Seventh Generation to sell its products at Walmart: Has Hell frozen over?

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Eco-friendly brand Seventh Generation is coming to Walmart stores, and the move is raising more than a few eyebrows. Particularly since Seventh Generation's co-founder Jeffrey Hollender (pictured) had declared his products would be in Walmart stores "when hell freezes over."

Consider it frozen.

"In a few weeks, our products will appear in Walmart stores around the country and on Walmart.com... I say that knowing that a lot of people, some of them among our most loyal long-time customers, will raise an eyebrow (at least!) at this news," Hollender writes in a blog. "Walmart, as we know, has a notoriously checkered corporate past and there aren't many neutral opinions where the company is concerned. Its reputation hasn't been great, often deservedly so, and many, including myself, assumed that Seventh Generation and Walmart would never have any relationship. But you can't see into the future, and it's always subject to change."

In August, Walmart will start carrying a variety of Seventh Generation's cleaning products including laundry detergent, dish soap, disinfecting wipes and all purpose sprays. An expanded assortment of products, including baby diapers and wipes, will roll out on Walmart.com in September.

Seventh Generation has long sold its line of environmentally-friendly household cleaning products at stores like Target and Whole Foods. And after 20 years, it's finally ready to embrace Walmart and the millions of shoppers it attracts each day.

"From rural outposts to inner cities, we'll get much closer to fulfilling our mission to help all consumers protect the planet and themselves from harm," writes Hollender. Plus, he says, Walmart has made great strides in its sustainability initiatives, in many ways earning the right to partner with Seventh Generation.

That's right, the pairing of Seventh Generation and Walmart is being billed as a partnership.

"Seventh Generation and Walmart will collectively encourage families to live better through concrete expressions of education to nearly three and a half million consumers through initiatives such as Walmart's mom bloggers, Facebook and the 7GenBlog," Walmart says in a statement. "This is designed to give customers the tools and information they need to lead a healthier and more environmentally friendly lifestyle."

Hollender isn't the first environmental activist to embrace Walmart. In 2005, Adam Werbach helped champion Walmart's environmental efforts to howls of disbelief. Werbach once served as president of the Sierra Club -- a group typically at odds with Walmart.

But the retailer has made great strides in the realm of sustainability, setting lofty goals that go beyond using recycled packaging and reducing energy costs, although it has done both. Walmart has effectively "greened" its supply chain by doing everything from developing warehouses powered by geothermal energy to changing the way a product is packed for shipping, to using less fuel. The list of achievements, accomplished or still being met, is long indeed.

The cynics out there might think that Walmart is only doing this because there's something in it for them, and they would be right. It is good business to spend less on packaging, power and shipping. It offers marketing opportunities and the ability to foster some rare good will. For all its flaws, the impact of Walmart is undeniable. Why not use its size for good?

As Hollender says: "But while the smiley-faced giant continues to give us much to frown over, it's an undeniable fact that Wal-Mart is changing in a very big way."
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