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Business leaders offer insight and advice on sustainability 

John B. Repogle, CEO and president of Seventh Generation, and Brett Smith, president and founder of Counter Culture Coffee spoke to students in a panel titled “Leading in the Collaboration Economy” on April 25. 

Moderated by Raghu Tadepalli, dean of the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, the panelists offered insight and advice on how to be a 21st century leader, how to make a difference in the world through business and the importance of being a sustainable business.

Replogle is an active proponent of education and humanitarian causes, serving on the boards of Habitat for Humanity and Dartmouth College. After receiving his A.B. in government from Dartmouth, Replogle earned an M.B.A. from Harvard, graduating with distinction. He was previously president and CEO of Burt’s Bees and helped to launch the Real Beauty Campaign for Dove. His current company, Seventh Generation, is the nation’s leading brand of household and personal care products that help protect human health and the environment. Established in 1988, the Burlington, Vt., based company remains an independent, privately-held company distributing products to natural food stores, supermarkets, mass merchants and online retailers across the U.S. and Canada.

After receiving his M.B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Smith founded Counter Culture Coffee in 1995. Today the company supplies organic and conventional coffee to more than 500 clients, ranging from restaurants and coffee shops to large grocers such as Whole Foods. The company works with passion for bringing ideal coffee to their customers while being a sustainable business.

“The world is getting smaller every day,” Repogle said. “The simple truth is that what we are seeing today in the world is the manifestation of constraints.”

He stressed the large and important role that business plays in the changing world today, and said many countries are aspiring to be middle-class consumers, which will increase the demand of resources. Repogle noted how the degrading of the natural environment will continue as the world heads for a cliff and a crisis unless business steps in.

“Business has the, not a, the role to play,” he said. “Business is the most powerful force on earth.”

Regarding leadership, Repogle and Smith shared their views on how enlightened 21st century leadership is what is required to stop the economic crisis our world is facing.

“You’ve got to believe it, you’ve got to have that core purpose, that central north star that guides you so you can go out and be a 21st century leader,” Repogle said.

He and Smith agreed that you must hold yourself to be a leader that is conscious of social sustainability, has a purpose and is honest with yourself.

“I think a leadership position isn’t necessarily riding in on a white horse,” Smith said. “It’s setting the context and kind of getting out of the way. You do have to live up to what you say; you do have to be honest with yourself.”

Along with being a 21st century leader in business, the panelists offered advice as to the importance of being a sustainable business. Both Repogle and Smith agreed that a sustainable business is a successful business. Smith said that he doesn’t even consciously think about his business being sustainable, it should naturally be that way, “To me, it’s just common sense,” he said. “If you work with someone and develop strong relationships, then you have long durable, sustainable relationships. If you look at it through the lens of the social sustainability it creates a stronger business.”

In a similar sense, Repogle said in order to run a socially sustainable company, you have to have the belief that, “business and society are fundamentally linked.”  

Alyssa Baxter,
Student
5/3/2013 11:30 AM