American Entrepreneur – Earth Friendly Products
Eftichios “Van” Vlahakis is the founder of Earth Friendly Products, the maker of ECOS™ environmentally friendly cleaning products, and a visionary eco-pioneer who helped define the green movement. Van started Earth Friendly Products to make cleaners that are safer for people and the planet, so future generations can enjoy the beauty of our Earth.
Van began making safer cleaning products in 1967, early in the infancy of the green movement. Born on the Greek island of Crete in 1935, Van endured the hardships of German occupation during World War II before emigrating to Chicago in 1953. Working as a chemist, he soon saw the negative health effects of toxic chemicals, so he created his own company dedicated to making safer cleaning products. Working out of his garage, he based his formulas on the cleaning power of natural ingredients such as lemon and vinegar that had been used for centuries in his homeland of Greece.
Van led Earth Friendly Products to achieve many firsts in the green movement and in corporate social responsibility: the first pH-balanced, phosphate-free auto dish gel; the first cleaning products to be 1,4-dioxane free; the first company to achieve carbon neutrality at all of its manufacturing facilities; the first company to adopt the U.S. EPA Safer Choice certification on its products; and the first company in the U.S. to pay a minimum wage of $17/hour.
Under Van’s leadership, Earth Friendly Products achieved carbon neutrality in 2013 through a series of major sustainability initiatives, including the switch to 100% renewable energy, which saves over 53 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually. In addition, all five of Earth Friendly Products’ facilities are Zero Waste Platinum certified, diverting over 95% of their waste from landfills and incineration.
As a U.S.-based primary manufacturer, Earth Friendly Products is still committed to making green cleaning effective and affordable. Today, the company manufactures 200 environmentally friendly cleaners that are thoughtfully sourced, free of formaldehyde and dyes, pH balanced, readily biodegradable, and never tested on animals.
Although Van passed away in 2014, his legacy continues today through his daughter Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, who now leads Earth Friendly Products as President and CEO. Van was an extraordinary visionary who dedicated his life to creating a healthier, more sustainable world, for which he was granted an honorary doctorate in Social Justice from Roosevelt University in 2012. With an indomitable spirit and exceptional generosity, he epitomized the American dream, inspiring everyone he encountered to dream bigger.