Next to Godliness

Visionary soap maker Dr. Emanuel Bronner wanted to save Spaceship Earth one shower at a time. His son is still trying.

This article was excerpted from the January 2001 issue of the Sun Magazine with kind permission of the editors and the author.

Corporations come and go. Some fail to grow fast enough and die. Others spread like giant blobs in bad science-fiction movies. But the company that makes Dr. Bronner's Soap is different. Certainly, the $7 million business could expand. Corporations in Sweden, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Japan have offered to import the all-natural, inexpensive soap known for its thick lather. Big chain stores have asked to sell it, using their private labels.

But the answer is always no. The family behind Dr. Bronner's wants to stay small and honor the message on its label, which includes words from many of the world's great religions and philosophers. Staying small and honoring the message means remaining family owned and family run. It means making and packaging a pure castile soap in factories where no harm is done to the environment. It means keeping the same employees for twenty years or longer with out-of-the-ordinary pay, benefits, and profit sharing.

That famous label, the hallmark of a soap favored by back-to-the-land pioneers and fashion models alike, contains the "Moral ABC" of Dr. Emanuel Bronner.


The company's founder, Dr. Emanuel Bronner, also believed in sharing profits with what he called "Spaceship Earth," borrowing Buckminster Fuller's term. The company once donated a thousand-acre rain forest worth more than $1 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs. Over the years, it has funded an orphanage in China, a chemistry lab in a Mexican school, freshwater wells in Ghana, homes for special children, college scholarships in foreign affairs, and homeless shelters.

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Gail Grenier Sweet
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