Monday, May 5, 2008

it's not easy bein' green

And interesting article from, focusing on talking with Adam Lowry (above on the right), co-founder of method (but come ON, you know that by now, right? I thought so!) This article is from December 2007, but hey, I hadn't seen it til today! And you know what NBC says "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you!"

"Green companies think they just have to stick a leaf on the label

BusinessGreen: Can you give us a bit of background on Method?
Adam Lowry:
We are a home care and personal care company, providing household cleaning and laundry products, as well as personal care products such as soap and handwash.

How did you come to found the company?
My background is as an environmental scientist and chemical engineer. I worked for the Carnegie Institution and was involved in work on the Kyoto Accord and the second IPCC report. My role was to do the science that was meant to lead to policy change, but while I loved the work, I often felt it was only reaching other scientists and wasn't really reaching the mainstream – so I started looking for business ideas that could better help drive sustainable ideas.

So where did the idea for green cleaning products come from?
At the time, I was living in a bachelor pad in San Francisco with five friends from university, one of whom was Method's co-founder, Eric Ryan. Eric had a background in branding and marketing and he recognised that one of the sectors in greatest need for a complete branding overhaul was the cleaning products space. At the same time, I knew from my work that from an environmental perspective these were some of the most pernicious products available. We started the business from that flat in San Francisco in early 2000, originally going door-to-door to local retailers with the products.

And how large is the company now?
We now have 100 staff and our annual turnover is $100m. We also made our first move outside the US last year, launching in the UK. We've got a fully staffed office in Richmond, west London, and are repeating the start-up model that worked in the US. Our products are already available in John Lewis, Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury's.

Why did you target the UK as your first overseas market?
The UK consumer is so far ahead of their US counterpart when it comes to green issues that this was the obvious choice for our first international market. We're seeing healthy growth, albeit from a low base, but the interest in green issues is definitely driving demand.

Cleaning products have a long history of using hazardous and environmentally damaging chemicals. How did you go about developing clean alternatives?
The simplest way to explain how we develop the products is through an equation: risk = hazard x exposure. The conventional approach to developing cleaning products is to focus on the risk part of the equation and argue that you can use hazardous materials as long as you only use a little bit of them. Our approach, right from the first design phase, is to focus on the hazard part of the equation and try to remove the hazardous elements. So if a child drinks it, nothing bad happens, or if a whole bottle goes down the drain, nothing bad happens.

How feasible is that?
It can be very challenging. The problem is not necessarily finding replacement chemicals and materials but finding high-performance replacement materials and chemicals. The solution is to either develop new chemicals, which we've done in some cases, or develop new formulations of chemicals, which we've also done. This approach can prove expensive and also takes a lot of time. For example, we've just launched new products for scrubbing tiles and cleaning toilet bowls that took eight years to develop.

You say that this green approach is expensive, but isn't keeping the price as low as possible critical if you want to compete with conventional alternatives?
Absolutely, and we try to keep the price premium as low as possible right from the start of the design brief. Most of our range costs £3, while typical rival products cost £1.80 to £2.20. That is a price premium of 30 to 40 per cent, which we think is good for the improvement in performance, design and fragrance you are getting – not to mention the environmental credentials.

How do you go about marketing new green products such as these?
I think this is where a lot of green companies get it wrong. Our aim is to appeal to customers beyond the typical green consumer, because if you can do that then you have really made the breakthrough and can make a difference with green products. There is this common problem where green companies just target the green consumer.

What tactics should you employ to reach beyond the traditional green or ethical consumer base?
You need to focus on other components of the products besides the environmental elements. For example, we have a full-time design team and we invest really heavily in product design. A lot of green product companies forget about other aspects of the product beyond its environmental credentials. They think the green consumer market is growing so all they have to do is target that and stick a green leaf on the label. We are trying to go for a different approach. The green credentials are still critical – after all, I've invested my entire career in green issues – but it is just one attribute of product quality. You have to appreciate that green credentials are not the only reason a customer buys a product and you have to focus just as much on price, quality and design. The goal for green companies has to be to make sure that all products in a market are green. When that is achieved, where does it leave the product with the green leaf on the label?"


robertcraig said...

Okay. So I have been buying organic cotton clothing and fleece made from recycled soda bottles for over 10 years and we recycle at home and we buy Method products because of they are "green", but how come the rest of America doesn'nt know Method is so green. Whenever I see a "green" spread about products in a magazine, Method is rarely mentioned...why is that?

Staci said...

I thought that green meant it has to be good for you, too. But there are sulfates in most of Method's products. I went out ready to stock up, until I read the labels.

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