Behind the Label: Heal Earth!

Ever read the Dr. Bronner’s soap labels?  

Our founder Emanuel Bronner was on a mission to “Unite the whole Human Race! For we’re All-One or None! 
 Exceptions eternally? Absolute None!” Emanuel’s parents were murdered in the holocaust, and with the rise of the nuclear war machine, Emanuel saw clearly that if we did not unite a global human race, we would all perish from these urgent existential threats. A third-generation soapmaker, Emanuel used his soap labels to help spread this message, what he called the Moral ABC.

Dr. Bronner’s continues to use our soaps as our biggest megaphone to amplify important causes, and today our world faces a new existential threat: runaway climate change. At Dr. Bronner’s we are committed to treating Spaceship Earth like home. We look to regenerative organic (RO) agriculture as a leading solution to the climate crisis, in addition to other sustainability initiatives.

Throughout this article, we’ll dig into how Dr. Bronner’s is supporting healthy climate action by diving into our limited edition Heal Earth! label and expanding on the important solutions presented there. We’ll also share ideas and resources so you can help make a difference! Join us in the movement—Heal Earth!

The Earth needs our love & care! 

Industrial agriculture has clearcut forests, and plows through and destroys our life-giving soils. Healthy soils are miraculous living membranes that store carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and other essential nutrients as well as water. Healthy soils act as a “medicine cabinet” to keep plants healthy and pests at bay. The overuse of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, intensive plowing, failure to cover resting soil with fertility-building cover crops, and overgrazing all destroy soil health and release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

Regenerative organic agriculture is a set of methods that builds rich soil, sequesters carbon, retains and stores water—which in turn mitigates flood, drought and erosion. It closes the nutrient cycle, grows healthy food, creates and protects biodiverse habitat for wildlife, while mitigating catastrophic climate change on Spaceship Earth! RO focuses on restoring soil health, first through the principle of “do no harm.” In agriculture, this means protecting the soil and environment from toxic agricultural chemicals like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that pollute land and waterways, poison wildlife and kill soil’s life-giving microbiome. USDA organic serves as the baseline for Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) farms and products.

Another way that RO agriculture does no harm is to reduce tillage of the soil. Tilling rips into the Earth to tear out unwanted plants and opens earth as a tactic for new planting. Unfortunately tilling also rips through microrrhizal networks—the microscopic fungal networks that feed, nourish and protect plants—like a world-wide-web for the soil and plant-kingdom. Tilling also exposes soil to water and wind erosion, releasing carbon into waterways and the atmosphere. No- or low-till practices helps protect soil health and keep carbon in the ground.

RO ag goes several steps beyond do-no-harm and includes giving back to the land as well. In the case of tree crops, dynamic agroforestry is a way to restore the health of an area and increase biodiversity by the intercropping of other tree, and perennial and annual under-story species. Agroforestry projects are designed to mimic natural forests—with multiple plant species providing nutrients and relational benefits (like shade from direct sunlight) to their neighbor species. This type of system diversifies farmers’ income streams, helping them be less dependent on a single crop for their livelihood. It also supports closed-loop nutrient cycling, so chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not necessary.

Other RO practices benefitting tree crops, perennial and annual crops alike include:

  • Mulching – the application of unprocessed plant matter to cover the ground and protect otherwise bare soil from wind & water erosion while also returning carbon and other nutrients to the soil through decomposition
  • Compost – prepared from a variety of organic matter—like food scraps, plant debris, coffee grinds, egg shells, etc.—and inoculated with soil microbes to digest the organic matter into a simple, nutrient-dense, soil-like material (often called humus) to spread on crops in place of fertilizers
  • Cover crops– a critical component of RO agriculture, cover crops are planted when cash crops (or the main crop a farmer is growing for income) are not in season. Cover crops are often “nitrogen fixers” such as legumes (beans); these special verdant friends are unique because their roots form relationships with bacteria that transform soil nitrogen into a form plants can use. Without nitrogen in the soil a plant’s ability to grow is limited. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are the number one cause of marine dead zones due to agricultural run-off into waterways, so nitrogen-fixing cover crops are an essential way to provide risk-free nutrients back to soil.

How can you make a difference?

Team up with reforestation efforts like Grow Ahead and Generation Now. Support politicians and policy measures advancing regenerative organic agriculture, family farms, soil health, and the reduction of chemically-intensive farming practices that emit greenhouse gases and contribute to climate change. Get involved in your local politics and good food purchasing programs to influence change in your own backyard. Participate in local, state and national elections—Vote! Vote! Vote!

We are all animals of this Earth. 

Eating is a profoundly personal choice. “We are what we eat” is not just an axiom; our eating choices—and needs and limitations—are embedded in every cell of our body. While it is not practical or possible for everyone to eliminate animal products from their diets, studies have shown the single-most impactful thing a person can do to help combat climate change is to eat a plant-based diet.

Today, citizens of most wealthy countries can eat like kings with the easy access to cheap meat, cheese, dairy and egg products made possible by the industrialization of agriculture. Chemical-, carbon-, and water-intensive GMO corn and soy—grown on hundreds-of-thousands of monocropped acreage across swiftly degrading agricultural land—are combined with farmed fish-meal and other anomalies, then fed to livestock. Most livestock are brought to slaughter-weight in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) where the animals stand in their own waste, have no access to pasture land, and cannot socially distance if disease is spreading around. This is an environmental and ethical disaster that inefficiently converts plants into animal protein and calories. A (non-processed) plant-based diet, on the other hand, is a single-step conversion that transforms solar energy into edible calories through the process of photosynthesis. We would have no shortage of calories to feed the global population a regenerative organic diet if we all switched to primarily eating plants.

How can you make a difference?

Eat more plant-based meals. Try cutting back on the amount of animal products you eat, and be sure to choose only grass-fed, pasture-raised products when you do eat meat, dairy or eggs. Support the Center for Good Food Purchasing to drive sustainable purchasing choices in public institutions. Learn more about our food system by reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. Look for Regenerative Organic Certified products that ensure 5 freedoms for farmed animals—freedom from discomfort, freedom from fear & distress, freedom from hunger, freedom from pain-injury-disease, freedom to express normal behaviors—ensures animals are grass-fed and pastured-raised (No CAFOs!), have suitable shelter and minimal transport distances. Boycott “bad meat”, and when in doubt, eat plant-based meals.

Love your Farmer!

Farming is holy work. Agricultural systems are the backbone of every civilization, and farmers and farm workers deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity. Sadly, farmers and farm workers are often marginalized and exploited, lacking economic security.

For decades, the policy- and market-driven corporate consolidation of agriculture has pushed farmers off their land and converted small-scale family farmers into mega-corporations and multi-thousand acre monocropped plantations doused in agricultural chemicals. Farmers lose their livelihoods, and human and environmental health suffers. Worldwide, commodity crop prices for staples like rice, wheat and corn are controlled and kept artificially low compared to true production costs. Small-scale family farmers—while producing approximately 70% of the world’s food on only 30% of the world’s farmland—are left vulnerable and forced to compete in sellers’ markets against mega-farms, often without the security of long-term business relationships.

But  domestic and international trade does not have to be this way. Worldwide, the fair trade movement has gained hard-won victories in protecting farmer and farm worker rights, with the best cases ensuring:

  • long-term direct trading relationships
  • payment of fair prices
  • no child, forced or otherwise exploited labor
  • workplace non-discrimination, gender equity, and freedom of association
  • democratic & transparent organizations
  • safe working conditions & reasonable working hours
  • investment in community development projects
  • environmental sustainability
  • traceability and transparency

How can you make a difference?

Farming is activism! How we treat the soil, water, plants, animals, & workers is a political act that can create expanding circles of health and justice. Support your local and regional farmers by shopping at farmers markets and co-operative and independently-owned grocery stores. Sign up for a CSA (community-supported agriculture) box today! Watch this inspiring video about Soul Fire Farm in NY—an incredible example of what our food systems could look like. And remember, No Farms = No Food.

Cooling the Climate Crisis

Dr. Bronner’s is committed to obtaining Regenerative Organic Certification for all our major ingredients. We are also committed to becoming climate positive by 2025. This means our business operation will sequester more carbon than is emitted, on an annual basis.

How will Dr. Bronner’s achieve this?

  • Send near-zero waste to landfill
  • Power our factory with 100% renewable energy
  • Prioritize efficient transportation
  • Source responsible packaging made from 100% PCR (post-consumer recycled) plastic
  • Source raw materials from smallholder farmers using regenerative organic practices

We are also committed to supporting local, state and federal policy measures that protect the environment and mitigate climate change. This is why we’re supporting the Green New Deal and the Plastic Free California Initiative, among others.

How can you make a difference?

Adopt behaviors that lighten your carbon footprint. Support politicians and policy measures advancing renewable energy, environmental protections, and regenerative organic agriculture. Get involved in your local politics and good food purchasing programs to influence change in your own backyard. Participate in local, state and national elections—Vote! Vote! Vote!

It’s up to us! Together we can make a difference. Heal Earth!

Additional Resources:

Watch and Read!

  • Fantastic Fungi: “Fungi are the grand recyclers of the planet and the vanguard species in habitat restoration.”—Paul Stamets, Fungi Perfecti
  • Kiss the Ground: “Our choice of foods will make or break our civilization.”—Josh Tickell, Kiss the Ground
  • Dreaming of a Vetter World: “As eaters, we are all farmers deciding what kind of farming system exists in the world that feeds us: our fork is our pitchfork, our plate is our farm.”—David Bronner, Dr. Bronner’s
  • Eating Animals: “Our response to the factory farm is ultimately a test of how we respond to the powerless, to the most distant, to the voiceless—it is a test of how we act when no one is forcing us to act one way or another.”—Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Quotes from food movement heroes:

“We urgently need a new narrative, where instead of hubris we have humility, instead of destruction we have respect and stewardship, instead of disconnection, we have deep connection—to nature, to each other, to ourselves and to our future.”—Roz Savage

“What gives me hope is sowing a seed into fertile soil.”—Vandana Shiva

“Honor the hands that harvest your crops.”—Dolores Huerta

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life.”—Wendell Berry

“Kindness and compassion towards all living things is a mark of a civilized society. Conversely, cruelty, whether it is directed against human beings or against animals, is not the exclusive province of any one culture or community of people.”—Cesar Chavez

“We have been born of the soil and are supported by the products of the soil, and there is something within each of us which cannot forget the great meaning that plants give to life.”—Robert Rodale

“Returning to a simpler way allows us to regain our dignity, puts us in touch with the land, and makes us value human contact again.”—Yvon Chouinard

“He who seeds the soil with toil, love & diligence will reap greater volume, greater wisdom, greater merit, and greater love as he who would write 180 books, repeat 99 prayers, or spend 100 years in meditation.”—Zoroaster, with assist from Dr. Bronner

Author Profile

Astarae Metcalf

As Dr. Bronner's Senior Strategic Partnerships and Campaigns Manager, Astarae Metcalf has worked on many public education, sales and marketing, and political campaigns to advance hemp, regenerative organic agriculture, social equity, the environment, and other issues.

See all stories by Astarae Metcalf