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Meet Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks of Earth Friendly Products in Addison

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks.

Kelly, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in our family business, doing a little of everything—working on the production lines, answering the phones, helping in the office. After graduated from UCLA in Communications, I spent a few years working for other companies in public relations and government affairs. I think it’s incredibly important for young people who work in a family business to spend some time at other companies. I was able to gain some really valuable insights into how other companies manage teams and work effectively. After I gained some great experience, I returned to Earth Friendly Products in 2003, ultimately getting my MBA from Chapman University and being named president and CEO by the board of directors in 2014.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
One of our biggest challenges has been to continue to grow our family business in an increasingly competitive landscape. In recent years, many independent green companies have been bought up by big multinational corporations, but we’ve found success by remaining true to the mission we started with 50 years ago: to make safer, affordable cleaners here in the USA using thoughtfully sourced global ingredients. By using the most sustainable practices and supporting our employees as a part of our family, we’re able to bring something really special and unique to our customers; they trust us to help them protect their health and the health of their families.

Earth Friendly Products – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We make ECOS™ green cleaning products that are safer for people, pets and the planet. Our ECOS™ laundry detergent is the number one selling green laundry detergent in the U.S., and we make over 200 other plant-powered cleaners. In addition to our ECOS™ household cleaners, we make Baby ECOS™ cleaners that are designed especially for little ones, ECOS™ for Pets! Safer pet care products and ECOS™ Pro green commercial cleaners. They’re all made without dyes, parabens, phosphates, phthalates or optical brighteners. We have four facilities across the U.S., in Addison, Illinois as well as in California, Washington and New Jersey. Illinois was our first home—we were founded in Bensenville back in 1967.

This year, we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary as a family owned and operated company, which is so rare in the green cleaning industry. We’re proud to have become a leader in sustainable manufacturing and have achieved the unprecedented “trifecta” of carbon neutrality, water neutrality and Platinum Zero Waste certification. Since we became carbon neutral in 2013, we’ve saved an amazing 61,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of planting 1.6 million trees or removing 13,000 passenger vehicles from the road! We want to show other companies how making a few key changes in how you do business can have a big impact on our planet and our future.

We’re also proud to be a leader in corporate social responsibility. Our team members are what make our company so special, and I’m passionate about providing them a true living wage (our minimum age is currently $17 an hour) and family-friendly benefits like health insurance and paid sick and family leave. All employees should feel supported by their company and be happy to come to work every day. I want our team members to know that they’re truly like family to us and that we’re grateful for the work they do to make our world a better place.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
My proudest moment was when we finally achieved carbon neutrality, water neutrality AND Platinum Zero Waste certification at all four of our facilities. We became carbon neutral in 2013, we were certified Platinum Zero Waste at each facility by 2015, and we finally achieved water neutrality last year in 2016. There’s so much hard work that goes into making any one of those achievements happen, and I’m so proud of the amazing dedication of our team to make it all come together. Dr. Nadereh Afsharmanesh, our VP of Sustainability & Education, did an incredible job designing the many programs we needed to reach our goals, but it was the dedication of each and every production line member, purchasing agent, shipping clerk, and employee in the company who made it happen.

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