Burt Shavitz and Tom Chappell. Their names might not be familiar at first, but chances are you know these guys pretty well. They're the founders of Burt's Bees and Tom's of Maine and they have A LOT in common. Both have a full head of gray hair (well, one's a bit whiter, and the other comes with a giant beard); both have lived, worked and started successful companies in the beautiful state of Maine (see above); both can be found on a List of the Top 25 Greenies; both are associated with the biggest natural personal care products companies on the market; and both sold their companies to uber-conglomerates (Burt to Clorox and Tom to Colgate-Palmolive) a few years back.
At first, I wanted to write a post all about how torn I am over the whole uber-conglomerate issue. These feelings began a couple weeks ago, when cosmetics giant Shiseido announced they'd be buying San Fran-based mineral makeup brand Bare Escentuals. This made me think of the many natural product companies that have been sold to "ubers" (can I call them that?): Kashi to Kellogg's, Stonyfield to Dannon, Odwalla to Coke... Bigger marketing and distribution budgets are great for getting healthier products on the shelves, but this also left many loyal customers outraged by the notion that their "natural" products could be produced by such companies...and curious as to whether these companies could uphold the founder's values and conventions. But rather than focusing on the FEAR (a marketing tactic I hope smaller natural products companies will be able to do without in the future...), I want to focus on all the GOOD that these companies, and especially those founded by Burt and Tom, have bestowed on the giant consumer products market.
As I've mentioned in the past (but can't stress enough), CPG manufacturing has the potential to SERIOUSLY harm our environment. So for someone to start - or even attempt to start - a natural products company, chances are they're a bit more "in tune" with Mother Nature than the average "uber" (sorry...I must). From the get-go, both Burt and Tom left the bad stuff out of their products. But it's not like they did this with the intention of starting a trend...profiting from it...and retiring to the lap of luxury. Their passion for environmental sustainability is still an integral part of their lives! After selling his namesake company to Clorox for a whopping $925 million (with business partner Roxanne Quimby), Burt Shavitz continues to live in a very modest house in Maine, without any electricity or running water! And since Tom and his wife Kate sold their company to Colgate, they've founded yet another creative and sustainable products company! This time for organic and sustainable wool clothing, called Rambler's Way.
But it's not just their passion for environmental sustainability that sets these Maine-iacs apart. It's also their steadfast commitment to social responsibility and business ethics. Tom Chappell literally wrote the books on these topics: The Soul of a Business: Managing For Profit And The Common Good and Managing Upside Down: The Seven Intentions Of Values-Centered Leadership. And do you know of any "ubers" that donate a WHOPPING 10% of profits and 5% of paid working time to charity? A segment of the Tom's of Maine company mission reads, "to address community concerns in Maine and around the globe, by devoting a portion of our time, talent and resources to the environment, human needs, the arts and education." Seriously though...how many products on the shelves of your local drugstore are manufactured by companies with a mission anywhere CLOSE to that??
And speaking of your local drugstore, Burt and Tom also simply INTRODUCED natural products to the mainstream market. Is it just me, or does the "natural" label make you think twice about all the other products you use regularly? Many natural products can only be purchased at co-ops, Whole Foods, or other specialty stores. But (much to Mr. Mackey's dismay) there are tons of people who would never dare set foot in a Whole Foods. Burt and Tom introduced the natural concept to THESE people. Basically, Burt and Tom can be found everywhere these days, but without the support of Clorox and Colgate, do you think they would have been able to reach as many people as they have? Or as many people as they WILL? We'd be stuck with that toxic brandnomer lip balm at the checkout counter forever...and you KNOW my thoughts on that!
So there you have it. The next time you hear someone talking about all the natural products companies that have "sold out" to conglomerates, remember everything that the companies have given us...and continue to give us. Remember the good. These two particular guys might be major competitors, but together they've set some pretty awesome examples in environmental sustainabililty, human health, and business ethics. Let's try and focus on the immense amount of positive that these companies, and many others, have bestowed on the CPG industry. Once consumers begin to realize what business COULD look like, let's hope that there will be no turning back. And lucky for us, Burt and Tom seem to have become role models for some young, successful eco-entrepreneurs already...
Joshua Onysko, founder of Pangea Organics skincare, is one that we should watch. I know that I mention this guy's products a lot (and I know how cliche it sounds to say this...) but I SERIOUSLY can't get enough of them! Josh's story is similar to Burt's story and to Tom's, but in very different ways. Like Tom, Joshua saw a need for truly natural products, and took it upon himself to begin mixing soaps at his parents home in Rhode Island. And like Burt, Joshua was a straight-up nomad before starting his company...traveling the country and world over for years before landing the gig. Yet he ended up in the same position as his predecessors, as founder and CEO of one of the healthiest, most innovative and environmentally-friendly personal care products companies on the market. Sephora has even recognized Pangea's potential, and has begun to carry the products online! These products are organic, sustainable, and effective; the packaging is LITERALLY plant-able; and 5% of the profits go directly to the Pangea Institute, providing microfinancing to woman-owned agricultural co-ops. Let's hope that Josh is an example of the next generation in this business, because that's some serious GOOD right there!