Tuesday, May 5, 2009

have you hugged a tree today?

Over on treehugger.com, you'll find a new interview with method co-founder adam lowry! AND, you can listen to the interview via podcast (right click to download), or read it the old fashioned way!

"Adam Lowry, The Man Behind the Method (Cleaning Products)
| by Jacob Gordon

method cleaning products are the fitting accoutrement for the style and hygiene-minded ecophile. But Method is more than boutique toilet bowl cleaners; it is booming into one of the great success stories of the new economy. Adam Lowry, with his business partner Eric Ryan, has reinvented his field (and made huge returns). Method is a certified B Corporation, its products bear the Cradle to Cradle seal, and renewable energy and upcycling are daily fare. Adam Lowry explains to TreeHugger what’s new in the lab, and divulges Method’s problem-solving motto: “What would MacGyver do?”

TreeHugger: Give us a quick perspective on the size of Method—what's the reach, the size, the revenue?

Adam Lowry: Well, we try not to pin down our revenue numbers (specifically because there are a lot of people that want to know that info) but we're north of a $100 million company; we’ve got 100 employees or so, and we've gotten there in about seven years, which is pretty quick when it comes to soap companies.

TreeHugger: Method is certified as a B Corporation. We recently we spoke with Jay Coen Gilbert, the co-founder of B Corporation, and we heard his perspective on this. But I'd like to hear yours. As an entrepreneur, what does it mean to be a B Corp?

Lowry: I was really excited when I met Jay and heard about his vision for B, because what it does is codify and make legally binding what Method is already doing in its business practices. What's really missing right now for sustainable business is a clear and transparent set of metrics for what is environmentally and socially good in a business.

And what they're doing is filling that gap, the social and environmental version of generally accepted accounting principles, so that we have a standard measuring stick that we can use to assess the social and environmental quality, along with the financial quality, of a business. And because it's publicly reported and it's completely open and transparent, it also creates an incentive to improve over time. It's a real apples-to-apples way of measuring businesses versus one another, as well as creating that incentive for all businesses to strive to get better over time.

TreeHugger: Method is also certified as a Cradle to Cradle business. Method must be one of the few companies that carries both of these badges. What do these mean, how do they work together, and do they overlap at all?

Lowry: I think that's a great question because there is a proliferation of environmental quality labels or eco-labels out there. We like the ones that are most broad-based, the ones that assess the broadest set of things, not just a product but an entire company's practices. And the B rating system goes all the way down to the way that your business is governed and its board composition, for example. And Cradle to Cradle assesses the entire life cycle of a product and how it's made.

So those are two very broad-based validators of environmental quality, and therefore ones that we really like. And we've chosen to go ahead and get certified by both of those agencies.

There are also other product certifications that are narrower. We have the Design for Environment recognition from the US EPA, which is about the chemistry that you use in the product. That's another nice one.

But ultimately, I think the role of each one of these is really just to have an objective third party validate the environmental and social quality of the product or service that you're providing. And then it's our job, as the people running the business, to make the brand meaningful to consumers so that they understand that the product experience they're going to get is superior to what they might get with another brand.

TreeHugger: Do you feel like these certifications have provoked you to change the way you do business, or are they really just a way to, as you say, codify what is already underway?

Lowry: Michael Braungart and Bill McDonough have been a great inspiration of mine personally, and they also have been a great inspiration to our business. And the same could be said of Jay and what they're doing over at B Lab. But really, I wouldn't say that it's necessarily changed the way we do business. It's inspired us to do the way we do business better.

TreeHugger: You were invited to Washington recently, along with a gaggle of other leaders in the new economy (the founder of Twitter and others) to advise the Obama administration. What did they want to know?

Lowry: That was a really interesting meeting. We were asked in advance to put together some policy ideas, things that we thought the administration should be doing that either they weren't doing yet or the previous administration hadn't done.

And when we got there we really learned that that was just a thought exercise and that, really, the administration knows what policies don't work. They know that there are perverse incentives created by subsidies to oil and gas companies and the wrong type of agriculture, for example. And also—because they've got tons of policy experts—they know the right policies that would work.

The problem is, they can't get from point A to point B because they don't have the popular support. And so what they were doing was enlisting us business leaders—or, as they said, young entrepreneurs that are exemplary new-economy businesses—to make an example of us. They wanted to be able to point to companies that are not asking for handouts from the government yet are still succeeding, and doing so using an ethos of business that doesn't create collateral damage socially and environmentally.

And if they can point to us as great examples, they can start to build popular support around a new way of doing business and actually enact some of the changes they already know are necessary.

So I really thought it was an interesting meeting, and really inspiring. I was impressed with the caliber of people that are involved in the administration. I was really impressed.

TreeHugger: Method makes a family of products that, typically, are very petroleum-intensive. Do you feel like you are head-to-head with the petroleum industry? Are they the bad guy in this scenario?

Lowry: I don't think so. I think the bad guy is more just convention. I think that our economy is very much a petroleum-based economy. That's a fact. And even at Method we have to ship our products around. We use a little bit of biodiesel transport to do that, but most of it is regular old diesel transport.

We do everything that we can, but we still aren't de-linked from that petroleum economy. And I think that when you really get down to brass tacks about how to change that paradigm, it's something that's going to happen through a series of small innovations that are catalysts for larger innovations.

I mentioned biodiesel, for example. We have two biodiesel trucks that we're using in a pilot program in the State of California. They're actually the cheapest trucks that we run. And so it's a great proof of concept that doing the green thing can also be the economically viable thing. We're trying to expand that program now, a tiny program that can build into a much bigger one over time.

You have to think differently and from the ground up if you want to try to change those set conventions.

TreeHugger: When we interviewed Gary Hirshberg on Treehugger Radio—the guy who started Stonyfield Farm—we asked him why the type of plastic they use for their yogurt cups is not recyclable in most areas.

The answer that he gave was very counterintuitive: they can make a lighter package from this particular type of plastic. No, it's not recyclable in most areas, but the reduction in the carbon footprint, strictly from transporting a lighter product, far outweighed the benefit of being able to recycle more of their plastic containers.

What's going on at Method that might be a counterintuitive measure?

Lowry: We've got a bunch of things going on. That yogurt cup example makes me think of a particularly interesting example that we recently did with wipes packaging. At Method we have a mantra. It's a very cradle to cradle-esque mantra about our packaging which is: we want every package to have a past and a future.

And so we think about designing packaging from what it was before it was a bottle or a flow pack or whatever, to what will it be when you’re done with it. We don't like the types of tradeoffs that are inherent in that yogurt cup example: where you either use less plastic that's not recyclable or you use more.

And that exact thing came up when we had a canister for cleaning wipes. It was a recyclable HTPE bottle made largely out of post-consumer recycled resin.

We did a lifecycle analysis and we realized that if we made it out of a flow wrap film, like a potato chip bag, we could cut the plastic down by about 80%. The problem was that flow wrap plastic is a multilayer film and it's not recyclable.

At Method we fundamentally believe that any time you get one of these environmental tradeoffs where you are saying, “yeah, this product has no future because it's not recyclable, but there's less of it so it's better in the present.” That trade off is just a symptom of poor design.

We set out a couple of years ago in partnership with a film company, we developed the world's first recyclable flow wrap film. Actually if you buy Method wipes product today, it is made out of a single film, not a multilayer film. You can put it in your recycle bin and it's 80% less plastics.

We've created a win on both the present and the future and we're now working on making that film from post consumer recycled resin so it can have a past, a present, and a future.

We really try to bring that to every package and every ingredient that we use..."

Head on over and read the rest!

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