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Talking With The President Of Seventh Generation

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"In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions upon the next seven generations."

Sound familiar? Chances are, you've read it while on the john, bored and reading the wrapper on your organic toilet paper. It's either that, or you recognize it from the Great Law of the Iroquois Federation. Personally, it's the former for me.

Organic toilet paper, recycled paper towels, safe laundry detergent and chlorine-free tampons - Seventh Generation has been revolutionizing green home care products, becoming the brand, the go-to when you're looking for products that don't treat the earth as if it's the disposable goods.

A lot of our The Giving Life columns and articles have been focusing on activism and philanthropy working on a global scale - through global foundations and action. Companies like Seventh Generation bring local attention to global problems, by starting at the very base of family life: your home (including that john).

President and "Chief Inspired Protagonist" of Seventh Generation, Jeffrey Hollender, spoke with me about what brought him to the green movement and what he hopes Seventh Generation hopes to do.

You originally started working in adult and continuing education. How did you get into that?

When I was just 29 I had stopped going to college, and I had taken somet time off and had moved to Toronto. I read Ivan Illich's book, Deschooling Society [...] and thought "That's what I want to do!"

I was captivated by the illicit notion that the huge transformative and positive potential that education can have... The idea of going out and finding the most fascinating and interesting people and pairing them up with people who wanted to learn from the, that's what really appealed to me.

And how did you get from adult education to Seventh Generation and green goods?

After Toronto, I lost my way briefly in the pursuit in fame and money. I came to New York and started something called the Network for Learning, which was sort of like a predecessor for the Learning Annex. It was everything the Skills Exchange in Toronto wasn't. We taught a class called "How to Marry Money."

I did the Phil Donahue show with the teacher, Joanna Steichen (wife of the photographer), I was viciously attacked by the audience, and I thought to myself, "Oh my god, what have I done with my life?"

So I started working on this book called How To Make The World A Better Place: A Beginners Guide. That book had a chapter on a company, a catalog called Renew America, which carried environmental goods. That catalog ended up closing, and I started with Seventh Generation as sort of the next step.

I wasn't the most avid environmentalist, I was more interested in social justice, but as a business men, I though "the more I sell products that help the planet, then I'm helping people."

Do you think of environmental issues as moral issues? Do you think of what Seventh Generations as advocating ethics?

There are some moral imperatives in that we do. The fact that companies are allowed to sell products that don't have to show their ingredients, that's being immoral. So, to me, it's wrong that those companies are exempt -- that personal or home products industries don't have to comply with standard that the personal or food industry have to comply with.

It's wrong to use ingredients that haven't been tested by a third party. The vast major of ingredients in household products have never been independently tested. Most chemicals we used to day have never even been tested to see if they're carcinogenic. Americans assume things are safe unless otherwise. Seventh Generation is the exact opposite. We only use chemicals that have been tested and proven safe.

"Innocent until proven guilty" puts citizens in the position of being guinea pigs -- to me, that is a moral issues. And we live in a society that allows that to happen. wait decades until you can prove, beyond a doubt, that something is dangerous and only then do we regulate it.

Aside from the trend of global activism and philanthropy, another major theme we've been seeing a lot from The Giving Life Columnists has been questions over whether consumer action is a viable path towards sustainable living. Do you have an opinion on that?

I am a great believer in the possibility of consumer and citizen action, but I'm disappointed in our ability to empower people to make a difference. If people were effectively organized to make a difference they would be a very important power. Clearly, when it comes to our electoral process, people don't vote and to me, that's a waste of our Democracy... But I believe that every time someone buys our products, it makes a difference.

Besides green products, what does the Seventh Generation brand mean to you?

The brand is, on one hand is about living a healthier life, making more positive impact on the plant. At the same time, we are as much about inspiring people to make possibilities as we are about toilet paper. Take positive action in communities, take positive action on behalf of the planet. I don't want to separate the goal to inspire citizens from the more personal idea of creating a healthy home. Of course, if you don't make the world safer, it doesn't matter what the state of your home is.

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