Interview with OppGreen 2009 Speaker, Adam Lowry, Chief Greenskeeper of Method

Posted on 03. Nov, 2009 by in Interviews


Adam Lowry (being throttled by Eric) is the Chief Greenskeeper and co-founder of method. He founded method in 2000 with Eric Ryan, because he was tired of writing white papers on climate change that had no impact on the general public’s behavior. He wanted to use his powers for good, and solve a gap in the market he saw because he could never find quality environmentally-friendly cleaning products. Adam and Eric sought to create cleaning products that don’t require a sacrifice-based positioning. Adam believes that people shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything to be green, particularly quality and design. He wanted to build a company that inspires people to live sustainably, rather than simply educating them, to create products that are high-quality and beautiful, that just so happen to be at the highest possible standard of sustainable design.

OG: It seems every week there’s a new eco cleaning brand on the shelf, and the DfE list of certified products is quite long. How stringent is it really? Do they require products contain NO chemicals of concern? Are there chemicals we should be concerned about that the EPA is permitting?

Adam: Dfe is a great starting point as it assesses the formulations of a product and deems whether they are compatible  with program objectives. We’ve worked with the DfE program on a number of cleaning products and will continue to do so in the future. DfE is an industry standard, the one problem with standards is that a lot of people just try to meet the minimum and call it a day. You want to constantly improve, it’s not helpful to just hit the bar, you need to constantly strive to be more sustainable and more delightful. We’ll always be both C2C and DfE certified, and we’re constantly trying to evolve, to be even better.

OG: The Consumerist has a great story on microfiber cleaning cloths, how wonderfully effective they are, and how hard the US household chemicals industry tries to convince us that we need to kill germs, not just wipe them away. Method has a great line of dedicated microfiber cloths for various surfaces, positioned with relevant fluid products. Is the US finally getting it, or do we still need to be taught why microfiber is so great?

Adam: Microfiber is great, but the real issue is not so much about microfiber specifically, but how we manage infection within the home. Microfiber is just a tool. Unfortunately, with H1N1, we’re actually going in the wrong direction, and we’ve seen a big rise in disinfection products- a lot of toxic surface disinfectants and hand sanitizers with Triclosan. If you look at what the CDC and the scientific community have to say, a lot of studies show that just cleaning effectively is every bit as healthy as the “kill ‘em all” strategy. Germ control is best done without using toxic chemicals, as certain chemicals have all these harmful side effects, especially when mixed incorrectly with other products. Method never uses any of these chemicals. For example, with handwashing, if you just use hot water and regular soap, your hands are just as clean and you don’t have to use dangerous chemicals like Triclosan.

OG: Yes, I recall your Treehugger article on handwashing from a design perspective, it was great.

OG: So as a rapidly growing cleaning products company, what’s it like at this stage? Have your sales & marketing strategies had to change drastically as you’ve grown?

Adam: No, they haven’t changed at all. At method we sell a philosophy of living where you don’t have to sacrifice design or other sensibilities in order to be eco. The tactics we use to spread that philosophy- our people against dirty, social media (methodtweet and Adam on Twitter), etc. have always been the same. Creating products that are worth talking about- awesome products that people want to talk about, to spread the word in authentic way, that’s what we’re always about.

OG: I love it when companies listen to me on Twitter. I recently tweeted a complaint that my local grocery store seemed to carry less method than it had in the past (full disclosure, I’m a fan), and methodtweet was on it within hours. I’ve had this happen with other companies as well.

OG: In the 2008 Fox news story, you said “Green, cheap and high-performance are what you want, but there’s a rule of thumb that says you can only have two out of three.” (Like anything, really, we get what we pay for.) But the article goes on to say that your products are usually only 50 cents more than the competition. Yet your market share took a hit (according to this article) when Clorox GreenWorks came out. Are other forces at play here? Or are people really that cheap?

Adam: Part of it is how the larger companies control shelf space in our industry. But there are a lot of consumers who are really price sensitive. The big guys create a really cheap product, but spend a fortune on marketing, whereas we invest heavily in making the product experience as good as it can possibly be. We are committed to internalizing the environmental cost of our products, and others don’t, so method has to cost a little bit more.

OG: The article also mistakenly stated only one brand wasC2C certified, while method’s entire line is C2C, isn’t it?

Adam: We build the C2C methodology into all of our products.   At the front end of creating any product, we work with the EPEA (led by Michael Braungart) and MBDC to assess all potential ingredients and to ensure we are using healthy, safe and environmentally-sensitive materials.  At the back end, we look to certify every method product as C2C. However, with over 200 products in our portfolio, we focus the C2C certification process on where it will be the most impactful and where we can afford to do so.

OG: Actually, Method has surpassed Herman Miller on the C2C list, but Steelcase and their subsidiaries seem to have the top spot.

OG: What advice do you have for eco-entrepreneurs?

Adam: My advice to entrepreneurs is- it’s really important to make sure that what you’re doing is really compelling for reasons other than being green, it has to be great in its own right, and green has to be just another part of its quality. The whole idea of eco-entrepreneur should become the standard for entrepreneurship in general.

OG: people against dirty is a brilliant concept. But do you measure its impact? Say, how sales increase in regions where you have more people against dirty, or by working with retailers to track influence through coupons or anything?

Adam: No, it’s more qualitative than quantitative. People against dirty is about a lifestyle and a movement, where people don’t have to compromise, they can do things that are fun and inspiring. That creates a  community, but measuring communities isn’t really that effective.

OG: Thanks so much for your time, Adam. I’m looking forward to hearing you talk about upcoming trends in green products.

Photo of Adam and Eric courtesy of Liz Haphalia for the Chronicle.

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2 Responses to “Interview with OppGreen 2009 Speaker, Adam Lowry, Chief Greenskeeper of Method”

  1. opportunity

    04. Nov, 2009

    I love that method is creating microfiber cloths!

  2. Susanna Schick

    05. Nov, 2009

    Correction- it’s the EPEA-, a German organization, not just the American EPA they’re working with.

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