There are a lot of great companies out there trying prove that environmental sustainability and eco-friendly practices are part of successful business strategy.
In this post we’ll focus on R&R’s favorite medium to large companies using environmentally sustainable and socially responsible business practices. These are companies you can feel good about supporting in 2019.
Seventh Generation (and Unilever)
Buying Seventh Generation products is a great place to start if you want to reduce your environmental footprint and support eco-friendly business practices. Seventh Generation products are high-quality and are widely available. Here at R&R we have been using their products for years, they are like a member of our family.
Seventh Generation is like a forefather (or fore-mother) of companies following sustainable business practices. They are a leader in this space and most of their products packaged in 100% recycled material, or very close to a 100%.
The company has instituted its own internal carbon tax to create a natural disincentive away from polluting behaviors and towards more environmentally sustainable practices. According to their site, an internal fee of $12 per ton of CO2 generates revenue to increase operational efficiencies, purchase renewable fuels, purchase renewable electricity for facilities, manufacturing partners, and distribution partners, and, as a last resort, purchase carbon offsets and Renewable Energy Credits. A Renewable Energy Credit, or REC, is a instrument that allows someone to buy a quantity of energy that was produced with renewable sources, increasing demand in the market for renewable energy, see here for more info and watch this video from the Environmental Protection Agency).
After 30 years leading the US in environmentally sustainable and eco-friendly products, in 2017 Seventh Generation was purchased by the large multinational corporation Unilever. Though Seventh Generation now has new corporate overlords (they seem like benevolent overlords), the company has taken steps to maintain it's environmental sustainability and social responsibility goals.
They have set up a Social Mission Board, partly made up of external people from organizations focused on environmental sustainability such as the Wallace Global Fund as well as the founder of the company, to help it stay true to its roots. Frankly, I’d like to see less names of executives from Unilever on that board, but hopefully that doesn’t slow down their progressive approach. It surely didn’t impact their goal setting for 2020, Seventh Generation has some ambitious goals coming up, including all products being biodegradable or recyclable and all energy from non-fossil fuel sources. Way to go!
Also, it is worth noting that Seventh Generation’s new owner Unilever is trying to reduce its negative impact on society as well (see this article from Bloomberg about their efforts). Unilever is one of the largest companies in the world and one of the first to pursue environmentally sustainable business practices as a core component of its business strategy, basically making a bet that consumers care about the impact of products on the Earth.
Although we try to support small businesses as much as possible, I personally feel like it is good to support large corporations that are trying to do right by the Earth. We want to signal that people will reward responsible business practices, if even if it means spending an extra fifty cents on home goods products.
Unilever is trying to half its environmental impact by 2020 while doubling sales. It says it wants to “decouple business growth from environmental impact.” As of last year it seems to be meeting its goals, reporting that they’ve reduced C02 emissions by 47% per ton of production as compared to 2008 despite significantly increasing how much it makes. Unilever also achieved zero waste in 600 of its factories and offices, which means no waste is sent to the landfills, everything is recycled, reused, or composted. This company is totally kicking butt!
(Jessica here, Dan doesn’t shop here...in fact, Dan doesn’t buy many clothes these days, he is transitioning into a Seinfeld-esque, middle-aged Dad phase of normcore)
I really liked H&M when I was younger. I remember my first trip to London (a long time ago) when H&M was new to me and only available outside of the US. I still have, what I think, is a super cool dress I bought on that trip, but I’ve never found an occasion to wear it. And frankly, after two babies that weighed an average of 9 pounds, I really don’t fit into it anyway. So it may go into my daughter’s rack of “maybe someday she’ll wear this” clothes. Hopefully she’ll think it’s vintage.
So H&M came to the states and the stuff was a little edgy. I always got unique but still professional work shirts there, but I noticed that the fashion was so fleeting and so cheap – you wouldn’t wear it in a few months. Where did the old stuff go to make way for the new?
“Disposable Fashion” was a new term coined to describe this approach. Everyone could afford the latest looks, but not with high quality materials or production. So a lot gets made quickly and cheaply, then discarded to make way for the new. I was sort of unconsciously turned off by this, that and the clothes seemed too young and unsophisticated as I got older so I focused on consignment sites and other stores.
But then I hear that H&M is starting to recycle old clothes for the second market and other purposes – like making insulation. You bring in old clothes that you might not feel right about giving to Goodwill, they take them and give you a coupon for 15% off for each bag. There is an expiration date, but it’s really generous.
I just brought in some clothes in late October of 2018 and the coupons are good until the end of 2019. Also, H&M recently expanded acceptable materials. Now “all textiles are welcome” which is great news because I have some old crib sheets that are ripped and a dust cover for our couch that I have no idea what to do with. I don’t think I can donate them and I just couldn’t throw them away. I’m so excited that I can get rid of them responsibly.
To close the loop a bit more, H&M also has a “conscious ” line where they use organic and/or recycled cotton to make some basics and other items. H&M reports that in 2017 it achieved its goal of 35% recycled or sustainably sourced content in its clothes, and has a goal to reach 100% recycled content by 2030. So – as will be a theme on this site, I am perfectly happy to spend a little extra money on environmentally sustainable products or on good companies.
Also, while I was away busy raising two kids over the last few years, H&M has really raised their game. I find the quality and style options have really improved in recent years. Of course the kids need bigger or replacement pants all the time. I love that I can bring in their old jeans with blown out knees from too many falls and get a discount on some new stuff for them, and maybe some cool stuff for me too.
Are they perfect? No – but they are definitely trying. I can’t say that I’ve looked too far into their recycling program although I have read that they haven’t been completely successful at getting through the mountains of clothes they are accumulating. I’ll keep looking into it and report back as I learn more. In the meantime, I’ll continue paring down all of the kids old clothes – I have a bag for Goodwill, one for H&M and when possible, for a second hand clothing website, which seems to only accept things rarely these days (but that might be a subject of another post).
How I love thee, let me count the ways. You can recycle EVERYTHING there! Plastic bags, drink pouches, silvery on the inside bar and chip wrappers, batteries, shoes, corks, toiletry items, industrial compost, other stuff I can’t remember and at least once a year – denim jeans! They make insulation out of them. They only sell organic fruits and vegetables, have a good bulk section, good coffee and tea and a lot of cool recycled /zero waste products to try. They are also on the cutting edge of weirdness – please see their collection of flavored bugs. The protein source of the future! Might as well get used to it now.
We really feel good shopping at MOM’s too. It took me awhile to have a good strategy for getting ready for shopping trips there, canvas bags, glass returnables, then all of my plastic bags (those things pile up, even when you’re trying really hard to not use them) and various other recycling stuff they take – in addition to the usual meal planning and list making. But now we just have spots in the house were all of the recyclables go and we just throw them in the canvas bags and take a few minutes sorting them out into their easy to deal with recycling center.
There are a few items you can’t get there, but it's because they don’t live up to MOM’s standards, e.g. Life cereal that my daughter likes and the Nature Valley granola bars everyone can agree on. We can go without these things but sometimes, it’s worth an extra trip to the store to get them.
If you live in the Mid-Atlantic area of the US, I’d really encourage you to check them out and support them if you can. They have a great business model that really seems well thought out and genuinely beneficial to the greater good.