Business Innovation Group (BIG)
College of Business Administration

Jeffrey Hollender brings innovation to Georgia Southern

Jeffrey Hollender (pictured left), founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, challenged the Georgia Southern University community to live a more responsible and sustainable life. Hosted by Georgia Southern’s Center for Sustainability and the Center for Entrepreneurial Learning and Leadership, Hollender spoke to Georgia Southern faculty and students Monday night to conclude the university’s second annual “No Impact Week.” Director for the Center for Sustainability Dr. Lissa Leege (also pictured left) introduced Hollender.

No Impact Week was dedicated to educating students and the community on how to lessen their impact on the environment. With each day dedicated to a specific issue, events were hosted around campus to illustrate simple ways people can help the environment.

Hollender has been a leading authority on corporate responsibility, sustainability and social equity. His involvement with Seventh Generation helped develop the company into the nation’s leading brand of household and personal care products that help protect human health and the environment. Hollender has also authored six books which demonstrate his passion for changing the negative impact that industry has had on the environment and society. Hollender is currently the founder of Jeffrey Hollender Partners, a business strategy consulting firm, and continues to challenge business leaders to think about the role their companies play in society.

Hollender’s lecture focused on his critical view of the world and the challenges he feels society is facing today. He began by asking the audience, “Does anyone know what the most trusted profession in the U.S. is today?” When he received no response, Hollender then asked, “Does anyone know the least?” After a few comical shout-outs, Hollender revealed the answer to be corporate CEO’s.

Hollender referenced the recent success of U.S. corporations which has resulted in more money and profit than ever before. Nevertheless, it is no secret that only one percent of the population currently controls about 50 percent of the financial wealth. Like many other Americans, Hollender believes this creates a problem. “I worry about our society when wealth becomes the focal point,” said Hollender. “I don’t think it’s good for society or for business.”

According to Hollender, the U.S. society is currently facing many challenges, many of which were a result from the previous generations. “It all comes down to a problem with the way we designed the system,” Hollender said. “I worry that in some ways it encourages wrong behavior that creates social and entrepreneurial challenges that we are now facing.”

This “system” is the way society is organized and governed said Holender. He listed a few examples of concern he finds with this system including:  corporate taxes and personal taxes. According to Hollender, the reality is that most small and medium size businesses pay taxes at a rate of 30 to 35 percent while other large companies pay almost nothing. “Last year, General Electric was just one of these companies that did not pay a dime,” Hollender said. “Quite frankly, I just don’t think this is fair.”

Like corporate taxes, Hollender finds problems with personal taxes as well. He mentioned Warren Buffett’s opinion article in the New York Times that sparked much controversy over tax rates. Buffet’s article criticized the U.S. tax system for charging middle-class Americans with a substantially higher tax rate than his own. Hollender, like Buffet, pays a significantly lower rate than most Americans. “I just don’t think it’s fair that people like me don’t have to pay their fair share,” said Hollender.

Although Hollender mentioned on these two subjects, his real concern is with the current trajectory of society. He feels that our society has patterns and habits that encourage negative behavior. “What I worry about is that although we are doing new things, all of things don’t add to enough change quick enough,” Hollender said. “That is really part of my message tonight. We have to do more, and do more quicker. We need to look at our system and figure out how to change it.”

One of the ways Hollender is working to change the system is through the Evergreen Project  in Cleveland, Oh. The project is a partnership between several Cleveland neighborhoods and some of the city’s most significant institutions. “Evergreen’s employee-owned, for-profit companies are based locally and hire locally,” Hollender said. “The project works to create meaningful green jobs and keep financial resources within the community.”  Because the project has been so successful, there are even plans to create the same type of program in Bronx, N.York.

Hollender closed by encouraging students to take action. “At the end of the day, the effort to put us on a positive trajectory rests in your hands with your choices,” Hollender said. “If you keep thinking of ways in which you can make a positive difference- it will happen. We can change the trajectory we’re on and no one but you will enable that to happen.”

Several Georgia Southern students found inspiration in Hollender’s words. Sophomore pre-business major John Elliott attended Hollender’s lecture and found it to be “informative.” Elliott, one day hoping to become a businessman himself, said he plans to incorporate a lot of Hollender’s ideals and values.

Junior marketing major Joanna Harber also attended the lecture and admired Hollender’s focus on community. “One thing that America doesn’t do any more is that it really doesn’t look at values- it looks at value,” said Harber. “That’s one thing that I really liked about him- he doesn’t look at America that way.”

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