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Cleaning products giant Seventh Generation is rolling out commercial products now. The Unilever-owned company has focused most of its energy till date on consumer products, bringing awareness to the toxic chemicals used in household cleaning products historically. Its success led to Unilever acquiring the brand for $700 million in 2016. This year, the company features in a new documentary on Netflix, Stink, divulging some of the dirty secrets of the industry and the unknown toxins in daily life.
Although consumer awareness is growing about the use of chemicals in homes, the cleaning products used in schools, offices, and public spaces are not as closely scrutinized. “You don’t know what a company is using, because these products are purchased by third parties or distributors,” says Joey Bergstein, CEO of Seventh Generation.
That’s where the cleaning giant wants to grow their business. “We need to find a way to democratize true clean. This should not just be about products for the wealthy,” he says.
Seventh Generation’s latest line of professional cleaning products have similar formulations as the ones sold to consumers but are packaged differently according to industry standards, he explains. “The core formulations are largely the same. But the labeling and packaging has to be done differently.”
Catering to a new industry, Seventh Generation is working with distributors who sell to restaurants, hotels, offices, and other large-scale businesses to access customers that otherwise the company could not reach, Bergstein argues.
Though priced comparable to its competitors, there is a small premium, he admits. “We are consistent with market pricing, within a 10 percent premium of leading conventional brands.”
And that premium, he argues, is not a deal breaker; in fact, the messaging and marketing to guests, staff, and the individuals that will be occupying the space outweighs the added cost.
Bergstein sees that consumers are already waking up to non-toxic, more eco-friendly friendly products. The natural, wellness and eco-friendly space is only 20 percent of the market, he notes, yet is growing at 70 percent.
But the nuances of a healthy lifestyle need iterating and further education, Bergstein adds. “Think about it, we eat 2 to 3 pounds of food each day. Yet, we consume 30 to 40 pounds of air every day.”
Cleaners are just one element in a hodgepodge of factors that affect air quality. Though most consumers are more focused on diets, air quality and environment, he argues, is just as important as eating well.
While this is all noteworthy, Seventh Generation is still toying with one element of their eco-friendly business: packaging. Their concoctions, be it for consumer or commercial use, come in some form of packaging. Through years of research and development, Bergstein says, the company has made some strides: most of their packaging is now made with 100 percent post-consumer recycled content. Only laundry bottles are stuck at 80 percent, with the remaining 20 percent being a bio-based material.
There’s still one issue: Seventh Generation sells a lot of liquids, many of these are water-based. Shipping water around the country means heavier boxes and more packaging, particularly when it comes to laundry detergent. To solve this problem, the company is turning to concentrated formations. “We’re looking at how to take water out of our portfolio. It’s more efficient to ship around the country then and it just makes sense.”
Seventh Generation sells primarily in the US, with some sales in Canada. When working in the beer industry, Bergstein found a recycling program in Canada with beer bottles that he’d like to adapt to the cleaning industry. “There’s an industry standard and agreement. Everyone uses the same brown bottles. People return them to the store and they get redistributed back to the manufacturer and refilled. And so those bottles get used on average about 18 times. People bring back the glass bottles because there’s a financial incentive to do so. Could we create something like that or be part of for plastic packaging?”
Bergstein is actively looking for innovations in recycling and how to build a circular economy because the company has a target in sight: by 2025, he wants everything that is recyclable to be recycled and everything that is biodegradable to be biodegraded by Seventh Generation.
Doing that means working in tandem with packaging manufacturers and municipalities. Creating that kind of systemic change in the industry, he acknowledges is not something that the company can do on its own. Given the limitations that still exist in the packaging industry, the need for solutions, and better recycling processes that ensure recyclable materials actually are repurposed, not sold overseas or disposed of in a landfill, Bergstein is keen on collaborating to uphold Seventh Generation’s mission as a brand.
“People are motivated by their wallets. The higher the return rate, the higher the recycling rate. That could be part of the solution,” he says.
If Seventh Generation is going to work in the commercial space, then building a circular, or responsible, economy becomes even more necessary for the brand — and if it were to work, it could have a broad, society-wide impact.
December 22, 2018 at 02:19PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs