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Making green by going green

Environmentally friendly business strategies can pay dividends

Earth Friendly Products CEO Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks with ECOS offerings. (EARTH FRIENDLY PRODUCTS)

For more than 50 years, a company with a Parsippany manufacturing facility has been producing a line of environmentally friendly household cleaners and other products under the ECOS brand. “We’ve been focused on creating safer, cleaning products since the company began in 1967,” said Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, chief executive officer of Earth Friendly Products, ECOS’ parent company. “We are green because it’s really part of our DNA.”

It also makes good business sense. “There is a real advantage to being green because consumers are increasingly demanding safer, greener products and want to align with brands that share their same values, especially when it comes to protecting the health of families and the planet,” she added. “Over the years, our formulas have become even greener and our manufacturing processes have become more sustainable. Today we’re proud to say that we are the world’s first carbon-neutral, water-neutral, zero-waste manufacturer.”

In addition to the Parsippany plant, the company has facilities in California, Illinois and Washington state. Each facility is independently certified Platinum-level Zero Waste, “which means that we divert over 95% of all our waste from landfills,” said Vlahakis-Hanks. “It’s really a remarkable achievement for a manufacturer; only 17 companies have been certified Platinum Zero Waste in the U.S. We achieved it because we have a dedicated vice president of sustainability who has enacted a number of very creative waste-management systems and works very carefully with our supply chain to eliminate waste in the product life cycle. Our New Jersey facility alone saves 14,486 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.”

Going green, one head at a time

To celebrate its 25th Anniversary, Bangz Salon and Wellness Spa announced in April that it’s working with Green Circle Salons to go green “by recovering and repurposing up to 95% of the resources that were once considered beauty waste” including hair, leftover hair color, foils, color tubes, aerosol cans, paper, and plastics.

“Green Circle gave us boxes — about two feet by feet each — and we place bags of excess hair and dye into them,” said Bangz stylist Andy Tipton, who suggested the working partnership to Bangz founders-owners Dominic Sansavero and Richard Cronk.

The boxes are quickly filled by Bangz, which has a total of about 90 employees, including some 43 stylists. The business occupies a 10,000 square-foot restored 19th century Masonic temple in Montclair, which features a two-story open floor concept with high ceilings.

“We filled three boxes in the first week,” said Tipton. “Bangz pays a fee based on the volume of material that’s turned in for recycling, but the cost should be offset by the volume of new clients who want to patronize businesses that are environmentally friendly.”

ECOS products are mostly plant- or mineral- based, she added. “All the ingredients in our products are certified Safer Choice by the U.S. EPA, which means that every ingredient is the safest in its class, and that formulations are effective and demonstrate sustainability without sacrificing quality or performance.”

In some cases, staying green can add some upfront material costs, but ECOS tries to offset those expenses by reducing charges in other categories, like logistics. “We manufacture our products in four facilities across the U.S., and we are careful to source raw materials and packaging locally where possible and to only ship regionally, so our carbon footprint and our shipping costs are reduced,” noted Vlahakis-Hanks. “For example, our New Jersey facility ships to the East Coast and Europe, and our California facility ships to the West Coast and Asia. With no middleman, and reduced shipping costs, we are then able to pass the savings on to customers to keep our prices low.”

All of the company’s 200 cleaning products are made at each of facility, she added. “Our best-selling product is our ECOS laundry detergent, and we have a full line of ECOS household cleaners, Baby ECOS cleaning products, ECOS for Pets cleaning and grooming products, and ECOS Pro commercial cleaning products. We’ve been manufacturing in New Jersey for 30 years because it’s strategically located to service the East Coast, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. We opened our first New Jersey facility in Westwood in 1988, then moved to Norwood and eventually to Parsippany in 2015. ECOS has about 40 employees in New Jersey, mostly manufacturing but also ‘green’ chemists and office staff.”

There are different levels of going green, said Richard Lawton, executive director of the New Jersey Sustainable Business Council. “Green initiatives can refer to anything that reduces  a company’s environmental impact, “he said. “Such initiatives can be modifications to the products that it makes, changes within its … operations, and also within its overall supply chain. For those companies that are just embarking on an overall strategy of being more environmentally responsible, it’s usually easy to find ‘low hanging fruit’ where environmental improvements will yield immediate cost savings as well.”

Some big-impact improvements may incur upfront costs, but “they often pay for themselves within a short-period of time, after which they yield ongoing cost savings,” he noted. “A good example of this is investing in energy-efficiency improvements. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities Clean Energy Program offers financial incentives, programs, and services that help business owners save energy, money and the environment. Companies can also make sure that their equipment has the EPA’s Energy Star label.”

Other initiatives include switching from “toxic cleaning supplies to products that carry the EPA Safer Choice label,” added Lawton. “Businesses can also build-in ‘green business criteria’ in vendor selection and management as part of their supply chain management strategy. By doing business with companies that have a commitment to, and record of, green business practices, your company can amplify its positive impact, often at no additional cost.”

Developing a green reputation can also pay off in the marketplace, Lawton said. “Companies with the best ‘green’ credentials have a competitive advantage when competing for top talent with the millennial generation,” he noted. “This generation is increasingly concerned about climate change, environmental issues, and doing work that has a higher purpose than simply maximizing short-term profits.”

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