Method co-founder Eric Ryan on how to make eco-friendly cleaning products that customers actually like.

The most innovative and practical thinkers of our time.
July 17 2011 10:56 AM

A Q&A with Method Co-Founder Eric Ryan

The green entrepreneur on how to make eco-friendly cleaning products that customers actually like.

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How do you deal with the changing idea of what's "green"? There's so much gray area around what is sustainable, and the science is continually evolving. A lot of companies focus on "what is a green product?" [But] green products only come from green companies. The entire way you operate your company, along with your entire approach to manufacturing, has a bigger impact than the end use. A lot of companies will focus on the end use of one particular product.

What aspect of your branding does the most to differentiate you from your competitors?
The design and the personality. It looks easy but is actually really hard. Typically, things that are beautiful-looking aren't exactly great for the planet. To be successful, we needed to bring the mainstream into green cleaners. The big idea was to blur the lines between personal care and home care. That's where a lot of the design, the fragrances we use, the personality comes in. We wanted to bring fun into it. At the end of the day, the environment doesn't care what your motive for buying it was.

What's the biggest challenge when it comes to using recycled materials?
We don't own our own plants. We can't afford to invest into going out and building a plant, so we have to convince our vendor partners to make these investments alongside us. We decided to place a big bet on 100 percent PCR [post-consumer-recycled] bottles. Everything we custom-make is PCR now. But we had to get our partner, Amcor, to invest in an entirely separate silo because you have to keep that waste stream separate from virgin plastic. It cost us more to source a bottle made from old plastic than from new plastic, but as we're seeing materials' costs increase, we're starting to see some added benefits to using old plastic versus new.

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To make your products nontoxic, what's the most unexpected ingredient you use?
The lactic acid in the toilet cleaner is probably the most interesting surprise. The toilet's the one that's traditionally been the biggest challenge. Nobody wants to scrub it. Nobody's game to put in much mechanical action. They want the chemical action to do all the work. And it's the place people are most concerned about efficacy. That's where the lactic acid comes in.

Martha C. White is a freelance writer in New York.

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