Most of us try our best to reduce waste and incorporate recycling bins at home. Others harvest rainwater or compost, and a select few even opt for tiny house living to achieve a zero waste life. But, in our highly disposable, lowly recyclable society, reducing waste can be a bit challenging. Imagine then, the sheer complexity for one such company whose five manufacturing centers across the United States service 60 countries around the world with over 150 environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Is zero waste even reasonable? Feasible? Achievable?
Leaving zero doubt that zero waste is possible
While it may sound inconceivable (sorry, I’ll stop), the people at Earth Friendly Products have accomplished what no other company has been able to. The makers of ECOS™, the world’s top selling green laundry detergent and 150 other cleaning products using only plant-based ingredients, Earth Friendly Products earned the Prestigious Zero Waste Platinum Certification from the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) by diverting over 95% of their waste from landfills…in all FIVE of their manufacturing facilities.
“We’re very proud to have achieved Zero Waste Platinum certification from the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council. We’ve received Platinum certification at all five of our manufacturing facilities, which are geographically distributed across the U.S.” Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, President & CEO, Earth Friendly Cleaning Products
It Really is Easy Being Green
Contrary to Kermit’s viewpoint, being green really is easy and when a company of this size can achieve zero waste, it kind of leaves us speechless (and excuse-less). Suddenly, our home recycling and composting bins seem inviting and effortless. Sometimes in life, it takes a great leader to show us our own full potential.
What really struck me the most about the achievements of Earth Friendly Cleaning Products (which reach far beyond zero waste), is that they don’t have to do this. They choose to. They believe in practicing what they preach by raising the sustainable bar for others to follow.
- For example, Earth Friendly Cleaning Products has also received the U.S. EPA’s coveted Safer Choice Partner of the Year.
- Additionally, they’ve achieved carbon neutrality in 2013 through a series of major sustainability initiatives, including the switch to 100% renewable electricity, which saves over 53 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually.
What is zero waste?
According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, zero waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary; guiding people to change their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.
Zero waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources and not burn or bury them. Implementing zero waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.
So just how does Earth Friendly Cleaning Products do it – achieve zero waste platinum certification?
- Zero Waste Platinum certification means that they’ve diverted over 95% of their waste from landfills and emissions.
- Their Zero Waste program is not just good for the planet and for human health, it’s also good for the bottom line. Consumers are increasingly demanding that the companies they buy from make their products in an environmentally responsible way.
- Their Zero Waste model is based on the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. This can be quite challenging, particularly for companies like Earth Friendly Cleaning Products with multiple facilities across the U.S. with diverse infrastructure.
- A thorough waste assessment is critical (a.k.a. dumpster diving!). The team develops a thorough understanding of the unique waste flow at each of their locations; evaluating the volume, cost, frequency of collection, etc.
- Engaging their suppliers in waste prevention strategies is one of the most challenging parts of the program. Earth Friendly works with suppliers to eliminate unnecessary materials out of the entire product lifecycle. Most importantly, they constantly search for new solutions to reduce what is coming into the business, therefore creating less trash to recycle.
- Engaging employees is the key element of their successful Zero Waste strategy; raising awareness and training employees to see “trash” as a collection of valuable resources.
As healthy home experts my husband/business partner, (Ron Beres), and I recently had the pleasure of actually touring the Zero Waste facility in Cypress, CA in person during a farm-to-table dinner with the American Sustainable Business Council. I can report that it is truly the greenest and cleanest factory with the happiest of workers (um, it’s no wonder the facility resides on Hope Street!). Why the happiest? I personally believe its because Earth Friendly Cleaning Products believes in, not just minimum wages, but livable wages.
In 2014, they agreed to pay all employees seventeen dollars an hour beginning on (of course) Earth Day, April 22. This hourly increase affected approximately 44% of their more than 300 employees across five facilities throughout the U.S. This change was part of the company’s belief in creating a truly sustainable work place that ensures every employee is incentivized to work according to the corporate principles of fairness and responsibility first established by their founder, Van Vlahakis, in 1967.
- The company also continues to provide a bonus of a week’s pay for both Earth Day and Labor Day to all of its employees (hmm, anyone job hunting?).
- Additionally, employees can receive $2,500 to help purchase a hybrid or other green vehicle and $2,000 if they install solar panels in their homes (they had me at hybrid).
- There ‘s also a $1,000 relocation incentive for employees who move closer to one of the five Earth Friendly Products facilities in the United States. Doing so lowers their personal carbon footprints to/from work.
Life father, like daughter
As the daughter of an immigrant father, Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, President and CEO of Earth Friendly Products, believes in establishing a livable hourly wage rather than a minimum hourly wage for her employees. The memory of those early days in poverty resonated with her father, Van Vlahakis, the founder of Earth Friendly Products, and led him to make this change across all of their employees’ wages. They consider their employees to be very much a part of the company’s success since they opened their first facility in 1967. According to Kelly,
“To our knowledge, this new $17/hour minimum wage is the highest of any national company in America. To us, it’s just smart business, proving that a company can be good stewards of the environment, treat it’s employees with dignity and be strong, stable and profitable.”
People, profit, planet
Family owned and operated since 1967, Earth Friendly Products is the maker of ECOS™ Laundry Detergent, Baby ECOS™ cleaners and over 150 other environmentally friendly cleaners that are safer for people, pets and the planet. Made with plant derived ingredients, ECOS™ cleaning products are free of formaldehyde and dyes, pH balanced, readily biodegradable, and never tested on animals.
“Keeping your family safe and protecting the planet should not be a luxury.” Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks
Being in the healthy home business for a decade now, I’ve had the pleasure of cleaning, scrubbing and sudsing with Earth Friendly Cleaning Products and I can attest to WYSIWYG – or – what developers and designers would call, What You See is What You Get. The products smell divine, are affordable, toxic-free and easy to find.
They say great companies start with great leaders. Earth Friendly Cleaning Products is no exception. While founder Van Vlahakis is no longer here today, his green heart and generous spirit sure are. Arriving to the U.S. from Greece with twenty two dollars in his pocket, he taught us all how life is not just about profits – it’s about protecting people and the planet, too. I would say Van did a pretty good job of creating zero waste with his initial investment, wouldn’t you?
“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” Anna Lappe
If you’re interested in seeing the movie based on Van Vlahakis’ life, be sure to check out, A Green Story, starring Shannon Elizabeth. Here’s a sneak peek:
Feature image courtesy of Earth Friendly Products