Seventh Generation and The Value of Radical Transparency

There’s a lot of skepticism out there these days when it comes to trusting companies, which is totally understandable with multiple misleading claims from social responsibility efforts. For example, a major retailer claimed their bags were made in the USA, yet if you looked in the bag, they were made in China. Whoops.

Can we trust companies? Well, I felt differently about this issue when I was able to meet Chris Miller, manager of Corporate Consciousness for Seventh Generation, and joined his fireside chat session along with Diane Solinger at the Entrepreneurs Foundation Corporate Citizenship Conference to discuss CSR frameworks that outlast transitions.

Chris introduced a new term for me, ‘radical transparency,’ when it came to describing Seventh Generation’s CSR framework. Little did I know Seventh Generation was the first company to fully disclose ingredients in their products and have been doing sustainability reports for seven years.

Although, what truly stood out for me is that they are completely honest with their consumers. They cover the good, the bad and the ugly in their sustainability reports. A 2010 Cone study revealed 87% of consumers believe the communication is one-sided, where companies share the positive information about their efforts, but withhold the negative.

Even when Seventh Generation had discovered contamination in their products, the CEO openly addressed their consumers with an explanation of what happened and how the issue was resolved. As Chris put it, you learn more from failure and said consumers become bigger fans when they tell them everything. And he’s right. I became a fan, as I had so much appreciation for the authenticity and honesty Seventh Generation represents. For them, sustainability is more than a cause marketing effort, it’s integrated into the core value of their culture.

There’s a social contract between companies, nonprofits and consumers. So, it’s alright for us to hold great expectations, but with those great expectations, we can also act on them by making ethical purchases. It’s worth the effort to find out who practices what they preach.

– Amy Chait


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