Method was founded in 2001 by Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan, two former roommates who set out to make less harmful cleaning products. Fourteen years later, Method is a leader in corporate sustainability, producing cleaning products ranging from floor cleaner to hand soap. With Cradle-to-Cradle Gold certified product lines, LEED-certified buildings, and B Corp practices, Method continues to strive towards company-wide social and environmental sustainability, while continuing to grow—in fact, Method is currently building their first manufacturing plant in Chicago to LEED Platinum standards. We spoke with Saskia van Gendt, Method’s “Captain Planet” for greenskeeping, to get some insight on Method’s practices.
Method is a very eco-conscious company, with LEED, Cradle-to-Cradle, and B Corp certifications and many sustainable initiatives. Did the company start out incorporating sustainability in every aspect of the business, or did that come gradually?
When Method was founded, the cofounders really wanted to disrupt the cleaning products category. Eric and Adam had their own perspective that they wanted to bring to the field. Eric came from design and marketing, and Adam was a climate scientist with a background in chemical engineering, so he brought the science and sustainability portion. It was always style and substance, where the substance was science and sustainability.
What does Method’s sustainability team look like?
We have a growing team that includes greenskeeping as well as regulatory work and long-term innovation. We merged with the Ecover brand in 2012, and we all work on both brands. Adam is in charge of global greenskeeping, and under Adam we have a chemist who works on pioneering new ingredients and new platforms. Our team also includes regulatory leads and our counterparts based in Europe. Altogether, there are seven of us working directly in greenskeeping.
We have very cross-functional roles. Whenever we have a project involving packaging or supply chain, we’ll work directly with that function. Greenskeeping sets the priorities and strategies for where we should go as a company, and the relevant department helps to execute the plan.
Have you found that sustainability is difficult or expensive to prioritize?
No, not really. It’s not often an added cost, but sometimes you do have to make an investment for how you want to do things in the future. For example, at the new factory we’re building in Chicago, we wanted to buy a windmill so we could source up to 50% of the plant’s energy from renewable power.
Also, the price of the recycled plastic we use fluctuates, and sometimes it is more expensive than virgin plastic. But oftentimes the business side will also support the environmental decision. As a B Corp, we have a responsibility to both our shareholders and the planet, and that’s very ingrained in the company and the way we do things. We make a profit and also work towards social and environmental good. Sustainability is always the bottom line for us; we prioritize people and the planet more than traditional companies.
Can you share an example of a recent sustainability challenge and how you approached it?
One of the problems we have, which I think is pretty common with cleaning companies, is preserving our products. We have a portfolio of ingredients that is largely plant- or mineral-derived and our formulas are usually pH-neutral. In order to guarantee the safety of these relatively benign formulas, we have to introduce a small amount of preservative to ensure that there are no bacteria or harmful microorganisms when the product reaches the consumer.
Our ingredients are assessed by a third party scientific research organization, MBDC, before they enter the product; MBDC looks at something like 30 different environmental and health endpoints to ensure the ingredient’s safety. These assessments provide a green, yellow, or red light to tell us whether the ingredient is perfectly safe, has some concerns, or is a total no-go. We never introduce red ingredients to the portfolio. The problem with preservatives specifically is that they’re designed to kill things, like pathogens. Naturally, because they are designed to kill, they may have concerns with aquatic toxicity or they can be allergenic. It’s very hard to find preservatives that are both safe and effective. We’ve found some good alternatives over the years, but the preservatives category continues to be a challenge.
We design all of our products to use the safest preservatives that are out there, and look into technical methods we can use to eliminate the need for preservatives in our factory. With the new factory we’re building, we will have more control over how our products are manufactured and have more options for non-preservative methods like sterilization of the supply line. The factory will also give us more flexibility to try out new things that we couldn’t before, and be able to experiment more.
Do you have any advice for small businesses that are looking to become more sustainable, but don’t know where to start?
Look at the B Corp framework for how to structure a company. Any company can take the impact assessment for free, and it asks about 200 questions about transparency of your operations, how the company is governed, your worker benefits, social responsibility, environmental practices, and so on. It’s a super-comprehensive assessment and through taking it, you may be able to identify a few things that are achievable in the short term and you can start working on immediately. At Method, we recognize that total sustainability is impossible to achieve immediately. We try to do things a little bit better every day, and move towards sustainability step by step.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Saskia! Good luck with your greenskeeping!
contributed by Anna Ivanova