Melaleuca: Area Company That Sells Cleaning Products Internationally Was ‘Green’ Before It Was Popular

Idaho State Journal | Vanessa Grieve |

A key ingredient to ensuring safe drinking water, fertile soil and pollution-free air for future generations is long-term planning.

Success may not always be found in a bottle, but Idaho-based Melaleuca’s start came in September 1985 with its first eight home-cleaning products. The goal has been to provide people with products that are safe to humans and effective to use, as well as friendly on the environment.

Since that time, Melaleuca The Wellness Company, with its corporate offices in Idaho Falls, has grown to have an international reach, doing business in at least 14 countries, and makes more than 350 products for home, hygiene and health. In the past two years, it has exceeded $1 billion in global annual sales.

Melaleuca-CEO-Frank-VanderSlootCompany Chief Executive Officer Frank VanderSloot said environmentally friendly practices are incorporated into the company, starting in research and manufacturing.

Much like the “leave no trace” signs found in forest and wilderness areas, VanderSloot said Melaleuca created products with the goal of leaving no signs of harm behind.

“There is more that we can do to replenish and clean up,” VanderSloot said of all mankind. “But at the very least as individuals we could have the motto or the mantra that ‘I don’t want to leave any trace that I damaged anything while I was on this Earth.’ So the cleaning products, especially that Melaleuca offers, is with that in mind.”

VanderSloot said the company, in its 27th year, was “green” before green was a thing. He said the company has led the way in manufacturing widely used environmentally friendly household, hygiene and lifestyle products.

Many of their competitors’ household cleaning agents contain harmful chemicals, such as bleach and ammonia, that can silently permeate homes and flow into the world’s water supply, VanderSloot said. But Melaleuca is able to influence the cleaning industry to use better ingredients through marketing.

“We have a lot of competitors… and those chemicals do a lot of damage, and the sewage-treatment plants have ways to break down that stuff. But a lot of chemicals are not biodegradable and it goes in the ocean,” he said. “We just think that is irresponsible.”

Due to the hundreds of thousands of households that use Melaleuca products, VanderSloot believes that much less damage is being done to the environment.

For instance, for 20 years, Melaleuca’s automatic dishwashing detergent has been phosphate-free. And he said a key competitor also started making a phosphate-free blend about a year ago.

“We’ve created a lot of pressure in the marketplace,” he said about the change in one competitor’s auto dish detergent. “We used to take tinfoil and put on Cascade and it would eat through the tinfoil. (It shows) off how harmful some of these ingredients are.”

VanderSloot said product-users started performing the demonstration and telling others. Before long, Procter & Gamble changed its formula. He said now if people try the test, it doesn’t work, since the formula has been changed.

“It was a direct result of our marketing effort,” he said.

Distribution-Center-1a-1The company prides itself on its research and development of products. It holds many patents for not only formulas, but also manufacturing processes.

One Melaleuca invention is the six-times concentrated laundry detergent formula that stays in liquid form.

VanderSloot said the laundry detergent product was partly influenced by the access people have to water. Rather than shipping “water” across the United States — filling up larger plastic bottles and taking up unnecessary shipping space — people can buy smaller concentrated bottles of laundry detergent with no loss in product quality.

“You can actually make it that concentrated and not make it turn into a gel,” VanderSloot said. “We invented the process… how you put that much ingredient into the bottle, and we found a common household ingredient. Nobody knew it would work.”

While Melaleuca has offered the six-times concentrate for many years, only in recent years have other manufacturers switched to a two-times concentrated formula.

Having the ability to manufacture concentrated formulas has saved millions of dollars in shipping costs, in addition to preventing about 5.5 billion pounds of packaging plastics from ending up in the world’s landfills.

Green practices and philosophies have been incorporated into the company’s operations and training. Instead of shipping products in cardboard from the manufacturing plant to the distribution center, the company uses plastic totes.

Cardboard is cheaper upfront, but not in the long run.

“Plastic totes cost less because we use them thousands of times,” VanderSloot said. “Millions of bottles are shipped every month. Transporting that by a plastic tote has thousands of uses.”

Filling up all usable space in shipments, using “cubing” methods, has created efficient shipments, eliminating any dead space that can add up over time. This also saves on fuel costs.

VanderSloot said the trucking fleet is also in tip-top shape.

The company’s long-term mindset of taking care of people and the environment is also reflected through its recycling practices.

The company finds ways to recycle most everything, including plastic wrap, light bulbs, scrap metal, gear oil and cardboard.

“It all has to do with the philosophy of thinking longer term. If you have an interest in being environmentally friendly, you can do a lot together, rather than if all you’re doing is thinking about yourself,” VanderSloot said. “…If you think about that (future generations, pollution to streams and food sources) then you start caring.”

Meanwhile, in late 2012, the company announced a 371,000-square-foot facility near Interstate 15 at Idaho Falls, which will become the company’s new headquarters and manufacturing plant. It’s planned for completion in 2014.

The $50 million building is near the distribution center and will sit on about 43 acres of the 195 acres of the future campus.

Once the building is completed, between four and five facilities currently being used will be moved to one location.

Since the company carries no debt, the sweetest deal may be that, once completed, it will also be paid for.

More information about Melaleuca can be found online at www.melaleuca.com.

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