A group of Naturally San Diegans got a behind the scenes tour of Dr. Bronner’s. Keep reading to learn about our contact-high.
“It’s just soap.”
“How can a company that sells just soap be worth hundreds of millions of dollars?”
For one, it’s not just soap (try it out and then let’s talk 😉) and Dr. Bronner’s has recently taken their world-renowned regenerative business model into another product category altogether – chocolate. Talk about a sharp left turn! Keep reading to understand why this isn’t as wild a pivot as it sounds…
Dr. Bronner’s, a company notoriously grounded in sustainability, policy advocacy, and employee well-being, recently opened the doors of its headquarters in Vista, CA to a group of lucky members of Naturally San Diego. This radical and trailblazing company proves that business can (and must) be a force for good.
As we entered the facility, we were greeted by an electrifying energy that reflected the passion and dedication of the founding family and the current visionaries: the Bronner brothers, David and Michael.
Guiding us through the operations tour was the charismatic David Bronner himself – grandchild of Emanuel Bronner and current company Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO)💫. But this tour was far from ordinary. David surprised us with an impromptu dance break, which brought smiles all around. We even got a sneak peek at a 14-foot handmade dragon-like creature that may make an appearance at this year’s Burning Man festival, a testament to Dr. Bronner’s creativity and connection to art and culture. For employees of Dr. Bronner’s, dance parties and magic school buses are just part of an average day at work.
As we toured the manufacturing floor, we were struck by the incredible community culture Dr. Bronner’s has built. Mission driven from the beginning, the company today is still driven by promoting its values and spreading soap, love, and joy – and joy is clear in the eyes of everyone we saw on our tour. As David walked the floor, he stopped and greeted countless employees and knew them all by name – not customary for a CEO of 300 employees.
The Bronner brothers (tie-dye clad graduates from Harvard and Brown) bring their different areas of passion to the business. David often focuses on advocacy and philanthropy, while Michael pushes the company’s international expansion. “We complement each other well” said David with a smirk. Does this mean David has been known to get arrested at the White House while advocating for legalizing industrial hemp, while Michael oversees the international marketing of the story? Perhaps 😏.
While they both uphold and advance in their own ways the future of the ‘All-One’ vision that founder Emanuel set multiple generations ago, Dr. Bronner’s as a whole has also managed to retain many of the qualities and values of a small family-operated business while becoming a recognized brand across a world. Dr. Bronner’s defies the boundaries of innovation and sustainability. Just last year, they introduced their in partnership with Jimbo’s Carmel Valley, reducing packaging waste and supporting local natural grocers.
This week, Dr. Bronner’s launched carton refills that reduce plastic waste by over 80%.
“We didn’t know how much time it would take and how much money it would cost…if we did, we may not have done it… but that delusion is the key to our success.” (David Bronner referring to the company’s success in setting a new industry standard of quality, efficiency, sustainability and innovation by vertically integrating oil refining.
Their commitment to ethical, sustainable practices and high-quality products is everywhere we looked, exemplified by a few remarkable, often unseen details we learned about on our tour:
- The procurement team sources olive oil from Muslim, Hebrew, and Christian family and cooperative farms across Palestine and Israel, and blends the oils for use in soap; demonstrating and fostering peace and cooperation through fair trade business.
- The manufacturing site in Vista, CA, is a model of vertical integration and sustainability, implementing practices across the operation to minimize waste, water use, emissions, packaging, and energy use and demonstrate how to set up a regenerative food forest and 100% Green Power in North County.
- Dr. Bronner’s soap bottles have been made of 100% post-consumer recycled plastic for over 20 years, a testament to their leadership and dedication to the circular economy.
- Their highly concentrated soaps can be diluted for many different purposes without losing effectiveness, encouraging customers to use less and minimize waste.
- Approximately 40% of profits each year (millions of dollars a year) are dedicated to philanthropic and activist causes around the world. Naturally San Diego is fortunate to be one such recipient 💚.
- The owners have capped their salaries and those of all highest paid executives at five times that of the lowest paid fully vested employee, and benefits and bonuses are the same for all full time employees regardless of position in the company. This structural limit on executive compensation means that the profits of the company are shared and used to reinvest in the business and advance important philanthropic and activist causes, not line the pockets of the leaders.
Dr. Bronner’s commitment to their employees is more than just the words they espouse in the ‘Cosmic Principle’ of “treat employees like family”. Every individual is treated with respect and receives a living wage, the same benefits as C-Suite execs, and annual bonuses. Their dedication to equitable compensation is held accountable with no owner or executive earning more than five times the salary of the lowest-paid employee. They even provide unique benefits like employer-funded ketamine assisted therapy, free organic vegan lunches onsite daily, free work-out classes, and a childcare reimbursement stipend of $7,500 per year.
The company’s impact extends far beyond their operations. Dr. Bronner’s supports fair trade relationships with farmers in their supply chains, ensuring community development, safe working conditions, fair compensation and promoting regenerative farming practices for the agricultural materials used to make their products. They actively use their labels and social media platforms for activism and advocacy, raising awareness about a wide range of social and environmental issues.
Environmental stewardship is at the core of Dr. Bronner’s mission. At their near zero-waste to landfill manufacturing site, they demonstrate renewable energy use, water conservation techniques, and sustainable packaging solutions so that other companies can follow suit without doing the R&D. Their transparency and accountability is evident in their detailed public information about sourcing, manufacturing processes, and supply chain, as well as their philanthropic efforts.
The Magic All-One Chocolate line was even born out of the desire to uplift farmers in their supply chain – the same farmers growing regenerative organic palm in Ghana for the company’s bar soap were also growing regenerative cacao alongside the palm in ‘agroforestry’ systems. Their organic, fair trade and vegan Magic All-One Chocolate presented an opportunity to invest even more resources into transparent, ethical supply chains, and regenerative organic farming practices that help mitigate climate change.
Dr. Bronner’s extraordinary achievements serve as an inspiration to businesses worldwide. By challenging the status quo and using business as a force for good, they have set a new standard for sustainability, community engagement, and employee well-being – especially for an operation of this scale producing upwards of 12,000 gallons of liquid soap a DAY and counting. They demonstrate that a better future for people and the planet is possible, and businesses must play a crucial role in achieving it.
Check out more of the local and global impact by Dr. Bronner’s in their All-One Report here.
And remember, it costs nothing to dream big and everything not to.