Today's guest is Joey Bergstein, CEO of Seventh Generation, recently acquired by Unilever. Seventh Generation’s mission is to inspire a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations. The company is a leader in positive business practices through the use of renewable plant-based products, industry-leading transparency with respect to ingredient disclosures, and recyclable packaging.
Joey joined Seventh Generation in 2011 and, together with the Seventh Generation team, has been transforming its business, more than doubling revenue during this time, while fulfilling the company’s mission to incite a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations. Following the sale to Unilever, Joey was appointed CEO. Growth is accelerating, as is the company’s ability to impact millions of people around the world.
A graduate of University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business, Bergstein began his career at Procter & Gamble where he held marketing leadership roles over the course of ten years across North America and in Europe. Since then, his career turned to beverages where Joey served as VP Global Business Development and then VP Marketing at Molson and finally at Diageo where as Senior Vice President of Global Rum, Joey led a global team that doubled the rum business to over $1 billion, transforming Captain Morgan into the fastest growing premium spirit brand in the world.
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Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs, and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change. And try to figure out how people like you and I can help.
Jason Jacobs: Today's guest is Joey Bergstein, the CEO of Seventh Generation. Seventh Generation is the largest eco-friendly cleaning supplies seller in the United States. Its commitment to human health and sustainability has led the brand to industry leadership, consumer good will, and accelerated growth. Joey joined Seventh Generation in 2011, and together with the Seventh Generation team has been transforming its business more than doubling revenue during that time. While fulfilling the company's mission to incite a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations. Following the sale to Unilever in 2016, Joey was appointed CEO.
Jason Jacobs: I was really excited for this discussion because Seventh Generation has really taken a leadership position. They're a B Corporation, and they're doing lots of things from using recycled materials, nontoxic chemicals, tying executive bonuses to sustainability targets. Self-imposed carbon taxes that they're putting in place, donating a week of media budget to the climate strike. They've been going above and beyond. So I wanted to hear from Joey how it's been going, how they think about what types of initiatives to put in place, and what we can learn from the work that Seventh Generation has been doing to be a better model to get more brands to step up and take a similar leadership position. Joey Bergstein, welcome to the show.
Joey Bergstein: Thanks for having me.
Jason Jacobs: Thanks so much for coming on. I'll tell you, we're doing this remotely and there's one side of me that's really bombed that we're not doing it in person because I wanted to see Seventh Generation. I love Vermont, but there's another side of me that I have a zillion family members coming into town for Thanksgiving and the traffic seems like it's absolutely miserable. So I don't regret not going from that standpoint. And my carbon footprint.
Joey Bergstein: No problem. But you're welcome anytime to come up. We'd love to have you here.
Jason Jacobs: At any rate. Thank you for making the time. You're a busy guy. Seventh Generation is a fascinating company, so I'm really excited to get into it here. We have a lot to talk about.
Joey Bergstein: Great. Me too.
Jason Jacobs: Why don't we just take it from the top? I always start these the same way. So what is Seventh Generation?
Joey Bergstein: Seventh Generation. We make eco-friendly home and personal care products, but we are so much more than that. We have a really clear mission, which is about transforming the world into a healthy, sustainable, and equitable place for the next seven generations. And really what we're trying to do is change the way that the business is done and create a really different kind of world around us. We take our name or inspired, our name is inspired the Great Law of the Iroquois. That in our every deliberation, we must take into account the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.
Joey Bergstein: And that really goes really deeply into how we go about doing our business. And affects everything from how we create our products to the issues that we take really big stances on and the future that we're trying to advocate for, particularly in the times that we live in today.
Joey Bergstein: So we're a company that was founded over 30 years ago here in the U.S. here in Vermont. We're still proudly Vermont based. And we're now working on how to expand this business around the world. So we've expanded into over 30 countries in the last 12 months, which is a really exciting moment in history. So it's exciting times ahead for Seventh Generation.
Jason Jacobs: These principles that you're speaking to, were those with the company since inception? Was there some aha moment in the company journey where they became more important? A lot of companies use these words, but I feel like Seventh Generation really backs it up with action and it's built into the fabric of what you do. We need more of that, but how does that even happen?
Joey Bergstein: I do think that it's been built in right from the beginning. So the company started as a catalog business in the late '80's. And it was selling environmentally friendly products through a catalog. A lot of recycled toilet paper and facial tissue. And at the time the founders, Alan Newman who was then joined by Jeffrey Hollender, saw that they needed to take a stance and change the way that the business is being done. And provide environmentally friendly products for the world around us. The choice of the name was actually super deliberate.
Joey Bergstein: When the business was founded and it was a catalog company, was part of I believe renew America, I'm not mistaken. They were really working on what's the right name, how do you communicate the values of the company? And they had an employee of Native American heritage who suggested that Seventh Generation would be an incredible tribute to the change that this kind of a company should try to create.
Joey Bergstein: And what I would say is that those values that really do come out of the name. I mean you name your herself after a law like that and it gives you something important to live up to. And it's really driven the choices that we've made as a business over time. It's driven our mission over time. And while our words around our mission have probably evolved over the years, the focus on providing products that don't just perform well at a reasonable cost but are really made with the health of people and planet in mind, has remained really core to the business.
Joey Bergstein: And then this notion that that business must be a force for good has been with us also from the inception. There's loads of history of the founders taking big stances on issues like climate. Issues that we're taking stances on today still because we need to move this world to a much cleaner energy driven environment. I mean, so that has really sustained over time.
Jason Jacobs: I've read about a bunch of examples. But instead of telegraphing with my question, I'll just ask a more open ended one. And that's what are some examples of actions that you think Seventh Generation does differently because of this mission that other CPG companies for example would not?
Joey Bergstein: For us, the mission really runs really deeply into the DNA of the business. So it really affects every single thing that we do. So I've talked a little bit about how we create products. We create products using the precautionary principle. So we won't use ingredients that we don't know to be safe for people and planet in our products. Which makes us incredibly unique. All companies are trying to use products that are safe, but they use a risk based approach as opposed to a hazard based approach, which is what we use.
Joey Bergstein: So a risk based approach says we can use an ingredient as long as we understand the risk that it could entail, and judge that risk to be manageable. And our view is that you really don't know what happens with bioaccumulation over time and people being exposed to different products or different ingredients through different products. And happening over time. So that's why we take this deep, precautionary principle based approach.
Joey Bergstein: But it goes further into the DNA. We build sustainability into the way that we design the packaging of our products and using products that come from not just recyclable material, but actually recycled content. Ensuring that all of our products are biodegradable is a core tenant. It goes deeply into our communications. A lot of the work that we do around communications is advocating for change that we want to see in the world. So if you go back to 2008, we started labeling all of the ingredients on the back of every single one of the cleaning products that we make, because we believe people have a right to know what they bring into their homes and they use in and around their families. That's not the law of the land, but we deeply believe that that should be the law of the land. So we've run a number of campaigns over time to try to move the industry to the same kind of ingredient disclosure.
Joey Bergstein: And in 2018, California did pass some quite strong ingredient disclosure laws in cleaning products. Which was absolutely fabulous. And New York has similarly followed suit. So our belief being that if you can actually move a state, you end up moving the industry. Because nobody's going to want to label in one state but not in another state. So that's another example of where the mission comes into the work that we're doing.
Joey Bergstein: But then I would say even more deeply. Even when you look at how we reward our employee base, 20% of our annual and bonus for all employees is driven by delivering on our sustainability goals. Right? So that's really a company that's putting its money where its mouth is. And it helps us as we're thinking about how do you prioritize different activities in the activity system.
Joey Bergstein: So I'll give you a great example of that. In 2018, we set a goal around addressing our greenhouse gases. And if I take a step back for a second, what we realized when we look at our footprint, our greenhouse gas footprint. 90% of the greenhouse gases in our footprint actually come from consumer use. So when you and I wash and dry our clothes at home. So what we said that that moment in time is that if we want to take full accountability for all the greenhouse gases in our value chain, then we need to do something more than working on our operations and driving our operations to a neutral carbon impact. Which is an important thing for us to do and a clear goal.
Joey Bergstein: But we said the only way for us to really address the totality of our greenhouse gas impact is to try to clean up the energy grid in the country. So we set a goal in the fall of 2017 which I thought was frankly bat shit crazy. But that we would move 100 cities to commit to clean energy by 2030. So in 2018, we set about working with the Sierra Club and a number of grassroots organizations around the country to get local officials and councils and mayors to make these commitments that they would commit to clean energy by 2030. And by the end of December, I think it was about 108 cities had made the commitment. Today we're at over 150 cities have committed to clean energy, and seven states have committed to clean energy. So again, it's another example of advocacy work in action, which comes right from our mission. But we built that right into the objectives of all our employees and moving the 100 cities, which we had really little control over, but were really determined to do. It became a really important thing for us to do over the course of about a year.
Jason Jacobs: In the early days of the company when you were still pre-Unilever acquisition, how was the company funded and how did that differ, if at all, from the way that CPG companies are typically funded in the early days?
Joey Bergstein: The company's gone through a number of different rounds of funding. So up until 2016, we were acquired by Unilever in October of 2016. Leading up to that period of time, the company was privately held. A number of individual investors, some private equity, but quite a distribution of investors. And we always refer to these investors as patient capital. And these were people who are really committed to our mission, committed to the change we were trying to create. Were not looking for a quick return on their investment. When Generation IM invested in us, so that's Al Gore's private equity fund. They invest in us about two years before we actually sold the business to Unilever. They ran a 40 year business model, which I thought it was absolutely crazy at the time. But they looked at the business, they said, "We really highly value this business and we want to understand what the longterm of this business looks like." And I would say that that was not atypical of how the investors who were holding seven generation at the time really thought about the business.
Joey Bergstein: And then it was really interesting when Unilever approached us in 2016, we weren't trying to sell the business. It wasn't for sale. But what we realized is if you go back to the mission I talked about at the beginning, transforming the world into a healthy, sustainable, and equitable place for the next seven generations. What we realized was that we could have a much bigger impact on the world around us being part of Unilever than we ever could as being an independent entity in and of ourselves.
Joey Bergstein: So I'm really proud that this company has had a much bigger impact on the industry than we should have been able to have had given the fact that we're really pretty small company in the whole scheme of a very large marketplace here in the U.S. But what we realized was that there was a great values alignment with Unilever and that the business would be secure inside the company. But even more excited that we had this opportunity to go from impacting millions of people here in the U.S. to potentially billions of people around the world. And it became the opportunity for us to have an even bigger impact on the world around us.
Jason Jacobs: And I have a lot more questions about that general area, but maybe we'll just take a quick detour because everything we've talked about so far has been about the Seventh Generation story. But what about the Joey story? So has this always been an important area for you or was there some awakening along the way? How did you find yourself working in a company like Seventh Generation?
Joey Bergstein: So my career before I came to seven generation, I spent half of my career before seven generation at Procter & Gamble working in actually a number of the categories that Seventh Generation participates in. I worked in, started in Canada, I worked in Europe, I worked in the U.S. The second half of my career was at Diageo and more broadly in the spirits industry. So Molson and then Diageo.
Jason Jacobs: I have to interject and say I'm almost more excited about the fact that you worked on Captain Morgan than the fact that you're working in this unbelievable pillar of sustainability. I just love Captain Morgan rum.
Joey Bergstein: It was an amazing and a fun business to work on. And what was really interesting for me is I learned a lot about when I was at P&G about these categories that we participate in. And when I was at Diageo, we learned a lot about lifestyle marketing. And in that business, the brands you choose say a lot about who you are and what you stand for. And the amazing thing is actually Seventh Generation is a great combination of those two things. These are the products that we sell, but people buy into us for who we are and what we stand for above all else. So the fit feels really good.
Joey Bergstein: But what I'll say is that throughout my entire life, I've known that I want to leave this world a better place than I found it. And it's a legacy that I feel like I've carried for a long time. I'm the child of a Holocaust survivor. And I've always thought really deeply about the world that we live in and how do I make it a better place.
Joey Bergstein: And the truth is that throughout my career, I probably compartmentalized the work that I did every single day with the need to have a bigger impact in the world. And I said, "Okay, well I'll do that at some later point in my career."
Joey Bergstein: And then there was a moment when I was working at Diageo what I realized that I just wasn't making the world a better place. I might be making the world a funner a place to be, but I wasn't making it a better place to be. And I would say there's really two things happened. One, I was thinking actually for quite a long time about my daughter. My daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease at a very young age. And as we looked into celiac, what we realized is that celiac disease is now about five times more prevalent than it was 50 years ago. And when you took deeper, you understand it's because of the shift that has taken place in our food systems. And what I realized is all of the innovation that I had done working in all of these large companies, this similar kind of innovation is going on in the food industry and has these unintended consequences that lead to things like celiac disease at the end of the day.
Joey Bergstein: So I realized is that well, I've built some great skills around running businesses and driving innovation. I really should be putting those skills to better use. So at that moment in time, I was introduced to the person who was leading Seventh Generation at the time. And I realized that there was an incredible opportunity for me to take all the skills I had gained in these large companies, and put them to use at truly trying to make the world a better place. So that for me was really kind of the pivotal moment in time for me that brought me to Seventh Generation.
Jason Jacobs: We have pretty similar stories in that first I worked in startup technology companies and I really cared about building successful companies and serving customers right and working with great people. But I thought the widget didn't matter. And then I founded a company that was a fitness technology company where it was about passion and I love fitness. And that's where that was kind of, it was like I can actually like work on something that's really personally relatable and it's fun. But then this next chapter for me is also really about purpose. Other than the podcast though, I haven't really kind of found my lane, although I think I'm getting closer. But that's another discussion.
Jason Jacobs: But you guys to be honest, are really a role model for me. Because one thing I realized in between when I left the fitness company and doing this is I tried to start another consumer company that was fun. And I realized, and I tried to compartmentalize like you said I said, "Make a lot of money and then be philanthropic and do good in other ways." But I can't separate those two things and this is my cause, so how do I integrate it into my livelihood in a way that doesn't feel like it's compromising on impact, but also enables me to feed my family? And from a distance, Seventh Generation is like the gold standard of that. I have to talk to you and learn more. And I think our listeners want to know more too, because many of those listeners are on similar journeys where they say, "Hey, I've been working to earn a living. But now this problem, I can't get it out of my head. I want to help. But how do I head in this direction? Where do I start? What do I do?" And they're trying to figure it out like I am.
Joey Bergstein: And what I would say is exactly as you say, I actually feel like I come to work every single day, and I'm making a difference in the world. And it helps you work through not every single day is a great day, right? Nobody has perfect days every day. But it helps you work through the stuff and you realize okay, well there's a bigger impact that you can have in the world, in the work that you do every single day. So I feel incredibly honored and grateful to be in a position where I can spend every waking hour that I work really thinking about okay, well what are the choices that we're making? What's the impact that they could be having, and how can we have a bigger impact on the world around us? So it's a pretty cool place to be.
Jason Jacobs: Maybe we'll get into some existential territory now if that's okay. But I mean you guys are B Corp, and I've heard you say in other interviews that B Corp is kind of the gold standard of walking the walk, if you will. When it comes to doing well by doing good. And I guess one question is shouldn't we be trying to get more companies to be B Corps, or should we be trying to figure out how to get capitalism overall to reflect more of the B Corp ideals? And I guess where do we need to go in that direction? Should this continue to be like a subset of capitalism or do we have a bigger job to do?
Joey Bergstein: Yeah, I think the bigger job is to shift capitalism. But I would say I think B Corp is a great example of an organization that has really put at its mission making business a force for good. And I think that all businesses should be thinking about all stakeholders. So not just their shareholders but their employees, the communities they serve. The fact that companies today can externalize the costs of pollution is absolutely ridiculous. And I think the B Corp model should be a model for business and should affect capitalism. And the truth is that the companies who are focused on sustainability and equity and a lot of the principles of B Corp, they're growing faster. They've got more engaged employees. They're doing better than the average companies that are out there. So there's something really exciting about that. So this isn't just about well the whole world should be a wonderful place just for the sake of being a wonderful place. It's that doing good business is doing good business. And those two things work really hand in hand.
Joey Bergstein: The same time, I think that B Corp serves a really important role. And I do think it's a great thing for more and more companies to become B Corps. And for us, what they do is every two years we go through a certification process where we look at all of our operations all the way through the line from how we treat our employees, to how we procure our ingredients, to how we serve the communities that are around us. To much of our profits do we give to causes, etc. It's a really rigorous assessment that we go through and what it allows us to do is to say, how do we measure up against other companies that are best in class in this space?
Joey Bergstein: It's really easy for a company who thinks that it's mission based or is mission based, is trying to do good in the world. To start to believe their own stuff a little bit too readily. And what the B Corp organization does or B Lab does is it enables you to really benchmark yourself against the best of the best and be able to say okay, here's how we're doing. Here are the clear places where we can improve. And then helps us create an action plan that enables us to do even better over time.
Jason Jacobs: I heard you say that the B Corp perform better financially. And I guess one question I have is over what timeframe? Does it require a long view? And how long view does it require to see that performance manifest? I would think if you're just managing from a quarter by quarter standpoint, there's actually a big tax to all the things that you guys are doing that probably dilute your profitability. Is that a fair assumption or am I misguided?
Joey Bergstein: I think that when you look over the longterm, over the five to 10 year period, you see that these companies are performing really well. And I think that anybody can deliver amazing results inside of a quarter. You just find some places where you can cut your costs or you can cut your marketing [inaudible 00:22:13], where you can reduce your overhead costs. The question is really over time can you create a sustainable business model? And I think that there's many B Corps that are amazing examples, that have done exactly that. And I think when you start looking at what's the value of creating a highly engaged low turnover employee base, this more productive that leads to better results over time. People are looking for their companies for a second. But people are really interested in the companies behind the products that they're buying today. The internet has made everything incredibly transparent. So you can learn about every single company, almost at the click of a mouse. Not almost, but at the click of a mouse.
Joey Bergstein: And what that means is that people are willing to pay for companies that are creating products that are built on the right principles, that are built with the world in mind. And are able to capture a premium for products like that. So I think it leads to a much stronger, more sustainable business model over time.
Jason Jacobs: I've heard some people describe climate change as a rich person's problem. In that in order to focus on it and do things like pay a premium for products that are more sustainable, it requires the financial means to not be living paycheck to paycheck and worrying about how are you going to put any food on the table, let alone the healthiest food. Or have any laundry detergent to wash your clothes with, let alone the cleanest laundry detergent. So who is buying the Seventh Generation products and what are your thoughts on that statement, and what's your response to the people that might say? That's like 10 questions. Why can't I just ask one question at a time? That's my critique of myself as an interviewer is I bundle questions.
Joey Bergstein: Yeah, let me try to give you an answer. I think you're right. I mean again, if you go back to our mission, our mission is about trying to transform the world into a healthy, sustainable, and equitable place for the next seven generations. And the truth is that we do have a lot of healthy, wealthy people buying our products. But we're thinking really deeply about how do we actually create access to products, to these products, these cleaner products. And one of the things that we've done in particular about a year ago is we were asking ourselves the very question you just asked me. We said well the people who are the most effected by toxic cleaning products are the people who are cleaning and using those products day in, day out, all day long.
Joey Bergstein: So a year ago we launched a range of professional products, which we're very excited about it. We think it creates an opportunity for people who are cleaning day in, day out, to have access to these products. And we think that companies, operations, hotels, restaurants who buy Seventh Generation have a great opportunity to tell their employees and to tell their patrons that here's the step that they're taking on behalf of their employees and behalf of their guests. To think about the health of people and planet, which we think is an important tool for them to help create an even more loyal consumer base themselves.
Joey Bergstein: So I think you're right. We need to create greater accessibility to products like these. We need to democratize access to products like these. And then we need to be smart about okay, well what are some ways to do that? That's one example of how we're thinking about tacking that challenge.
Jason Jacobs: That's a really interesting point that you take the wealthy companies and their workers who may be are living paycheck to paycheck for example, and you give them the opportunity to get that same kind of brand halo that comes from the companies like Seventh Generation that are making these products. By providing those products to their employees to use, it can become part of their marketing. Hopefully they're doing it for more reasons than just that. But I think strictly from a self-interest standpoint, that can be compelling.
Joey Bergstein: Yeah, exactly.
Jason Jacobs: And then taking a step back, let's talk about climate change for a minute. Since this is a climate change podcast. How much is that on your mind as a person? How much of that is on the mind of Seventh Generation as a company? And how are you and as a company thinking about the problem?
Joey Bergstein: As a citizen, it is very much on my mind. It is the biggest challenge that's in front of us these days. And we need to take real urgent action to address climate. So it's not enough just to be concerned about it. And it's not good enough as Greta Thunberg reminds us just to have hope, right? We need to take real action.
Joey Bergstein: And as a company, I've talked a little bit about some of the work that we're doing. We have done a lot of work in advocacy work trying to move cities and states to make commitments to clean energy, which we think is really important. We supported the climate strike in September. In a couple of ways, we shut down our offices to enable employees to get out on the streets and raise their voice. But I think even more importantly, we donated a week of our advertising, our national television advertising time that week of the climate strike to 350.org so that we could help elevate the voice of the youth climate movement and help their voices be heard.
Joey Bergstein: But frankly, how crazy is it that we need kids to take to the streets or walk out of school to tell us that we need to take responsibility for a mess that we've created ourselves? So the hard work we're doing is really how do we take accountability for that? So cleaning up the energy grid we've talked about, and then in our own internal operations, we're doing a ton of work to ensure that we're using clean energy wherever we can. That we are constantly trying to improve the greenhouse gas footprint of the products that we create.
Joey Bergstein: It's a complex issue right now. I think the most important thing is that companies and individuals are taking accountability for what they're putting into the world around us, and taking meaningful action to address the crisis that's in front of us.
Jason Jacobs: There are some people that argue that we need to graduate from the industrial age and stop focusing on GDP growth as the primary measure of economic success. How do you feel about that?
Joey Bergstein: That's a very deep question. I don't know that I necessarily think about economic growth as a primary measure of success. I really think we need to think holistically about the world we're trying to create around us. And how do we create a healthy, productive, peaceful society around us. Right now I say there's so many concerns still out there and in the world around us. Climate is a critical one. I mean that goes to our very existence. But we are living in such an increasingly polarized society today that I think we really need to find ways to bring people together. And I think economic growth is an important thing for us to continue to do, but we need to do it in a healthy, sustainable manner. And that really comes to how do we run our operations as we think about the world around us? How do we create a society where we're bringing people together rather than pushing people apart?
Joey Bergstein: If I go back to the conversation on climate, I think one of my greatest hopes in the upcoming election cycle is that climate become a bipartisan issue. We'll never make progress on this issue if this is only a one political camp. It needs to be a bipartisan issue. We need to figure out how do we bring people together around issues like this.
Jason Jacobs: I love what Seventh Generation stands for. It feels like you guys are a rare exception and not the rule. So before I go on, do you agree or you see, what does the trend look like in terms of the companies that actually care about this stuff? And are putting their actions where their mouth is?
Joey Bergstein: Yeah, I think that there's more and more companies who are doing that. So I'm super proud that we are a part of Unilever. That is a company that has been leading the way in the world of large multinational companies. They've made a number of really bold moves around recycled plastic use, around carbon neutrality in their operations. I mean, this is a massive company who said that purpose and sustainability are critical to how they continue to grow. It's an issue that they talk to their investors about. And people who invest in Unilever are investing because of the principles and the values of this company. So I think that's one great example of a company who's putting their mission at the forefront.
Joey Bergstein: I think Danone is another great example of another major company who has already certified as a B Corp, their North American operations. And is working on how can they certify their business more broadly. Another great multinational business that's saying, "Yeah, there's more to business than just profit." And to be clear, none of these companies are saying the profit's going to take a back seat. But what they are saying is that we need to think much more holistically about the way that we do business.
Joey Bergstein: I look at companies like Patagonia, privately held company so we don't know what their economics look like. But they are leading the way. A big company, a huge advocate for change. And doing some really amazing things in the world. So is every company doing this? No. But are there more, and more, and more companies who really understand the need to do this? Absolutely.
Joey Bergstein: If you look at the number of companies that have made commitments to addressing their greenhouse gas footprint and ensuring that we are on track, so science based targets, so committing to science based targets. Ensuring that we're on track to limiting climate to no more than 1.5 degrees by 2030. I think several months ago, we were recognized in September. But we were one of I think 70 companies that have made commitments to that. I think that the number of companies who have science-based commitments are in the hundreds. So there's a lot of companies out there who understand that they have to do more than just create economic growth. That they really need to be cognizant of the world around us.
Jason Jacobs: If someone has no horse in the race. They're not running a company, they're not an elected official. They're just looking at out carbon budget and the problem. How much of the solution comes from more companies stepping up, more consumers changing their behavior? And how much of it comes from things like mandates and other top down measures from the government or from governments?
Joey Bergstein: I think it's bottoms up and top down, and I really deeply believe that. So I was actually watching an amazing episode the other day of Netflix Patriot Act, did one on fast fashion. And the impact that fast fashion has on us as a society is absolutely incredible. So I won't try to share the facts, but I would encourage people who are listening to the podcast to watch that episode. But there are really specific steps that each individual can take to have a real limit on the waste that's going into the world. I mean the number of garments people buy today they quoted is gone from 12 in the '80's a year, to over 60, I think they said 64 garments are bought by each individual every single year. I mean it's crazy. And much of that ends up just as waste in the landfill, even when you think that you're donating those garments to a charity. Because they get rid of the products, the garments that they haven't sold in the course of a month.
Joey Bergstein: So I think that's one example of where individual action can have a huge impact. I mean we all are contributing to the world that's around us and we can all have that in individual impact. And then I think if you go up a level you say as one of the reasons that we focused on cities and trying to get cities to make amendments to clean energy is because we all live in cities. We all live in communities. And if you think about where you have the most control as an individual, it's actually at that local level. Where your voice at the city level is much, much louder than it is at the federal level.
Joey Bergstein: But then you go to the state. So again, one step removed. I know some of the conversations I've had with different state legislators. They've told us that a single phone call for them is representative of about 1,000 voters. So you think about that. And in New York, we were really trying to help encourage the New York state government to adopt some pretty aggressive stances on climate.
Joey Bergstein: And we had through a lot of the efforts, there was about nine or 10,000 emails that were sent to legislators in the state of New York. By individuals. Not by robots, by individuals. So think about the impact of receiving that kind of attention if you're a legislator in the state. I mean, it says a lot about what your constituents are thinking.
Joey Bergstein: So I think that it absolutely starts with the individuals. That responsibility remains with companies to adopt responsible practices. And then on top of that, of course our legislators at the city, state, and federal level also need to take responsibility.
Joey Bergstein: And I think one of the things I think a lot about is that there's clearly a consensus amongst scientists that climate change is real. It's not a disputable fact with any kind of credibility. There's an equally important consensus amongst economists that the best way to address climate is actually through some mechanism around pricing carbon. And the challenge in doing that is you can imagine that it's politically a not particularly attractive thing to do. And if you go to the state level, there's not a single state that's going to want to put in carbon price in place because they're afraid of what happens to neighboring states and to people shift their business into neighboring states because of this competitive disadvantage. The only place where you can really put an effective price on carbon is actually at the federal level. And we really do need action at the federal level, because incentives really speak loudly. And when you put those incentives in place, people respond to that.
Joey Bergstein: Another great example around incentives is we think a lot about recycling. And I'm amazed when I look at the rate of recycling on single use plastics in the country is about 30% across the country. If you go to states that have a bottle bill, so where there's a five cent deposit on a plastic bottle, the recycle rates jump to 60%. And then the few states where it's a 10 cent deposit, it's over 90.
Joey Bergstein: So you look at trash or waste, or plastic waste. And there's absolutely an answer to addressing plastic waste out there. It's around putting the right incentives in place. The question is do we have the political will to be able to put those incentives in place?
Jason Jacobs: I know if you look at say oil and gas for example, there's an entrenched lobby, there's trade groups. There's a bunch of opposition to make any real progress because it's seen as against their self interest from a profit standpoint. Does similar exist? What does your peer group in the CPG industry think about Seventh Generation and the efforts of other companies like you to try to bring about this change?
Joey Bergstein: So we're a part of the ASBC, the American Sustainable Business Council. They have thousands of members. So these are companies who really feel deeply that we need to drive policy change as part of the way that we do business. And have a voice with government that presents a different point of view than what they may see from the lobbyists from exclusively large companies. So there's lots of big companies, as I've said earlier, that are doing really great things. But we need to make sure that there's a really strong voice of sustainability.
Joey Bergstein: And I was really proud. I was at a lobbying event around carbon pricing in the spring. And I was one CEO amongst many representing about $3 trillion worth of market value, over 800,000 employees in the companies that were collectively represented. So I really feel like we're not standing out our own and we're part of a much larger voice around the need to really address issues like this.
Joey Bergstein: And then you've got great organizations like ASBC that are doing a lot of organizing around that. Great organizations like [inaudible 00:38:14], which are doing a lot of organizing around trying to bring that sustainable, the voice of sustainable business to bear for legislators so that they're hearing a very balanced view as they're making really important decisions in policy calls.
Jason Jacobs: And when you think about the progress that you're trying to bring about both within the company but also getting other brands to do the same, what are some of the barriers are inhibiting progress, and what are some of the things that could change that would be most impactful in accelerating this transition?
Joey Bergstein: It's tough. I mean there's competing interest at every step of the way. So if you take ingredient disclosure as an issue, there are companies that don't want ingredient disclosure. Because with transparency comes transparency, frankly. You disclose ingredients and people will study them and understand what's in these ingredients and do they want them to do they not want them. So there's a powerful industrial lobby around saying, "Well we actually don't need that kind of disclosure. Thank you very much."
Joey Bergstein: So I think that there's, on the one hand, there are barriers around political will and corporate self interest that can get in the way of making these decisions. But I think that as I said, I think what excites me is actually seeing more and more companies understanding that doing good business is actually good business. And getting behind, addressing some of the issues that we're all faced with and all a part of. Be it climate, be ingredient disclosure, be it fair wages. I mean all of these things. Inevitably on the one hand, if you look in a very short term, you can say okay, well there may be a short term cost. But there's definitely a longterm gain.
Jason Jacobs: So if you could wave a magic wand and change one thing to make it easier for you to have more of an outsize impact looking forward, what would it be?
Joey Bergstein: Well, I actually don't think I need to wave a magic wand. I think we do have a really big impact. I think the fact that we've got a voice as a small but powerful business inside an important industry, I feel we do get attention that we need to get. If I could wave a magic wand, it would just be that there were more and more companies and legislators that understand these issues and make moves to address in themselves in the case of the companies and legislators to really push forward policy change. But I feel as I said, really privileged that we're part of a large company that really understands it. That Unilever is taking incredible actions inside their own operations to address their greenhouse gas footprint, to address and recycling and a number of different societal issues. And we just need more and more companies to take those steps.
Jason Jacobs: So let me ask it a different way then. If you could wave a magic wand to unlock more companies jumping in and stepping up, what could change that would help accelerate more companies doing what you guys are already doing?
Joey Bergstein: What could accelerate those companies making the change, is that you're asking?
Jason Jacobs: I'm thinking about capitalism, and I think you guys are an example of what capitalism should be. So then it's like well how do we get capitalism, a bigger and bigger percentage of our GDP to be acting responsibly like a Seventh Generation or a Patagonia? Or a Danone, or these other companies that we've talked about, right? Unilever. So how do we bring that about systemically?
Joey Bergstein: The capital markets need to speak really loudly, and the capital markets really need to value disproportionately companies that are doing well financially and doing well by all of the stakeholders, not just their shareholders. So when you read the stances that Larry Fink is taking at BlackRock, that gives me hope and encouragement.
Joey Bergstein: I had this really interesting opportunity to meet somebody who leads sustainability for one of the major mining companies in the world. And when I looked at her and I said, "Well, what does sustainability mean for you?" She said, "Well we had to divest our coal mining operations in the last three years because it was limiting our access to capital." That gives me hope that the capital markets are really speaking and saying that they really want to put their money behind sustainable business. And maybe it's a sad statement on the society that we live in, that we need the capital markets to really act. But I think it is a statement on the society that we live in. Sad or not. When the capital markets respond, the companies will respond to what's going on around them.
Joey Bergstein: And if you look at in the B Corp movement, the only companies that I'm aware of that have de-certified are ones who feel like they needed to in order to get access to capital in some way, shape, or form. Be it publicly or privately. Or that they felt that maybe it limited their options for selling. And when the capital markets, and actually the opposite. I'm going to value you more because you're a B Corp. That's when you'll see more and more companies adopting these practices, whether they certify themselves or not.
Jason Jacobs: Two final questions. One is just if you have a big pot of money, say $100 billion and you could allocate it towards anything to maximize its impact in decarbonizing our global economy. Where would you put it and how would you allocate it?
Joey Bergstein: Well I definitely put it towards clean energy. But very specifically, around communities that are the most effected by pollution. I mean it's a sad fact that the people who are at least responsible for the greenhouse gases for pollution are the ones who are the most effected by it. And when you look at how the costs of solar and wind have come crashing down, have never been more affordable as they are today. There's more and more investment in that space. But we need that investment to actually happen in those communities which have the least access to capital today. So I would take that capital and I would focus it in places that need it the most.
Jason Jacobs: Final question is just listeners come from different walks of life. Some of them are like me where they're actually looking to reorient their career around the climate fight. Others just maybe have a job that they love, but they're trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their life to have an impact. So I guess maybe just either speak to the different groups or just have one message to everybody. But what advice do you have for people that are really concerned and trying to figure out how to help?
Joey Bergstein: I think you need to find your passion. And you need to identify what's the unique thing that you can bring to affect change. And put that to work. So if you are amazing at science, then put your science to work in a space where you're creating sustainable solutions. If you're a talented marketer, put your marketing skills to use in a place that's really trying to make the case for a much broader audience that buying into sustainability is a great thing to do. Because I think we're all born with our own unique, amazing talents and passions. And if we can put them to use in a way that makes a big difference. Then we will have an impact, a huge impact together.
Jason Jacobs: And care what you buy. Right?
Joey Bergstein: Exactly. You vote with your dollar every single day, don't you?
Jason Jacobs: Anything I didn't ask that I should have or any parting words for listeners?
Joey Bergstein: No, I think we covered a whole bunch of ground. So I appreciate the conversation and that's all.
Jason Jacobs: Joey, thanks so much for coming on the show. I thought this was great.
Joey Bergstein: Yeah, Jason was great to speak with you.
Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone. Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. Note that is .co, not .com. Someday we'll get the .com, but right now .co.
Jason Jacobs: You can also find me on Twitter @jjacobs22, where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.