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David Bronner - A CEO with Social Consciousness

Updated: 6 days ago


Years ago, the lifestyle of consumers and their procurement of goods bifurcated sharply. Buyers were often too preoccupied with work, family, and leisure to consider purchases that would heal this creaky, craggy planet. Today, this is not the case. Dr. Bronner’s is a company that has stepped up and has helped make the globe more environmentally sustainable. From the inspirational 3,000-word labeling on their soap bottles to sourcing oils (and thereby supporting industries) in Sri Lanka, Israel, and Ghana, the metaphorical cup of the company’s CEO, David Bronner, overflows with integrity, ethical corporate behavior, and determination.

Apparently, compassion is in David Bronner’s DNA. His soap-making company is a fifth-generation family business originating in Germany. Bronner’s grandfather, Emanuel Bronner, was a chemist who charismatically spoke to packed auditoriums about his social and environmental ideals. Not long after graduating from Harvard in 1996 with a degree in biology, David Bronner demonstrated the same laser focus as his grandfather. He desired to heal our pummeled planet while at the same time producing high quality products such as soap, lotion, and lip balm. Subsequently, the company developed a cult following including the likes of Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, Zoe Kravitz, Kate Hudson, Drake, Drew Barrymore, Eminem, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Eva Mendes. Dr Bronner’s products are sold in several stores such as Whole Foods and Target. Incredulously, the company has never paid a cent for celebrity endorsements or traditional advertising. Still, Dr. Bronner’s net revenue went from $4 million in 1997, when David Bronner and his brother took over, to $122.5 million in 2018. One-third of Dr. Bronner’s revenues go toward activism.

Dr. Bronner’s products do not contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and are Non-GMO certified. “Genetically engineered crops don’t boost fruition,” David Bronner said. He points out vitamin A enriched rice as an example, believing it was a marketing device. The Golden Rice Project was created to help developing countries whose diets were dependent upon rice or other micronutrient-poor carbohydrates. Genetically engineered rice supposedly increased the grain’s nutrients and combats vitamin A deficiencies (VAD). However, the project was deeply flawed. Opponents questioned the motives of the Golden Rice Project. They believed it to be a ploy to enhance public support for GMOs because multiple, cheaper, and more effective resources were either planned or already in place in those developing countries. (NYU, Public Health Ethics, 2020)

Bronner also takes issue with herbicide tolerant crops. Farmers use herbicides in order to control weeds and resistance to herbicides is one of the traits of GMOs. Planters can spray a whole field, and presumably only the weeds will die. However, weeds adapt and evolve like all other living species and, as a result, some formerly herbicide resistant crops are no longer as useful as they once were. (“The Science of GMOs,” Purdue University, 2020) Additionally, herbicides, as well as pesticides, are a source of concern for the public as trace chemicals are sometimes found on the produce we purchase at the grocery store.

Bronner advocates for managing crops differently. Specifically, he favors Regenerative Organic Agriculture which supports farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, help reverse climate change, restore degraded soil biodiversity, and result in more nutritious food. “There should be a good diversity in crop rotation. Cover the soil and don’t over till. There should be no synthetic inputs,” Bronner said. He has championed the cause with farmers, business leaders, and other experts to create a Regenerative Organic Certification where farms are evaluated for soil health, animal welfare, and farmworker fairness. His mission is needed desperately “given that 75% of all land has been severely altered by human actions, as has 66% of the world’s ocean area. Ecosystems are collapsing, and biodiversity is disappearing. As many as 1 million plant and animal species (of 8 million total) are threatened with extinction, some within a few decades.” (Fareed Zakaria, 2020)

It comes as no surprise that Bronner supports the fair trade movement. He believes in “taking care of people and getting a price that enables them to take care of workers in the right way.” Dr. Bronner’s uses raw materials from certified fair trade sources in its products and is a certified fair trade company. Its ingredients are never tested on animals and the company is a certified B-corporation which legally requires the company to consider the impact of their business decisions on workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Additionally, Dr. Bronner’s eschews common ingredients used in soap-making like tallow (beef fat). Rather the company turns to hemp oil, for example, that results in better lather, greater emollience, and a higher quantity of Omega 3s. Hemp also has strong fibers and is pest resistant.

It’s hard to get your arms around everything Dr. Bronner’s does because they do so much good in the world, including embracing progressive business practices. There is no difference between the benefits offered to management than those offered to all benefit-eligible employees. And, the total compensation of the highest paid employee is capped at five times that of the lowest paid vested employee - a labor ethos that would make many businesses executives shudder. Additionally, Dr. Bronner’s makes a concerted effort to reduce their carbon footprint in manufacturing by using solar panels to generate electricity, reducing water usage, and cutting down on waste sent to landfills. And, for more than 10 years, they have used 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles for their liquid soap.

As a driver of change, David Bronner is not only concerned with the physical well-being of Earth’s inhabitants, but also their mental well-being. “Everyone is struggling with life…depression, trauma, systemic trauma,” he said. Bronner supports psychedelic-assisted therapies and plant medicines to help individuals coping with PTSD, depression, end of life anxiety, and addition. “There are lots of applications,” he said. The “Heal Soul” campaign noted on his soap bottles acknowledge that we are all grappling with dilemmas of life. Bronner wants to mainstream the conversation about these therapies and eliminate misinformation. There are trial studies for psychedelic therapies and plant medicines at esteemed institutions of higher learning such as Johns Hopkins, UCLA, and NYU. Bronner supports a variety of research institutions such as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) that conduct research and educate the public about the healing value of plant medicine.

One of Bronner’s favorite authors is futuristic writer Olaf Stapleton who wrote in his book Last and First Men, "Long before the human spirit awoke to clear cognizance of the world and itself, it sometimes stirred in its sleep, opened bewildered eyes and slept again." It is clear that Bronner does not belong to the group that slumbered. He credits family members such as his grandfather, father, and mother as being huge influential forces in his life. “I didn’t want to be a small, petty guy. I embrace infinite love and forgiveness and want to heal the stuff we do to each other,” he said. Humankind will be forever grateful for David Bronner and that he, like his grandfather, feels that it is his duty to “be generous, fair, and loving to Spaceship Earth and all of its inhabitants. For we’re All-One or None!”

Good Works Direct sincerely thanks David Bronner for such an inspirational interview. For more information on his company, please see https://www.drbronner.com .

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