This green entrepreneur story started in a classic way: with love in the air. Boy meets soap-making girl, falls in love with her (and her soaps), and eventually Eco Lips was born. We wanted to know how such a thriving green business got started and where it is today, so we interviewed Rob Shriver, Eco Lips’ VP Sales and Marketing to find out.
Can you tell us what’s special about the Eco Lips product line? What makes it green?
Not only does Eco Lips use certified organic and sustainable ingredients whenever available, but our tubes are made with 40% recycled plastic and our displays are 100% post-consumer recycled. We use recycled paper for all marketing material, as well.
Has the formula for your products changed over time? If so, why and how?
Yes. We change our formula to meet the needs of our consumers and of our own values. For instance, we are currently reformulating our SPF products using natural mineral SPF, and we will also revamp our formulas as new organic alternatives become available to the few natural ingredients we use.
How do you select and source the ingredients for making Eco Lips products?
The selection of our suppliers is a very integral part of our business and products. We require the highest quality; therefore we select suppliers who can provide information on where they are sourcing, proof of organic certification, detailed COA and MSDS as well as specific testing for each lot or batch.
Does packaging design figure into your green business plans?
As our products need fairly basic packaging, we try to use the lowest-impact materials we can find for POP displays and labels.
How did you get your green business started?
Our company was founded out of the need our co-founders had for an organic alternative to all the natural lip balms in the marketplace and funded privately. Today we produce over 2 million tubes of lip balm annually and are distributed in 12 countries/regions.
How do you market Eco Lips in these various venues?
Our products are readily available at most Whole Foods stores, Vitamin Cottage, Sunflower Farmers Market, and many independent natural products stores and co-ops. We have found that a very successful and cost effective way to promote our brand is through in-store promotions, in-store TPRs, and, of course, sampling staff. This allows us to speak directly to our consumers without spending large dollars on print marketing.
Does social medial pay a role in marketing your green product?
Our website, Facebook, and Twitter followers are very important to us. This type of marketing is practically instantaneous and can produce easily quantifiable results and trends. It can also be a great way to survey and understand a general sense of your target audience.
How do you ensure that your business remains sustainable (in terms of resource use, shipping, and waste) as your company grows?
We try to be as pro-active as possible. Everyone here is aware of the major issues. This is our culture in general. We seem to organically tackle these challenges through individuals in our company. Someone may read an article and come to work the next day posing a question about our practices, having a better answer. When this happens, we just get it done.
Tell us how the private label lip balm fits into your business plan. Are you choosey as to which companies get to print their brand on your product?
Our private labeling really falls into two categories. One is our co-branding in which companies want a private label lip balm but still opt for the Eco Lips logo on the label. For this, we are much more stringent about working with companies who’s goals are in-line or similar to our own. For anonymous private labeling, there have only been a few instances where we have had to deal with the confliction between business and ethics. I believe that offering an organic privately labeled product naturally draws in companies who also are similar in values. Companies who are price hunting for the best deal simply don’t think “organic.”
How does Eco Lips give back to the community?
Well, the first and simplest thing that comes to mind is that we take part in adopt-a-highway. On a larger scale, we have initiated some very large projects in our community such as our Solar Power Project in which, with the help of other companies and our local government, four solar panels were built just outside our building and fed directly into our neighborhood grid to offset our energy usage.
Our co-founder, Steve Shriver, held the Organic Endurathon in which he attempted one marathon a day for 10 consecutive days across Iowa. The goal was to spread awareness of organics and sustainability.
What advice would you have for other aspiring green and social entrepreneurs?
Stay true to your values. True is a word we toss around a lot here at Eco Lips. When making a decision regarding anything from water usage to a new POP display we are designing, we always ask if the decisions we are making are true to our missions.