Earth Friendly Products
by Lynn Olson, Cooperative Services Manager
John Vlahakis improved upon his father’s entrepreneurial model by converting their cleaning products manufacturing com- pany into the leading green cleaning products maker in a historically toxic industry. From the fields to the streams, the factories, employees and users of Earth Friendly Products can all rest easier knowing that much care has been taken to minimize harmful chemical exposure to all in the name of cleanliness.
The Earth Friendly Products headquarters in Winnetka, Illinois also houses one of the company’s four factories that produce their internationally recognized products.
In a recent interview with owner John Vlahakis, he took a moment to discuss some of the history and motivations for transitioning his family’s cleaning products business. “My dad’s company,” John began, “initially was selling to janitor maintenance distributors—restaurants, hospitals and so forth—and he was private-labeling for them. I said, ‘You know we really need to be a green product line,’ and [I] tried to go in that direction.” Having grown up in and around the eco-era of the 1970s, it wasn’t until the birth of his daughter that John put all of the pieces together to determine how he would contribute to a cleaner world. “I had an epiphany as I held my infant daughter. I did not want any harm to come to her. I realized that everything that was harming the environment would also be harming her. I felt I had to make a difference for her, to make the world a better place for her,” he continued. “I had to show her that one person could change the world.”
After formulating four basic cleaning solutions and introducing them to their industrial-use clients, interest was initially weak. John began to track down other retail outlets in the Chicagoland area. John finally got his break with a small, family-owned grocery store in the middle of Chicago’s downtown where discriminating shoppers took notice of this “cleaner” cleaning product. John says that after placing his product in their store, a week later the owner called me up said, “Do you know how many bottles of your stuff we sold this week? I think you’ve got something!” Soon after, several other locally owned grocery stores picked up this all-natural line of household cleaners. Suddenly, with enough work to keep their factory employees working, the initial two plants were put into full production to make their green cleaning supplies.
Since that first rush of popularity in 1993, Earth Friendly Products has added two more manufacturing plants to meet the demand of their national and international following. Among a long list of sustainable practices to minimize their impact on the environment, Earth Friendly practices regionalism and produces every item at each facility for distribution to that region of the U.S. The Winnetka, Illinois plant serves the Midwest; a New Jersey facility serves the east coast; a Florida facility supplies the southern part of the United States; and in California, their factory produces for the west coast as well as the European Union, where they have earned a loyal following among environmentally conscious consumers.
Mainstream cleaning products are typically produced with a long and daunting list of undesirable ingredients. Formaldehyde (used as a preservative) and petrochemicals are excluded from all of Earth Friendly’s biodegradable and septic-safe formulas. Master chemists at each plant oversee and constantly work to improve their condensed, plant-based cleaners. Unique among this type of manufacturer, Earth Friendly also strives to purchase many of their ingredients from locally owned sources, including small family farms. These ingredients include soy beans (for fabric softener), essential oils and citrus. In the near future they plan to begin using only certified organic essential oils in their formulas purchased from small family farms, and, as John states emphatically, “Never from overseas.”
But more than just what’s inside the bottle, Earth Friendly Products is committed to making sure the bottle, label and factory will leave as little an impact on the environment as possible. All of their plastic packaging is #1 PETE or #2 HDPE recyclable, and the labels are 100 percent recycled, chlorine-free paper (80 precent post-consumer). Because their formulas rely on plant-based ingredients, there are no toxic by-products or environmental pollution created during or after the making of their cleaning products.
To show their commitment to the environment, Earth Friendly Products has a “Freedom Code.” It is:
“We are living in an era that has seen the explosive growth in the manufacture and use of synthetic ingredients in cleaning products. Although such ingredients are effective and relatively inexpensive, their use may be to the detriment of our health and environment. When factoring—in the costs of their toxicity and environmental impact, it became quite clear that we needed to free ourselves from their use and the damage they cause.
Our Freedom Code was developed as we researched each ingredient used in cleaning products today and evaluated their environmental impact and toxicity. Our products are free of the following ingredients:
• Alkyl Phenol-free; Nonyl phenol-free
• Amyl Acetate
• Animal ingredient-free (and Animal testing-free)
• Artificial (synthetic) fragrances/perfumes-free
• Artificial (synthetic) colors/dyes-free
• Benzalkonium Chloride-free
• Benzene or Naphtha-free
• Boron or borine-free
• Butyl/Ethyl Cellosolve or butyl oxitol -free
• CFC and HCFC-free (chlorofluorocarbons)
• Chlorine-free (hydrochloric acid-free)
• TEA (Triethanolamine)-free, MEA Monoethanolamine) -free
• Dioxane or diethylene ether-free
• EDTA or NTA-free
• Ethanol (synthetic)-free
• Ethylene glycol-free
• Fatty acid alkanol amide/amine-free
• Formaldehyde-based preserving agents-free
• Isopropanol (rubbing alcohol)-free
• LAS (linear alkyl sulfonates)-free
• Mineral spirit-free
• Optical brightener (synthetic)-free
• PDCB (paradichlorobenzene)-free
• Petroleum-based or petrochemical ingredient-free
• Phosphoric acid-free
• Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)-free
• Propylene Glycol-free
• Quaternium 15-free
• Sodium Hydroxide-free (lye, caustic soda)
• Trichloroethane / Methyltrichloromethane/TCA/ Methyl Chloroform/ Chloroethane -free
• Trace/heavy metals-free (mercury, lead, cadmium)”
Over 150 employees of Earth Friendly Products enjoy a generous list of standard benefits in addition to access to company-sponsored organic gardening at the plants. John says of this extraordinary benefit, “There is a de-tox effect of working in the garden. It is a real nice share-plan where everyone participates. Especially in the summer you really want to be eating as fresh as possible.” Employees are able to spend time in the gardens either in the morning, during the day, or after work and share the food grown in the cooperative effort. Of the higher than average starting wage to new employees, John says, “We work very hard at treating everybody as family. We really provide people an opportunity to prove themselves. I’ve always hired people who are very young and they develop into some really good contributors to the business.” As a small family business, that practice appears to have paid off. The company has retained some employees for as long as 20 years and has even attracted a second generation of employees as their children begin working for the company as well.
Approved by The Vegan Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for their refrain from testing on animals, Earthy Friendly Products enjoys an avid fan base in the zoo community as well. Since their products are free of harsh or poisonous chemicals, the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago proudly uses Earth Friendly Products for cleaning around their animals without the threat of exposure to harmful substances. For their thorough approach to sustainability, they earned the “2003 Socially Responsible Business Award” from the Social Business Network for their “demonstrated exemplary effort in the promotion and practical application of socially responsible business practices.”
Willy Street Co-op is pleased to offer this safe and effective line of cleaning products from window cleaner to laundry soap. And whether you’re concerned about exposure to harmful chemicals or want to support a less toxic approach to cleaning, Earth Friendly Products has a full line of products designed to keep you and your conscience clean.