Challenger to Watch 2017: Seventh Generation

Taking its sustainability mission global.


If any conglomerate other than Unilever had bought them, Seventh Generation wouldn’t have made this list. But the match between the two seems perfect, and makes this 27-year-old pioneer of sustainability suddenly a challenger to watch again.

Eight years ago, Unilever exited the US laundry category entirely, so this purchase puts them back in a fight with adversary Proctor & Gamble. That should be fun to watch. But the bigger opportunity will be abroad. Consumers in Brazil, China and Europe have a growing appetite for green brands, and Unilever has the presence there to meet it. Seventh Generation made $200 million in revenue in 2015, so if all goes well, this could be a $1bn brand within a few years, something that would’ve been impossible for Seventh Generation to pull off without huge resources.

Skeptics may raise an eyebrow at a truly mission-driven business like Seventh Generation being swallowed up by the biggest of Big Fish. But in our book, A Beautiful Constraint, we describe the extraordinary creativity and commitment that Unilever displayed in meeting the ambitions of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Their commitment is real. Last year Unilever was #1 on the Dow Jones Sustainability list in its sector.

And Unilever’s track record of fostering the mission of Ben & Jerry’s must’ve been reassuring to the good people of Seventh Generation. There’s a clause in the contract that was specifically negotiated to ensure its preservation; and a Social Mission Board was created to oversee it, with a seat reserved for the original company founder. Nice.

There’s never been much spark in Seventh Generation’s marketing to be fair. But last year they had the good sense to award the account to 72&Sunny who have already given the brand some of the quirky cool it deserves. Let’s have more of that, please.