Sustainability is a cornerstone of the “People Against Dirty” Method brand, leading to its sustainable new South Side Soapbox factory in the Pullman historic district, an economically-depressed area on Chicago’s south side. The LEED Platinum facility, boasting the world’s biggest green roof, a working farm and a natural habitat, sets a high bar for not only the environmentally-friendly brand of household, fabric and personal care products but its consumer brand peers.
The 150,000-square-foot facility is the first Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design platinum-certified factory in its industry, earning the highest-level LEED certification by not only featuring state-of-the-industry sustainability features but also integrating with the local community.
— method (@methodtweet) April 28, 2015
— ChicagosMayor (@ChicagosMayor) April 28, 2015
Its so-called South Side Soapbox facility will produce half of the company’s annual electrical needs with an on-site refurbished wind turbine and solar-energy system, and along with renewable-energy credit purposes will operate on 100 percent renewable energy in its first two years. There’s also a 1,520-square-foot succulent-green roof covering the entry walkway, light-reflecting concrete and rooftop, skylights in the distribution center and a 120-gallon, solar-powered water heating system.
The Soapbox connects to the local community with measures ranging from the world’s largest rooftop greenhouse farm, which will market its produce to the Chicago retail and restaurant market, as well as the lack of a fence around the 22-acre factory site, providing public access to its green space. Three-and-a-half acres have been developed as a natural habitat for wildlife, while the remaining land is being revived and better managed.
brandchannel chatted with Garry Embleton, vice president of operations and supply chain for the company, to find out more.
brandchannel: Method is recognized as a pioneer of green household products. How does building a LEED-certified plant in the middle of Chicago extend that positioning?
Garry Embleton: Having a positive impact and the location of manufacturing were very much a part of our thinking and strategy around this Method manufacturing approach. We didn’t want to build in a cornfield in the middle of nowhere. We wanted to find an area where we could build a great facility, and a location where we could have a positive benefit in connection with the community.
bc: How does this relate to customers?
Embleton: There’s an increasing trend and desire toward transparency in the supply chain, but it’s still emerging. There’s more and more focus around not just products but also where the products came from—soil to shelf. So it’s increasingly important for brands and manufacturers to be transparent, for things within the product to be traceable, and to be able to talk about all of the practices and approaches as they relates to how that end product was made.
In the industry today, certainly within the natural-products arena, there is no other company that’s transparent about its full supply chain. We wanted to build a facility that hit on all elements of sustainability and also created transparency where consumers understand what we’re remaking and how we’re making it and how we source those products. But this is still something that’s a couple of years out in the minds of most consumers.
bc: How so?
Embleton: There’s a subset of our customers and consumers who are very interested and engaged in the whole product story, including how it was made. That’s increasing, and it won’t be too long—maybe about two years—when that’s going to be a lot more in focus than it is today.
We’re beyond early adopters. Regardless of category, there’s more and more discussion around the externalized costs and implications of how you bring products to market. There’s the idea of authenticity and integrity and transparency when consumers buy products, around understanding where they came from and being able trust that they were brought to market in the right way.
bc: Do you think this general trend has required or allowed companies to include social factors that aren’t strictly related to the environmental impact of their supply chains and manufacturing?
Embleton: Absolutely. These used to be risk-management questions that you would be asked by retailers, interested consumers and NGOs. But more and more we’re getting questions like, “What labor practices do you employ?” with a focus on labor practices that may involve underage labor. Also, we hear, “As a sustainable premium brand, do you pay your workers a living wage? Do your workers have healthcare benefits? Do you source ingredients in areas of the world where you know what the practices are?”
So there’s a real broadening, and the questions are changing. A lot of it is consumers wanting to understand, “If I support this product, is it sprouting good things in the supply chain?” It’s a different lens than we’re used to seeing. The environmental element will continue around energy use and carbon footprint and water use. But now those are the table stakes.
In the case of this plant, and the LEED platinum certification, we were looking at issues such as whether we would be hiring within the local community and providing education benefits, and do employees have full-time jobs. Those are the newer questions for branded products companies.
bc: Where was this manufacturing done before, and why did you pick the site that you did?
Embleton: It was done by contract manufacturers spread throughout the Midwest. Most of them were in cornfields in the middle of nowhere, where they made all employees drive to work—and so had a negative for their carbon footprints.
They met our standards and practices but when we were looking to build our own facility, we wanted a great logistics network, access to road and rail, and normal things like a center-of-the-country location based on our products being heavy to move. In the grand scheme of things, we wanted relatively low costs.
We looked at 150 sites across Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. We looked at greenfield and brownfield sites. And we narrowed our choices to one in Michigan and two in Illinois. When we got to Pullman Park, community leaders came out and told us what a difference we could make—we didn’t just get glossy brochures.