Friday, June 14, 2013

How Laundry Detergent Became


How Laundry Detergent Became | by Marc Gunther

Adam Lowry is the co-founder and “chief greenskeeper” of Method, a small but rapidly growing company that has been a leader in the field of manufacturing environmentally friendly cleaning and personal care products. Indeed, it was Method that pioneered the use of concentrated laundry detergent, an innovation that has been embraced by all the giant brands and has had significant environmental benefits by reducing use of plastic and slashing transportation costs.

Adam Lowry: Before starting Method in 2001 with his childhood friend, Eric Ryan, Lowry — who has a degree in chemical engineering from Stanford University — worked at the Carnegie Institution for Science developing software to study climate change. By 2012, the pair had grown the business to more than $100 million in sales, placing its products in retailers like Target and Whole Foods. That year, the Belgian-based green cleaning products company, Ecover, acquired Method, although Method, which is based in San Francisco, continues to sell its products under its own name.
In an interview with Yale Environment 360 contributor Marc Gunther, Lowry discusses how his company has managed to profit from sustainability, why major corporations have been slow to embrace environmental innovations, and how plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean made its way into Method’s bottles of hand soap. Early on, said Lowry, “we recognized that our little business had the ability to catalyze much bigger change.”

Yale Environment 360: Why did you leave climate science to become an entrepreneur and start Method?

Adam Lowry: In the course of working at Carnegie for about four years, I learned that there were really two things that frustrated me. The first was that I was preaching to the converted. We were writing articles in scientific journals, but they were read only by scientists that were already concerned about environmental issues. And at the time I was trying to be a green consumer. This was the late ‘90s, and every brand that I patronized asked me to make a sacrifice for the good of the environment. The products were inferior. They didn’t work as well, they cost more, they were brown, they smelled bad, they were totally uninspired. And I just could not think of a brand in history that had ever been truly successful based off of a proposition of sacrifice.

This is when I started talking to my co-founder, Eric Ryan. I had this idea that you could use business as the most powerful institution on the planet to create positive social and environmental change, but I wasn’t quite sure of what kind of business and where. That’s when Eric started sharing some of his ideas about why this cleaning category is so uninteresting and the brands are so similar. We came up with this idea of a brand that combined high design and sustainability. We started making it in our bathroom and started selling it door to door.

e360: What did you set out to do? I assume the first significant innovation was the concentrated laundry detergent, which is a simple idea, right? You’re just taking out water.

Comment by Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Excellent interview. I entirely agree with you. Eco-friendly detergents are the need of the hour. In developing countries to reduce the cost and to give quick cleaning of the clothes some detergent powders with CAUSTIC SODA are marketed. Caustic Soda damages the fabrics. Moreover many women in developing countries won't wear gloves while hand washing the clothes. As such the skin near the nails is affected by this caustic soda.

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