Last month, I took a trip to Chicago. I was invited by Grove Collaborative to go see the Method Factory, located in Pullman — a neighborhood within the Chicago city limits. I didn’t quite know what to expect from the trip, but I learned a ton, and can’t wait to discuss it with you.
Grove is a company that is committed to social good and carries products like Method’s that do the same. If you haven’t tried Method products, but want to, I’ve arranged a special deal for you through Grove. If you’re a first time customer, you can get a bottle of Method Handsoap, a bottle of Method Dishsoap, a bottle of Method Glass Cleaner, and a pack of Grove Walnut Scrubbers — all free when you spend $20 on your first order. More on that below.
I originally started buying Method products for the design — the colors, the fun bottle shapes, the scents. When they burst on the scene in 2000, they were unlike any other cleaning product companies out there. I didn’t really know about their eco-story — their commitment to responsible manufacturing and social good — and at the time, they didn’t really publicize that story. But these days, consumers are trying hard to make responsible buying decisions, and all of sudden, Method’s history of green manufacturing is totally relevant.
Method offers weekly tours of their factory — they lovingly call it the Southside Soapbox — and if you can make it, I highly recommend a visit. It was super eye-opening to me, and has me thinking about corporate responsibility and the impact a company can make on their community. Their factory is a game-changer in so many ways, and I wish I could send every brand I love to go study what they’re doing.
Here are some of my notes from the visit.
Intentional was the first word to come to mind as I toured.
Every decision concerning this factory was carefully considered and totally intentional. Method chose Chicago for a reason. They chose the Pullman neighborhood for a reason. The shape of the building, the architecture and windows, the plot of land — all of it is intentional. Here’s what that means:
– Method is based near me in California. They could have created a factory not too far from their headquarters and I’m sure it would have been more convenient. But, they knew they wanted a more central location. Because if their factory is centered in the Midwest, it means their products require less shipping to get where they are going, which in turn means less environmental damage.
– Being able to manufacture everything on site was also important to them. Pretty much every other cleaning supply company has their products made overseas, but Method wanted to make the bottles, and make the soap, and fill the bottles, and ship the bottles — all from one factory. It reduces back and forth shipping of materials by a huge amount.
– They were also very aware of water usage as they chose a factory site. As you probably know, drought in California is a fairly constant concern. So they searched for a location with a safe, stable watershed, so that they weren’t diverting precious water from at-risk sources. The Great Lakes is one of the healthiest watersheds in the country.
– As they hunted for a location they were also concerned with social good issues. They know manufacturing has dried up in many communities in our country and that this was an opportunity to bring jobs and rejuvenation back to a neighborhood in need. The Southside of Chicago has a rich manufacturing history, but jobs have left the area. Method knew they could bring back manufacturing — and green manufacturing — to the area. And they have. Hiring locally is a major priority. Over 50% of the factory employees are based in the 3 adjacent zip codes.
Another major thing I noticed was Method’s commitment to go above and beyond.
They are committed to do the right thing in every way they can. I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit. Their products were already selling well. They didn’t have to go to Chicago. They didn’t have to make a game-changing factory. They didn’t have to open it to the public. They could have manufactured their products far away. But they didn’t. They chose the social good even when they didn’t have to, even when nobody was watching. Some of the ways I saw them going above and beyond:
– As they created the factory they aimed for the best possible LEED certification. LEED certification is a big deal and very difficult to achieve. In fact, it was originally designed for office buildings, and it’s basically unheard of for a factory to achieve LEED certification at all. But Method’s factory earned Platinum LEED certification, and they were the first factory ever to do so.
– I mentioned how they sought out a site with a healthy watershed, but not just that. They wanted to create a water neutral plan. So they partnered with The Nature Conservancy and Michigan State University to restore water to the Great Lakes.
– The location was a former “brown field” — polluted from steel manufacturing, and they’ve restored it to a wild Illinois prairie. Their site is 22 acres, but they only use 3 acres for the actual factory. The rest is usable by the community for jogging and recreation. There are even beehives on the site from a local community group.
– They are very open and transparent about their manufacturing processes. As they designed the building, they tried to add in lots of big windows and natural light to the factory. Yes, it’s great for the workers, but it also invites the community to peek in and see what’s happening. They’re not hiding anything. In fact, they offer tours to the community every week — and you get to take home a bottle of soap too. : )
– Method says this factory is their biggest green project ever. And I can see why. It’s so clear they are always looking for ways to make their green manufacturing even greener. Like putting solar trees in the parking lot.
– On the roof of their factory, Method invited Gotham Greens to build a greenhouse. I got to tour the greenhouse too, and it feels like a modern-day miracle. It’s the world’s largest rooftop farm, it’s run on 100% renewable electricity, and it reuses its own water. The greenhouse is 2 acres, but produces as much food as a 50 acre soil-based farm.
Gotham Greens harvests and delivers their greens (to stores like Whole foods) the same day. So if you buy their head of lettuce, you’ll know it’s super fresh, super local, and will last at least 2 weeks after your purchase.
See what I mean? No one was requiring Method to earn Platinum LEED certification. Or put a greenhouse on their roof. Or hire locally. Or give factory tours. They just do it because it’s the responsible and right thing to do.
The reality is, trying to make green manufacturing decisions is rarely as straightforward, or black and white as we would like it to be. Method constantly has to work out the equations and implications. Is there a new, better manufacturing process? Is there a new, better material? At one point, they launched a project to do a whole line of bottles using plastic culled from the ocean. Awesome right? They created it, but in the process, realized they had to have some of the plastic recycling done in China, and shipping the product back cancelled out much of the environmental benefits. So they paused the program and are having to rethink. Decisions like that can be tricky.
Method is one of those companies I’m really proud to work with. They are truly committed to do the right thing. They are committed to social good. And I love that Grove, another company I’m really proud to work with, carries and highlights Method products. Fun fact: Both Grove and Method have B Corp status — which means “they meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose” — so cool!
What’s your take on this topic? Are you a consumer that tries to spend your money on brands that are committed to social and environmental good? Do you find that a powerful motivator? Or would you say price and convenience top your list? I’m fully aware I don’t always make buying decisions based on environmental factors, but I LOVE when I discover a company like Method — where I’m a true fan of their products, and also trust them as a consumer. How about you?
Before I forget, I mentioned a special deal above, and want to tell you more about it. It’s an awesome way to get your hands on some of my favorite Method products. New Grove customers can get a full-size bottle of Method Handsoap, a full-size bottle of Method Dishsoap, a full-size bottle of Method Glass Cleaner, and a pack of Grove Walnut Scrubbers — all free when you spend $20 on your first order. Oh! And you get a 60 day VIP trial too — which means free shipping, special attention, and surprise gifts with your orders. Oh! And you get to choose your preferred scents too. Want more? How about the cute caddy in the picture? It will also be included in your order — with some other fun freebies — if you spend $39. Just use this link to get the offer.
Already a Grove customer? I didn’t forget you! Use this link and you’ll get a free set of Grove Walnut Scrubber Sponges. By the way — Grove only ships to the lower 48 states at this time — no Canada, Hawaii or Alaska. Sorry!
P.S. — I want to tell you more about the Historic Pullman Distric, but this post is already super long. : ) Do you know the story of Pullman? I sure didn’t. But it’s fascinating and now I want to learn more. Basically, a man named George Pullman attempted to create an idyllic workers utopia in a Chicago neighborhood.
The community built Pullman Railcars, and George made sure the workers had better housing, schools, parks, and wages than typical laborers at that time. But there was a catch. George was in control. He paid you for your work, but you paid him for rent because he owned the housing. You paid him for groceries, because he owned the grocery store. If he gave you a raise, he would also move you into better housing, and charge you higher rent. There was no alcohol allowed in Pullman (except at the hotel for visiting guests), and George Pullman expected his employees to go to his preferred church. No surprise: There was a revolt, and the Pullman community essentially disbanded.
But the buildings are still there, and it’s as charming and beautiful as you can imagine. A couple of years ago, President Obama designated Pullman as a National Monument, so it’s getting attention. And Method is leading the way in bringing manufacturing (and jobs!) back to the neighborhood.