The Dr. Bronner’s Way: Transforming Tragedy and Trauma

Soon after I first crossed paths with Dr. Bronner’s, when I began the work of transitioning its supply chains to be organic and fair trade, I learned about founder Emanuel Bronner’s determination to use his soap brand to unite and bring peace to the world. A lofty goal, for sure, and one that some companies might have considered a hopeful founder’s story, nothing more.

As I became a full-time Bronnerite I realized that the Bronner family didn‚Äôt stop there. Rather, they practiced, and later formalized their founder‚Äôs vision into our Cosmic Principles‚ÄĒamong them, ‚ÄúTreat employees like family,‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúBe fair to suppliers,‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúTreat the earth like home.‚ÄĚ

In my main role as Vice President of Special Operations, I‚Äôve helped the company honor our Cosmic Principles by building vertically integrated projects with farmers, production, staff, and their communities in the tropics. And I had the opportunity to carry forth Emanuel Bronner‚Äôs legacy in another way: by helping the Bronner family research their German history and reestablish the brand in Germany. Not only did this aspect of my work deepen my understanding of the horrific history of my home country, it helped me understand how the Bronner family has built something extraordinary out of great trauma and tragedy. Emanuel‚Äôs vision, after all, was driven in large part by the murder of his parents during the Holocaust; he wanted to use the soapbox he had‚ÄĒhis family‚Äôs business‚ÄĒas a vehicle to help unite the human race.

So-called Stolpersteine in memory of Dr. Bronner’s parents Berthold and Franziska Heilbronner, and his aunt Friederike Heilbronner. These ‚Äústumbling blocks‚ÄĚ commemorate victims of the Holocaust and have been placed in cities all over Germany (and Europe) in front of the last known residence of people who were deported by the Nazis.

It’s not lost on me that at the same time I was learning more about my home country’s history, many Americans have been grappling with our country’s own troubling history of systemic racism and economic injustice. And so I wonder: what can we all learn from a company born out of national and personal trauma? How was the Bronner family able to formalize their founder’s vision for peace and healing and build it into a growing, thriving organization?

If my own journey can serve as a guide, healing requires both an unflinching willingness to learn from the past and a relentless dedication to planting seeds for a better future. For Dr. Bronner’s, that’s meant a deep and ongoing connection to its history and legacy, while continuously seeking out projects and partners where we think we can have a real impact around our core causes.

A lunch break in Palestine with Nasser Abufarha of Canaan Fair Trade

Take our work sourcing olive oil from the Holy Land. When we began looking for sources of organic and fair trade olive oil, David Bronner first found Canaan Palestine in the West Bank as a potential partner, a project with much social and agricultural impact. Yet, for balance, we also teamed up with Sindyanna, a fair trade project in Israel that engages with Israeli Palestinians of Christian faith, and with the Jewish Strauss family, that happens to be distantly rel¬≠ated to the Bronners. That way, Dr. Bronner’s olive oil, in addition to supporting Palestinian farmers with regenerating their crops and land, would come from Muslim, Jewish, and Christian sources, resonating both with Emanuel‚Äôs All-One vision as well as the vision of peace represented by the olive branch.

At a time when American leadership seems hopelessly divided on everything from health care to the minimum wage to climate change, I hope more of us will follow Dr. Bronner’s lead: to learn from our own familial and national histories, and to seek out opportunities to create a more harmonious and equitable future.

Honor Thy Label: Dr. Bronner’s Unconventional Journey to a Clean, Green, and Ethical Supply Chain

Dr. Bronner’s Vice President of Special Operations, Gero Leson, reveals the inside scoop of how our family-run soap company grew from its countercultural roots to create a revolutionary fair trade and organic supply chain from the ground up. With a foreword from Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) David Bronner, Honor Thy Label  describes how socially just and sustainable production provides immense benefits to our community, and can be applied to your business practices too!

Author Profile

Gero Leson

Gero Leson is Vice President of Special Operations at Dr. Bronner’s. Since 2005, he has been responsible for Dr. Bronner’s sourcing of major ingredients from certified fair trade and organic projects.

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