Clean team: the young entrepreneurs set to mop up the eco-market


That Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan should receive a Valentine's Day card is not surprising. Both in their thirties, they are brainy, clean-cut, all-American business types. That the card should be made of cut-up packaging is unusual. But that it should express love for their range of household cleaning products is plain off the wall. And yet this is not unusual: Method, Lowry and Ryan's eco-friendly brand of floor polishes, disinfectants, leather cloths and other friendly cleaners, which is now being rolled out across Britain seems to attract fanatical followers.

Indeed, in taking a stance in an industry that has done its best to ignore the need for green alternatives to the toxic chemicals with which we routinely douse our homes, Lowry and Ryan have made products associated with chores hip and desirable. Their safe liquids, sprays and gels come in the kind of sculptural, minimalist packaging that appeals to the iPod generation. And they are as new wave in their business practices – using solar energy, supporting workers' rights and fair wages – as their products. They are the Ben and Jerry of the toilet bowl – with a loo cleaner made from lactic acid, wipes made from sustainable bamboo and packaged in the world's first fully recyclable film pouch, and a mop made from recyclable, plastic they were told was impossible to manufacture.

"A lot of customers buy our products because they look cool. But the reason why most of them stay loyal is because they're green," reckons Ryan, a former advertising executive who speaks of Method being "an organisation of fun", whose employees gather for a "Monday huddle" to crack jokes and talk business.

Their beliefs are not, however, something the duo have been keen to bludgeon customers with. The greenness of the products is only passingly mentioned on their packaging, though it is explained on their website. Rather, touches of humour aim to provoke thought: "Does your home have a chemical dependency?" asks one tag-line; "You may not know what your bathroom tiles taste like, but your kid does," states another.

In many ways, their range's designer aesthetic is a cynical one, an admission that few people are likely to be converted to using green cleaning products on eco-credentials alone: stylish design is a Trojan horse to get into the homes of people more concerned that detergents and cleansers should smell nice or match the cupboards. But the strategy is working. In 2005, Method recorded sales of $15m (£7.7m). Last year they were nearly $100m. "When you're David against Goliath, the likes of giant companies such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble with endless dollars to spend, you're never going to win playing their game," says Lowry, a former chemical engineer and climate scientist who worked on the Kyoto Protocol and whose business title is now chief greenskeeper (Ryan's is ripplemaker). "You have to redefine the game."

That said, their beliefs have had to be strong even to get their brand this far. First, there were factories to persuade. "Normally, they solicit a brand for business, but we had to make the sales pitch to them: I'd walk in, tell them we had no money to buy shelf space in stores, show them a rendering of a funky bottle that's hard to make and tell them we wanted to fill it with a substance others were convinced could not be made. Oh, and that we didn't expect to sell much," says Lowry.

Resistance from manufacturers was followed by doubt from retailers. According to Lowry, with sales of household cleaning products in decline, the market offering nothing distinctive and the major manufacturers squeezing retail profit, interest in anything new, green or not, has been at an all-time low.

John Lewis was the first UK retailer to take on Method, and it's now sold in Waitrose, Boots, some Sainsbury's, Co-op and Tesco stores, as well as many independent shops. Finally, consumers have had to be lured into a new way of thinking. "There is still this misconception that "green isn't clean", that such products don't work," explains Ryan. "A lot of that comes from the big companies who are constantly drumming on about 'new and improved', that they deliver superior cleaning power," he says. "And we grew up with a lot of these old brands, so we don't look at that as evil, as they potentially are – there are chemicals in those products that really shouldn't be there. Ours is a simple mission: a happy, healthy home."

Thanks to their success in the US, they may not be alone on that mission for long. Lowry and Ryan suggest that it is, in part, convention that has stopped major players from tackling the green market. But there are also, they add, philosophical barriers. "There has been apathy, a lot of saying 'green cleaning products can't be made' or sitting on the sidelines asking, 'is this green thing going away, or is it going to stick around?'," says Lowry. "It shows these companies have no spine in having a clear point of view people can buy into. We don't want to wait to see if green thinking becomes the norm – we want to make it happen. Now those giant companies are realising there is a market for green products, they're going to try to out-Method Method."

That, potentially, is good for the planet. It proves a big problem for Method. But the duo draw a parallel between their company and Apple, which keeps being imitated but is always innovating to stay ahead. Method has new products in the pipeline, among them a concentrated laundry detergent it promises will be revolutionary, as well as moves into personal care, including new baby and kids' lines – all while pioneering new and, of course, chic bio-packaging. There's also a book, Squeaky Clean, a guide to detoxing your home.

"They're a way to bring delight into drudgery," says Lowry of their products. "And they're green. But all cleaning products should be."

Be a greener cleaner


*Chemical air fresheners, aerosols and phosphates, Triclosan (an anti-bacterial in some deodorants) and alkylphenols (hormone disruptors in some detergents).

*Mercury, found in some chlorine bleaches can cause nerve damage.

*Artificial musks or any heavily-scented cleaning products.

*Volatile organic compounds found in some cleaners.

Use instead...

*Lemon juice – it bleaches, deodorises and kills bacteria. Mix one part juice with three parts water to clean worktops.

Salt and lemon juice bring a shine to copper and brass

nVinegar – with water to clean surfaces and windows. Scrub stains with vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. Use vinegar neat for limescale.

*Use bicarbonate of soda on carpets stains and to clean ovens and sinks.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'