Michael Bronner is President of Dr. Bronner’s, the grandson of company founder, Emanuel Bronner, and a fifth-generation soap maker. A philanthropist and activist, Michael is an advocate for many social and environmental justice causes advanced by the company, including Fair Trade, organic standards, farm animal protection and ocean conservation and we got to speak to him when he was in Singapore earlier this year.
LC: How does Dr. Bronner’s continue to be relevant in this day and age?
MB: In a way, we have always been ahead of the times. When my grandfather started making our soap in 1948, most people were not interested in a simple ecological soap, but rather wanted detergents made with all kinds of “new and improved” chemicals. It wasn’t until 20 years later with the rise of the “Hippie Movement” that people were looking for more natural body care products. My grandfather became a pioneer in this developing industry since he and his family had been making these products for such a long time.
We have continued to innovate and were the first to become organic certified to organic food standards in 2003. Then in 2007, we became fair trade certified, as well.
As time goes on, more and more people are learning about the importance of organic body care. They are also becoming more concerned about using body care products with ingredients they cannot pronounce, that may be derived from petrochemical synthetics. And, they are also investigating what the values are of the companies behind the products they purchase. Thus, our brand is more relevant now than ever, and is growing more relevant year by year.
LC: Is Dr. Bronner’s involved in any social and environmental sustainability activities? if so, what are they?
Social responsibility is a core part of the principles that guide our company, what we call our “Cosmic Principles.” The Cosmic Principles that underscore Dr. Bronner’s commitment to social responsibility include: Work Hard! Grow; Do Right By Customers; Treat Employees Like Family; Be Fair to Suppliers; Fund & Fight for what’s Right.
Our environmental commitment is captured in another of our Cosmic Principles: Treat the Earth Like Home! Everyone needs soap, so we’ve made it our mission to make the best, most ecologically and socially responsible soap possible and use our profits to help make a better world. In 2018 we contributed $8.4 million to charitable causes, ranging from animal advocacy, environmental and social justice, child and youth services and community betterment.
When we first committed to becoming fair trade certified and organic certified, many of the ingredients in our soap could not be sourced at the scale needed via existing fair trade organic supply chains. So, we decided to invest in small scale farmers and producers and help them make the switch to fair trade and organic models.
This year, we’ve focused on raising awareness of Regenerative Organic Agriculture through our global “Heal Earth” campaign, which includes setting up a regenerative organic agriculture accreditation standard. We recognize the importance of our small-scale farming partners using regenerative organic agricultural practices to increase soil fertility and revitalize farming communities in making the ingredients of our famous soap! We hope that through educational events, in-store demonstrations and promotions, product giveaways, and social media campaigns, we can educate the public about the collective need to “Heal Earth!”
We take pride in making soap from all-natural plant derived ingredients, and in ensuring our products are made without animal testing – thus not contributing to unnecessary suffering. In a consumer-economy, the individual choices we make around what we buy and don’t buy, what we choose to eat, and what we choose to leave off our plates have real collective consequences for the planet, for animals, and for human health. We have deep respect for vegans and other people who strive to make daily choices that are consistent with their desire to live in a compassionate, socially and environmentally conscious way.
LC: What is your personal favorite product from the brand?
Eucalyptus Pure-Castile Liquid Soap is hands down my favorite. When I was a teenager dealing with acne, before we had developed our Tea Tree formula, it was Eucalyptus that cleared my skin. It is also great for wellness during seasonal changes and I love the way breathing in the organic essential oils of Eucalyptus soothes my sinuses when using it, especially when the air is irritating.
LC: When you travel, do you take a travel kit of Dr. Bronner’s products along with you? If so, what products can you not leave home without?
One of the best qualities about our products is that they have multiple uses. Having the following in a travel kit covers much of my hygiene needs: a travel size of the Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap for cleansing and cleaning in at least 18 different ways, should the occasion call for it; Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lip Balm for healing dry skin wherever needed, including cuticles and under eyes; and Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Organic Hand Sanitizer, which is very helpful when access to water is limited.
LC: At Christmas and birthdays, are all your gifts to friends and family from Dr. Bronner’s range of skincare products? What usually makes the best gift?
For my wedding, I developed a new scent of soap, Sandalwood-Jasmine, for my wife, which we gave away as wedding favors to our guests. The feedback we received from those we shared it with was so positive, they encouraged us to consider releasing it through Dr. Bronner’s. It is now available in some parts of Asia, and as limited release in select markets. We hope to be able to offer it in Singapore sometime soon!
While of course Dr. Bronner’s products make excellent gifts for nearly every occasion, I do try to get my loved ones what they ask for.
LC: Have consumers’ shopping preferences and choices changed in recent years? How does this affect Dr. Bronner’s?
More customers are willing to pay more for products that align with their values, are good for the planet, and their bodies. They also have become far more savvy at reading labels, and know when a claim is real or just marketing fluff.
Customers are growing tired of empty marketing campaigns and ingredients they cannot pronounce. They are becoming more educated about what is good for their skin, and about exactly what companies are doing to contribute to a better world. We continue to live by the values and principles of my grandfather, and more and more people are appreciating us for it.
LC: What is the secret to the effectiveness of Dr. Bronner’s multi-tasking castile soaps, and how are they better for the skin/hair compared to the regular bar and liquid soaps in the market?
Simple organic ingredients and a pure, highly-concentrated formula. There is nothing as elegant as a well-crafted soap made from organic coconut, olive and jojoba oils, without any synthetic foaming agents, preservatives or surfactants. And we have had over 160 years of soap making experience to perfect the formula.
Our soaps are organic to the food standard in America. That means that they are certified as if they were a soup that you would eat (I don’t advise that you eat our soap). Organic ingredients are important in our skin care products because our skin absorbs everything. It is not only what we swallow that is important, but what we put on our bodies. It is no secret that a nicotine patch works solely by transdermal absorption. Additionally, given enough time garlic sliced open and placed on the wrist will be smelled on the breath, and peppermint oil rubbed on the feet will be tasted on the tongue. Therefore, it is imperative that what people apply to their bodies is what they actually want in their bodies. Organic materials guarantee that no pesticides or genetically-engineered ingredients have been used in their cultivation or processing and thus won’t end up in our bodies.
As for the functionality of the soaps, they are clinically proven to improve hydration, remove dead skin cells, tighten pores, and maintain sebum levels. The ample foam created by organic olive oil and coconut oil smoothly controls sebum levels in pores as well as removes dead skin cells. Jojoba oil supplies hydration and nutrients to the skin, therefore, leaving your skin healthy and resilient. Different essential oils are better for different types of skin: the peppermint is better on oily skin, the lavender on combination skin, and the baby on dry skin, for example. When determining what is the best product for you, I think it matters more what kind of skin you have than other factors.
LC: Name a pet peeve?
Somewhere along the way in recent years, there has been this idea that soap isn’t good enough. The myth persists that only potent, synthetic antibacterial agents are legitimate cleansers and soap simply isn’t as effective.
The idea that soap doesn’t clean well is unfounded. Terms such as “antibacterial” actually have carefully regulated definitions. “Antibacterial” means that the product must kill 99.9% of germs. The term “disinfectant” means that the product must kill a mere 99% of germs. Dr. Bronner’s soap is part of the “disinfectant” category because it is a natural “surfactant” that removes all manner of germs and bacteria, as well as dirt and grease from any surface. Soap effectively cleans counters, cutting boards, sinks, door knobs, your body, etc.
In contrast to soap and other surfactants, antibacterial agents kill germs, but do not remove them, and they do so with chemicals that are known to have hormone-disrupting effects on our bodies and have the potential to create antibiotic-resistant superbugs that can spread disease. Saying it another way, they kill but do not clean. Antibacterial hand cleansers or washes may also contain some soap or detergent that would then remove the dead germs, but soap would have removed them anyways. True soap will clean effectively and safely!
LC: What makes castile soap so special?
The beauty of the Castile soap is its simplicity. And it is this very simplicity that makes the Pure-Castile soap so very versatile.
Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid soap is an extremely simple, plant-based soap. It was my grandfather’s original, and if you have only heard of one Dr. Bronner’s product, it is probably the castile soap in the Peppermint scent. Its method of reacting oils with a strong alkali is millennia old. The art of creating the perfect castile soap lies in the choice and balance of oils as well as other processing methods. When you have the perfect castile soap, it is the most versatile cleaning agent possible. If you had to choose only one cleaning product for every aspect of your life, Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile soap is it.
LC: Could you share a skincare and hair care tip with the readers?
Using Dr. Bronner’s soap is as effective and efficient as using the concentrated formula – a little goes a long way and you only need a few drops to clean yourself from head to toe, so be sure to dilute the formula. There is really no soap that feels so good, treats your skin so well, and leaves your mind and spirt so refreshed as ours