather than just to be able to claim our product is superior to a competitor’s. When it comes to enhancers that conventional brands use, like optical laundry brighteners or slow-release fragrance, these are tougher calls as we don’t yet have bio-based solutions but we’re continuing to work hard on solutions.

How are your products kinder to the environment?

It’s absolutely key to how our products are designed. Our ingredients are selected and tested to minimise impact after use and are generally bio-degradable. Our packaging is generally both made from recycled content and recyclable, easing the environmental impact. That’s a practice we’d love to be able to spread more widely within Unilever, and there’s potential to make a significant change across the sector now that we’re part of such an industry-leading business.

How do you choose and source your ingredients?

We’re very careful in working with suppliers to find more natural and more sustainable versions of the high-efficacy ingredients in conventional brands.

When it comes to packaging we follow a similar philosophy, seeking out ways to deliver more and more packaging from recycled content. The latest example of that is the 100% post-consumer-recycled plastic cap we’re about to launch – something everyone told us was not possible for years. Our team doesn’t give up.

How has your personal view on sustainability and purpose-driven products shaped the brand?

I believe that you can’t live a healthy life on a sick planet. I believe that we must take accountability for the excess carbon we create in the world. I believe that innovation is good if you consider the end-of-life implications of the products you create and constantly work to develop products that have no lasting impact. And I believe that healthier, more sustainable living should be available to people at all income levels.

These beliefs are all consistent with Seventh Generation’s mission and are a key part of how we’re building the business.

As a small business you were able to make decisions fast and keep an innovation mindset. How has this entrepreneurial spirit been preserved since joining Unilever?

We remain a semi-autonomous unit of Unilever and will choose where we connect into Unilever to help drive scale and synergy and where we remain separate to enable speed and agility. The truth is that we often moved too quickly as a small company and brought things to market that could have been better thought through and with the right investment levels. My hope is that we find the right balance between rigour and speed and agility as part of Unilever.

And finally, what's the personal purpose that drives you in your work?

I think a lot about the impact we have on future generations, and the work I do absolutely connects to my personal purpose. I would define it as sparking us to see, create and realise possibilities that make an amazing difference for the generations to come.

I love when people are able to come together to think differently, as we are today. I want to leave this world in a better way than it is now.

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