Made in Chicago: Method Soap

Made in Chicago: Method Soap

The people against dirty come clean
Zeke Markshausen
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Method Soap began in a grungy San Francisco flat, where roommates Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry started mixing eco-friendly soap recipes in beer pitchers. Now, 15 years later, they've opened the industry’s first LEED Platinum certified factory in Chicago’s Historic Pullman District.

We took a trip to the factory to see how far they’d come. The building looks more Willy Wonka than gritty Chicago. It features colorful banners on the front, greenhouses on the roof, and sun-tracking solar panels in the parking lot. A wind turbine spins in the back and the property even keeps its own colony of bees. Yet, as we explored inside, I found the most compelling part of their story was how human they decided to be along the way.

Method's factory on Chicago's Far South Side is as colorful as its cleaning products.

These folks are seriously clean.

Method is a B Corporation, which means they are a mission-driven company that follows certain environmental and social standards. Our tour guide Shannon, an old soap industry vet, helped us understand what this means at Method. We learned that each employee receives two paid volunteer days per year to help an organization of their choice. All ingredients used are sustainably sourced and packaged, mostly in recycled containers, and the energy surplus from their wind turbine and solar cells goes back into the grid. They even chose to forego factory fences and built a sidewalk through their property so their neighbors can more easily access nearby shops.

The excess energy from their wind turbine and solar cells flows back into the grid.

Method takes bottle service to the next level.

One of Method’s biggest inefficiencies was bottling, as the company they work with had bottles traveling nearly 1,000 miles before being filled and packaged. They built this new factory with enough space to bring the bottling company in-house, taking 1,000 miles down to 1,000 feet. Add to that a fleet of bio-diesel semi trucks used for delivery and you have a pretty efficient system.

New York-based Gotham Greens rents out Method's rooftop greenhouse.

Soap and salad, anyone?

Method rents their 75,000 square foot rooftop to Gotham Greens, a New York-based urban agriculture company, making it one of the largest rooftop greenhouses in the world. The fully automated setup has seeds entering one end and fresh, ready-to-buy produce exiting the other. (Hot tip for Chicago veggie lovers: Check out Gotham Greens' Windy City Crunch lettuce. It’s so fresh it hits shelves in just two days, compared to the average two weeks!)

As our tour wrapped up, Shannon told us a story about the biggest criticism lobbed at Method. In the world of eco-friendly soap making, Method is frowned upon for using color dyes and fragrances in their soaps, prompting some to claim Method isn’t even a “green” soap company. However, Shannon helped us understand this decision. It turns out, it takes more energy to dye the plastic in each soap bottle than it does to dye the soap. So, given that consumers want to pick brightly colored things from shelves, dyeing the soap is a better solution.

The story illustrates the fact that being eco-friendly is never simple. Instead, it involves many decisions, involving all facets of an organization. Having seen inside the factory, we emerged believing that Method was truly committed to making the planet—and our homes—a little bit cleaner.

Photos courtesy of Method, Sophie Feng, and Magen McAfee.

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Zeke Markshausen
Zeke fully embraces IDEO’s mantra: “Build to think.” A professional athlete turned mechanical engineer, he always has his eye on sports and tech.
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