EXTENDING THE OLIVE BRANCH: A Case for Conscious Business
By Melissa E. Johnson
Dr. Bronner’s Magic “ALL-ONE”™ Raising Awareness One Bar of Soap at a Time ________________________
Everyone has been made for some particular work and the desire for that work has been put in every heart. ~Rumi
“WE’RE ALL-ONE OR NONE!” was the impassioned message from his soapbox—a message borne from a philosophy of peace, religious tolerance and unity of life—that forged a path of green entrepreneurship and, yes, peace in the Middle East, while establishing what is today one of the top-selling soaps of all time. The Man Dr. Emanuel Bronner, a third-generation German-Jewish soapmaker, immigrated to the U.S. in 1929, married his first wife and had three children in the 1930s, and began pursuing his plan for peace in the 1940s, as he set out to convince Roosevelt, Eisenhower and the American public of the dangers of Communism and Fascism, and the need to see beyond ethnic and faith-based borders to bring about true world peace. In 1945, having already gained notoriety for his seemingly wacky ravings and diatribes against the “establishment,” he was arrested while speaking without a permit at the University of Chicago and thrown into the Elgin State Insane Asylum, where he was subjected to shock treatments and persecution for his unconventional ways. He escaped three times before finally fleeing to southern California in 1947, where he found a receptive audience for his ALL-ONE message of universal peace. To be sure, Dr. Bronner was not afraid to get dirty in his move to clean up the world with his lathers of love. And by 1948, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps was a legend in the making. The Philosophy Perhaps best known for his eccentricities—particularly the Moral ABCs of his All-One-God-Faith—Dr. Bronner used the containers of his pure castile soap to advance his universal philosophy. Built around the phrase “ALL-ONE,” etched on the face of each bar of soap, the quart-sized bottles of liquid soap contain over 30,000 words spread across each label, including things like the following statements found on Dr. Bronner’s Eucalyptus blend: * He who works hard to teach the whole Human race our Eternal Father’s great All-One-God-Faith wins Eternal Life! He who does less than that perishes by half-true strife! FOR WE’RE ALL-ONE OR NONE! * I am the son of God & so are you! I am the manifestation of God’s Law & so are you! I have seen great wonders, but you shall see greater wonders! I have done good work, but you shall do better work! * Only the full-truth that we teach & give & give can grow up & on to live & live! Whatever we try to give at our deathbed or take along, it absolute certain soon is gone! EXCEPTIONS ETERNALLY? ABSOLUTE NONE! A Conscious Business is Born Some called him wacky, others called him brilliant. No matter how you label him, Dr. Bronner’s “ravings” evidence a lifetime of his efforts to distill the universal truths from every religion and philosophy of Life—truths that can be summed up in two simple phrases that form the foundation of his business model: “CONSTRUCTIVE CAPITALISM IS WHERE YOU SHARE THE PROFIT WITH THE WORKERS AND THE EARTH FROM WHICH YOU MADE IT! WE ARE ALL BROTHERS AND SISTERS AND WE SHOULD TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER AND SPACESHIP EARTH!” And we see from this philosophy, the ways in which Dr. Bronner’s team built a conscious business from the ground up, reflecting these core principles: 1. Everything is interconnected. We cannot conduct our businesses and lives in a vacuum. What we do to one affects all—directly or indirectly—reaching far and wide, like ripples in a pond. 2. To be most effective, we must know our strengths and weaknesses, and collaborate with others to provide those parts, skills or experiences that we lack, viewing new ideas as interesting and worthy of consideration even if we disagree with them. 3. Our actions, habits and attitudes impact the people and environment around us. True conscious business leaders are keenly aware of this impact and strive to incorporate that awareness into their best business practices, sharing their knowledge with others along the way. 4. Building a conscious business does not follow an all or nothing approach. The smallest steps count, and a business taking steps toward a more conscious existence may label itself so. 5. Sustainability alone does not a conscious business make. 6. Living and working with a spirit of joy and creativity rather than under pressure of fear, domination and power mongering, is the essence of personal satisfaction and a happy life, and the foundation of good business. 7. A greater self-awareness leads to more conscious communications and relations with others—all the way down the organizational totem pole—where leaders freely acknowledge the gifts and talents of those who work with them without threat or fear of losing their position within the business structure. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls this “Ubuntu,” which he defines this way:
“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
PEOPLE, PLANET, PROFIT: A Triple Bottom Line Model of Business At best, conscious business addresses a trifecta of influences: people, planet and profit. Now five generations strong, the Bronner family truly walks this talk, dedicating profits to “Human Projects” all over the Earth. “From fresh-water wells in Ghana to orphanages in Haiti and China; from helping organic farm projects . . . to fighting for organic integrity in personal care, recommercialization of industrial hemp in the U.S., and promotion of ‘Fair Trade’ certification. . . ” to helping formerly incarcerated inmates to re-integrate into society under the Fair Shake program, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap genuinely reflects what it means to be conscious in business. Let me count some of the ways . . . * Dr. Bronner’s Magic ALL-ONE™ soaps are 100% vegan, pure castile products, not tested on animals. * Not only do the soaps have an amazing lather, clean rinse and exceptional aromatherapy (I know, because I use them—I am in love with the Lavender and Eucalyptus bars), the soaps support fair trade, organic agriculture and a healthy environment. * Dr. Bronner’s is a leading advocate of the hemp industry, fighting to bring awareness to the truth about hemp and its many uses. * All paper soap labels are printed with soy ink on paper made from hempflax (10%) and post-consumer waste (90%), helping to relieve stress on our forests. * All bottles of liquid soap come in 100% post consumer recycled plastic bottles (Dr. Bronner’s was the first in the U.S. to use these containers). * You can shampoo your hair, do your dishes, wash your car & brush your teeth with this “magic soap,” making it a singular source for many needs. * The company gives away 70% of its profits to charitable causes. In fact, over the last 5 years, Dr. Bronner’s total spending on social and environmental causes comes close to the company’s total after-tax income. * Top executives have capped their salaries at no more than 5 times that of the lowest paid worker. * Each year, employees are paid an amount equal to 15% of salary into a retirement profit-sharing plan, an amount equal to up to 25% of salary as a bonus, and a no-deductible insurance plan for themselves and their families. * Further honoring the “people, planet and profit” approach, Dr. Bronner’s has consciously sourced its castile soap needs, partnering with organic farmers and workers around the world who produce their major raw materials and who also receive the benefit of fair prices, wages and funding for sustainable development projects. Today, Dr. Bronner’s imports organic olive oil from the Holy Land, organic coconut oil from Sri Lanka, and organic palm oil from Ghana—all under the Fair For Life Program, which addresses various aspects of business in granting Fair Trade certification , including: (A) overall social impact of the business, (B) environmental issues such as water conservation, energy and climate management, ecosystem and waste management; and (C) 11 categories of social issues, including: 1. Forced labor; 2. Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining; 3. Child labor; 4. Transparent and human disciplinary practices; 5. Equal treatment and opportunities; 6. Health and safety; 7. Contracts and good relations between employer and workforce; 8. Wages; 9. Working hours; 10. Social benefits; and 11. Equal treatment of different labor types. More to this point, I suggest that our case study would be incomplete without a further look at the impact of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps on the global marketplace. Extending the Olive Branch ~ A Vision of Peace in the Middle East The olive branch symbolizes peace. And in 2007 Dr. Bronner’s began importing 90% of their olive oil from Canaan Fair Trade (a trading firm founded by Palestinians who support peaceful co-existence with Israel), with the balance of olive oil coming from Sindyanna (a Fair Trade business run by Jewish and Arab women in Israel, supporting Arab-Israeli producers), and the Jewish-Israeli Strauss Family, pioneers in organic olive production—thereby blending oils from high conflict regions—a business decision that reaches beyond the scope of Fair Trade, and touches the very roots of peaceful co-existence. What They’re Saying . . . “Olives in the Middle East are being planted in land where you couldn’t have herbal crops. The idea of Dr. Bronner’s of mixing oil in order to produce a product, where the oil is coming from different sectors of people who live in Israel and the West Bank, is a great idea. I’m actually a perfect example. I was fighting, or let’s say, I was engaged in the confrontation between the Arab or the Muslim part of the Holy Land and the Jewish part, and I can tell you honestly that we have come to the conclusion that . . . unless we can find a way, not only to mix the oils but to mix our lives, there is no future for neither of us.” ~Michael Strauss, The Strauss Family Farm, Israeli Partner “The people in the United States should understand that it is not enough to say, okay, I’m for the peace, for people to live together, love together. . . it is not enough. We have to change the basics. . . the basic situation in our region. We have to give the opportunity to live in dignity and to have enough income to feed the children and give them good education. Without these basic necessities, we cannot speak about peace. And I think what Dr. Bronner’s does is showing a solution for the Middle East that comes from real economic opportunities. Peace cannot prevail without economic solutions.” ~Hadass Lahav, Sidyanna of Galilee, Arab Israeli Partner “I think blending olive oil from Palestine & Israel is a symbolic but significant contribution to promoting the concept of co-existence and cooperation in this area. We feel that supporting these farmers is particularly important also because it is quite obvious that the lack of a decent living for many people in the West Bank is one of the causes of the vicious cycle of violence and contra-violence in the area. And we’re not naïve in thinking that by purchasing some hundred tons of olive oil every year from this area will solve all the economic problems, but from our visits here and the discussions with our partners we feel very strongly that we can make a little bit of a difference in this area and help create critical mass and also set an example for farmers to find value-added markets for their products in the west, which is what we believe is very crucial to support sustainable agriculture in the West Bank and, ultimately, make a little contribution to empowerment and the move towards co-existence between Palestine and Israel.” ~Dr. Gero Leson, Director of Special Operations Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps So it was with creativity, vision and passion that Dr. Bronner started a revolution, blending his love of humanity with his love of soapmaking; advancing both a cause and a family business now more than 150 years and 5 generations in the making. And though Dr. Bronner is no longer of this world—he passed away in 1997—his legacy lives on as a model of social consciousness, reminding us again and again that, indeed: “WE’RE ALL-ONE OR NONE!” Practitioners’ Points to Ponder: 1. When advising clients on business structure and other organizational matters, how may we draw from the examples set by Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps in guiding our clients on best business practices? Is it even our place to do so? 2. As judges weighing in on business law, real estate and even white collar criminal cases, what, if anything, can you do to help steer the parties towards a more conscious business model? Can this be incorporated into final judicial decisions and sentencing guidelines? 3. As practicing lawyers, what can we do to make our business more conscious? Footnotes: 1. Visit www.drbronner.com for more history on Dr. Bronner’s philosophy, activism and product information. See, also, “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap Box Movie,” a documentary film by Sara Lamm. 2. Definition of “Ubuntu” described by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his book, No Future Without Forgiveness, first published in hardback by Trafalgar Square (October 4, 1999). 3. Ibid. 4. See Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps Fair for Life Certification report card at www.fairforlife.net. 5. Quotations taken from YouTube Video at http://www.drbronner.com/olive_oil_from_the_holyland.html. * © 2010; All Rights Reserved. Melissa is a universal lawyer, writer, photographer and artist. Read more on her blog at www.HeartLaw.blogspot.com.