Dr. Bronner’s Constructive Capitalism

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A leading purveyor of natural products is a force for good

There are lifelong fans of Dr. Bronner’s soaps and personal care products who swear they’re more interested in the outside of the bottle than the contents within. Read the label on Dr. Bronner’s Hemp Peppermint Pure Castile Soap and you’ll see why.

But find a comfortable, well-lighted place to do it—there’s a lot to read. Not just ingredients and directions, but quotes from the likes of Adam Smith, Mao, Jesus and Einstein, biographical details about the company’s eponymous founder, exhortations to End Factory Farming and Heal the Soil, fun facts about cocoa and soapmaking, wordy homilies about “uniting spaceship Earth” and other miscellanea. The type is tiny, the text as dense as the disclosures on a credit card statement, but you’ll get a clear sense of the company’s brand promise, values and commitment to sustainability. And, from Carpenter Group’s perspective, they are impressive indeed.

Like Amalgamated Bank and Ben & Jerry’s, both profiled in our Brand Acts of Kindness series, Dr. Bronner’s is a certified B Corporation—a designation reserved for for-profit companies that meet exacting standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. The California-based company was founded in 1948 by Emmanuel Bronner, a Jewish soapmaker who had fled Germany 20 years earlier. It remains family-owned.

Each year, the company allocates fully a third of its profits to charities and activist causes related to animal rights, fair trade practices, sustainability and social equity. “We often get told, angrily, to just stick to making soap by whoever doesn’t like the position we’re taking on a given issue,” says David Bronner, CEO (Cosmic Engagement Officer) and grandson of the founder. “But I would say overall, even people who disagree with us respect that we’re out there standing up for our beliefs.”

Senior executive salaries are capped at five times what the lowest paid workers make. In 2017, the company joined forces with Rodale Institute and Patagonia to develop the Regenerative Organic Certified label, which requires manufacturers to use only ingredients produced under conditions that protect workers’ rights, animal welfare and the environment.

It’s no surprise that the company holds itself to those same rigorous standards, sourcing materials from small-scale farms and fair trade partners all over the world—in Sri Lanka and Samoa for coconut oil, India for mint oil, Ecuador for palm kernel oil, Indonesia for coconut sugar, and Brazil for cane sugar. In the Middle East, Dr. Bronner’s buys olive oil from both Palestinian and Israeli farmers, “in honor of our Jewish ancestry and our commitment to promoting peaceful coexistence,” says CEO Bronner.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the company works with KANY, a women’s farmer cooperative comprising 160 cocoa farmers and focused on empowering women to improve their income—and their lives. In that West African nation, Dr. Bronner’s notes, “women perform about 70% of the work on cocoa farms, but receive only around 20% of the income. KANY’s unique structure allows women to profit from membership even if they don’t own the land.”

To be sure, none of these initiatives would be possible without a strong brand and a healthy bottom line. Dr. Bronner’s reported revenues of $188 million in 2020, its 10th consecutive year of growth. Emanuel Bronner believed that a company has a responsibility to “share the profits with the workers and the earth from which you made it”—an approach the company calls “constructive capitalism.” You can learn more about it on the company’s website.

Or just read the labels on their products.

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About Brand Acts of Kindness® 

Brand Acts of Kindness® is a series from Carpenter Group that spotlights companies across industries that are living their brand values in addressing the unprecedented challenges facing the world today.

The series initially headlined companies assisting healthcare workers and first responders, as well as communities, businesses and families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We also highlight brands taking the lead in supporting social and racial justice, LGBTQ rights, sustainability and the environment. Their stories show how innovation, resolve and action, built on a solid value proposition, can both strengthen a brand and help create a better world.

About Carpenter Group

Carpenter Group is an independent, woman-owned strategic branding, messaging and marketing communications firm that has delivered results-driven solutions to financial, professional services and technology firms for 30+ years.

Our broad cross-discipline experience enables us to craft brand messaging and carry it through to the channels that most effectively connect with our clients’ target audience, from editorial content to advertising to event marketing and more.