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Van Vlahakis: Transforming 22 Dollars into a Green Giant

Van Vlahakis left Greece  four decades ago with 22 dollars in his pocket. He arrived to the US hoping for a better future for him and his family. Today, Eftehios – as is his Greek name-  not only managed to live the American dream for himself, but also created the leading privately owned company for environmentally friendly cleaning products. Think of Tide and Palmolive but way better for the environment.

On June 10th, Earth Friendly products added a brand new manufacturing facility in Addison, Illinois to the company’s smart network of plants. Manufacturing in different states reduces the shipping expenses and is better for the environment since the products travel less until they reach the household. The Addison facility boasts 312 solar panels, making it the single largest solar-powered commercial facility in Illinois. The addition of natural energy in the production process is just another way that Earth Friendly Products is reducing its carbon footprint in an effort to keep the environment as clean as its products.

The company created by Van Vlahakis more than two decades ago is a model for others that want to follow the green energy path.  Earth Friendly products is expected by 2015 to exceed in half billion dollars in revenue. Mr Vlahais talked to us about his success, his life and green manufacturing.

Where are you from?
I am from Chania, Crete. I stayed there until I was 18 and then I came to the United States to study medicine and I ended up studying chemistry which was a very smart idea. Chemistry was very interesting.

What was your goal after college? To go into business or work as a chemist?
At the time I had no idea of business; my first job was working as a chemist.

When did you get the idea to start Earth Friendly Products?
By 1967, I was already a chemist for ten years working in research and development. I lost my job and that is when I started my business right outside of Chicago.

What were the first products you started making?
In the beginning, we were into cosmetics making hand lotions and shampoos which we no longer make. Then we got into cleaning products which was more successful for us. We we only had our products in green stores up until 2005 when we got into Costco and two years later into Sams.

Is the myth that green products are more expensive than non-green products true?
Not true.

Is the production of green products more costly? ?
No, we are very competitive with any product out there. Actually in Canada we are number one in laundry detergent. We sell more products than Tide does.

Which geographical markets are your products sold?
Especially in the United States, heavily in Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Japan, Taiwan, and starting now in England. We are the number one for green-friendly products. All products are manufactured in U.S. and exported.

What is your vision for the company for 2015?
We should be a half billion dollar company with at least 1,000 employees. We are going to have a plant in Greece, too.

How will you proceed to start the business in Greece?
We will find a local businessman and we will put in the money and the know-how. They will also put some money in and the labor. They will run the place.

Where would you like have the plant? In Crete?
Crete is a good option, but I think it should be near the big markets and close to Attiki.

What is your involvement with the company at this time?
I oversee through the computer. I still apply my chemical background and we continuously looking to develop better products.

Tell us about your new facility in Chicago?
We just opened our Edison plant which is 105,000 square feet. We have 75 employees here. In honor of the opening we donated enough cleaning products for the birds that got caught in the oil of the Gulf crisis. We also donated funds to local organizations to plant trees in Chicago. We also have the largest installation of solar power in Illinois. All of our plants are slowly being converted to solar energy. About sixty percent of our electricity comes from these solar panels.

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