Lending a (Clean) Hand During the COVID-19 Crisis
April 1, 2020
This article was created in partnership with Dr. Bronner’s.
B Corp Dr. Bronner’s Maintains Strong Focus on Employees, Customers and Environment Amid Market Demands
When “Wash your hands” became one of the strong messages for preventing the spread of coronavirus, the country and the world experienced a surge in demand for soap, hand sanitizer, and other cleaning products as people moved to protect themselves and their families. Many manufacturers of those products stepped up production to help customers stay safe while also making changes to protect their workers.
One Certified B Corporation in the thick of the pandemic’s economic impact is Dr. Bronner’s, a family-owned business that produces the top-selling soap in the U.S. natural marketplace. Known for its signature pure castile soap and colorful packaging, Dr. Bronner’s also is an environmental leader that has adopted regenerative agriculture practices throughout its supply chain.
The company has long operated with a stakeholder governance model, prioritizing its employees by offering benefits including 100% paid health insurance and child-care reimbursement. Dr. Bronner’s also uses an executive compensation cap so its owners and highest-paid executives do not make more than five times what the lowest-paid fully vested full-time employee makes, and builds a better life for the people in its supply chain and communities through purchasing organic, fair trade raw materials and donating approximately a third of profits to charitable and activist causes.
But COVID-19 presented new, immediate challenges for Dr. Bronner’s supply chain and for the B Corp’s commitment to the safety and well-being of its more than 250 workers. The company must balance providing an essential item to the public to help prevent further spread of the virus while continuing to support the livelihoods of the people and communities in its global supply chain and protect its employees.
Darcy Shiber-Knowles, Director of Operational Sustainability and Innovation at Dr. Bronner’s, says all office employees and others who could work from home were asked to do so. But production workers were needed more than ever. She points to the message that company leaders David and Michael Bronner shared in their online COVID-19 update: “Soap and hand sanitizer are essential tools to help keep COVID-19 from spreading and help maintain public health, and for this reason and others, we believe it is important to continue manufacturing our products for as long as we are able to safely do so.”
To boost production and fulfillment to meet the growing demand for soap and cleaning products while also reducing the number of people working closely at a given time, Dr. Bronner’s implemented new work and break schedules for warehouse, shipping and production employees, as well as a split work shift schedule for production employees, Shiber-Knowles says. But the move to increase production has already created some ripple effects throughout the supply chain, she says, especially given the B Corp’s focus on regenerative practices and packaging, including its bottles made of 100% post-consumer recycled plastic.
“We have enough raw materials to continue to produce at these heightened levels for several months,” Shiber-Knowles says. “Our packaging is the challenge. We have a few different bottle suppliers and a couple just happened to be a bit behind, which is part of normal business, so we had to order different bottles for a short time. But given everything, we’ve been able to ramp up fairly well.”
Dr. Bronner’s also is looking out for the health of its community by donating 2% of its hand sanitizer production to organizations that serve unhoused, low-income, and other at-risk people and communities in major cities and high-risk areas, including San Diego, New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. “We are continuing to work with advocates and service providers to get our products in the hands of those who need them most during this public health crisis,” David and Michael Bronner said in their online message.
The Bronners also set a cap on the size of website orders and asked customers to buy only what they need, so that others who need the products also are able to get them: “This is an important time to remember that we are all connected and need to look out for each other, now more than ever.”
The connections among business, environment, and people are top of mind for Shiber-Knowles and others at Dr. Bronner’s, who have moved beyond sustainability to incorporate regenerative practices that enhance rather than sap the Earth’s resources. To build on the B Corp value of long-term concern for all stakeholders, including people and planet, Dr. Bronner’s has been a climate action leader at its facilities and in the marketplace.
As part of her role at the B Corp, Shiber-Knowles spearheaded Dr. Bronner’s shift to 100% renewable energy. That shift began with a solar power installation on carports in the parking lots at its corporate headquarters in Vista, California.
“This was a great solution that provides shade for employee’s cars while allowing us to generate solar power for our plant, and our solar-powered system was installed in conjunction with native drought-tolerant landscaping to reduce our water use,” she says. “It’s a triple win.”
Because the solar installation generates 40% of Dr. Bronner’s power needs, the B Corp explored other renewable energy options, including a program called EcoChoice offered through San Diego Gas & Electric, the local power provider.
“That program allows customers to purchase up to 100% verified renewable power from the grid for a small premium,” Shiber-Knowles says. “The money from the premium goes to support the construction of more local solar and wind projects. So it was a total no-brainer for us to start participating in Eco-Choice.”
The third component of Dr. Bronner’s renewable energy mix is renewable energy certificates purchased from a community supported solar project developed by B Corp One Energy Renewables and Organic Valley. Dr. Bronner’s purchases certificates for solar energy generated by installations on a rural Midwest farm, where the landowner commits to growing organically managed pollinator habitat underneath the new solar panels.
“The landowner makes money by renting his land for the project, and the cost of power goes down for the whole community,” Shiber-Knowles says. “Additionally, there are great environmental benefits: We’re increasing the amount of renewable energy powering these farms and rural communities, while increasing pollinator habitat in the agricultural belt of our country.”
To connect with the broader B Corp community, Shiber-Knowles is part of the B Corp Climate Collective focusing on business action to address the climate crisis. Formed in February 2019, the B Corp Climate Collective has eight action groups, with a steering committee that includes Shiber-Knowles.
“The climate crisis is too big and too complex for any one person, one approach, one company or one industry to solve on its own,” she says. “But done right, business has the power to transform our world in extraordinary and positive ways. So, working and learning together with other B Corps to address the climate crisis is a crucial, timely, and thrilling part of Dr. Bronner’s commitment to ‘Treat the Earth Like Home,’ one of our cosmic principles.”
By sharing online resources and other information, the B Corp Climate Collective provides a roadmap that B Corps and other businesses can use to help alleviate the climate crisis, with a focus on accelerating carbon reduction and developing a net zero emissions plan.
Sign Up for our B The Change Newsletter
Read stories on the B Corp Movement and people using business as a force for good. The B The Change Newsletter is sent weekly on Fridays.