The Ecologist meets…Method co-founder Adam Lowry
13th April, 2012
Can detergent make the green movement sexy? According to Method co-founder Adam Lowry; cleaning products are just the start. Bethany Hubbard caught up with him to find out more
When it comes to cleaning, chemicals such bleach and ammonia are likely to be the first to spring to mind. We’ve all scrubbed the kitchen sink with the windows wide open at some point, hoping to clear the overwhelming odour of the chemicals used to conquer grime. But what if the next time you opened a bottle of cleaner you were greeted by a pleasant smell? And what if that product was also eco-friendly? Method’s products don’t scream ‘green.’ There’s no cardboard, earth tones or green logo announcing the presence of an environmentally friendly brand. Instead the detergents, soaps and cleaners are brightly coloured, and boast slick design and elegant packaging. At first glance you’d probably assume that they were just a design brand. But, says Method co-founder Adam Lowry, that’s the point.
‘It’s frustratingly slow to create change,’ he says. ‘My hypothesis is that you can’t create change fast enough by trying to convince everyone in the world to go do the green thing. What our brand does is bring green to the mainstream – through design, through beauty, through fragrance and most importantly through deep sustainability built into the quality of the product.’ For more than 10 years, Lowry has been pioneering sustainability in a consumer market notoriously associated with toxic chemicals and gasp-inducing odours. A chemical engineer, he worked as a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in the 90s, but became frustrated when he realised he was ‘preaching to the converted.’ At the time, he was living in what he calls a very dirty flat in San Francisco with a bunch of college buddies.
‘We started talking about categories that really needed intervention from a design and style standpoint, but also from a core technology and chemistry standpoint,’ he says. ‘And we kind of landed on household cleaning products as the most obvious choice. So basically, because it was the most ugly and the most toxic, we entered into this space and said, “Hey let’s reinvent this.”’ And reinvent they did. Lowry and roommate Eric Ryan started the business out of their apartment, delivering products door to door to supermarkets around the city. The response was rapid and positive, and Method was born. In 2005 they also launched in the UK.
‘Green chemistry is really the core of what we do,’ Lowry says. ‘It’s not necessarily immediately obvious from looking at the products because they’re beautiful and they smell great and there is vibrant colour. They don’t wear the clothes of a typical, ethical green product, and that’s very much by design. But don’t be fooled. The level of green technology that goes into these products is unparalleled.’ In typical ‘green’ products the toxic ingredients, like phosphates, surfactants and solvents, are removed, he says. But then the products don’t work. ‘You actually have to fundamentally redesign the chemistry of the product from better chemistries that are also more environmentally sound, and healthier for people, in order to create product experiences that are as effective as toxic cleaners but without all of the bad side effects,’ he says. ‘That’s the core of what we do.’
Method’s patented plant-based Powergreen technology uses specially created molecules that are designed to the remove the land use impact and carbon footprint of the products. Their All-Purpose Natural Surface Cleaner outperformed eight top-selling brands, including Simple Green and Clorox, in a recent test run by Cooks Illustrated, an American magazine. The company also uses post-consumer recycled packaging. ‘So it’s not just what’s in the bottle, but actually the bottle itself,’ Lowry says.
In 2004 the company launched the first triple-concentrated (3x) laundry detergent onto the U.S. market, setting a precedent for other brands. They now offer an ultra concentrated (8x), biodegradable formula that they say reduces the average laundry detergent lifecycle carbon footprint by 35 per cent. It’s also about creating a business that strives to be a catalyst for positive change. ‘The whole motivation behind our business is to try and use business to create positive social and environmental change,’ Lowry says. ‘So if you’re only going to sell green products to green people, it’s kind of pointless. The idea is that we have to bring green to the mainstream.’ Lowry says Method has worked hard to make effective products that look and smell appealing. Sold at U.S. superstore Target, they are designed to attract the everyday shopper – someone who may not be looking for a green product. ‘Those are the things that allow us to reach a really broad audience,’ he says. ‘And it’s what helps our business create change and also what drives our business to be a better business.’
Lowry hopes that Method will make consumers more aware of the importance of sustainability. Those who purchase just for looks will eventually read the label and ‘understand there’s something deeper and more meaningful about the brand.’ The company recently launched its Clean Happy campaign with a quirky video that aims to make the task of cleaning a joyful experience. ‘The green movement needs some sex appeal,’ Lowry says. ‘And we’re doing it in the most mundane space that you can think of – laundry detergents and household cleaning products. If you can sex up cleaning products, you can sex up anything. And I think one of the things that’s most important about the green movement, is if we ever want it to be mainstream, it’s got to be something that’s appealing for all of the reasons other than being green.’
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