A Passion for Creating Safe Products for Babies, Families & the Environment is Driving Rapid Growth
The Honest Company, a B-Corp social enterprise, has built a billion dollars in value in three years, formulating, producing and marketing safe and effective lifestyle products, according to Forbes and other financial media. The company was founded and led in this notable achievement by actress, advocate, New York Times-bestselling author and Chief Creative Officer Jessica Alba, along with child and environmental health advocate, author, co-founder and Chief Product Officer Christopher Gavigan, Brian Lee (CEO) and Sean Kane (President).
The Honest Company produces well-designed, safe products at affordable prices in the belief that everyone should have a healthy and happy home environment. The company is committed to several sustainability goals, including more efficient uses of packaging and recycled materials, as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency strategies.
A Growing Awareness of Chemical Realities
Recently, ChiefPackagingOfficer.com had the opportunity to speak with Christopher Gavigan on wide-ranging topics related to the company’s philosophy, passions, success and future plans. Rather than an instant awakening, his personal, lifelong passion was built on a mounting body of data-driven evidence about the harmful chemicals in the global supply chain. Many chemicals and ingredients are untested for human and environmental safety, yet they find their way into many household and personal care products we use today, he said.
The Journey to Create Change
The impact on human and environmental health shocked him and set him on an educational and career journey to do something about it. That journey took him from his native Connecticut to California to study at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in its Environmental Sciences program, the first in the nation. He went to grad school where he focused on psychology and behavior sciences.
“This was critical to learning how to communicate effectively – not just to educate, but to inspire better choices,” he said. “I recognized that educating not by fear tactics but through credible, actionable, solution-based thinking is far more powerful and effective.”
From Nonprofit Leader to Entrepreneur
Gavigan remained in California and went on to head a nonprofit organization called The Children’s Health and Environmental Coalition, which he rebranded Healthy Child Healthy World. During a seven-year period he saw what he viewed as, “overwhelming evidence” linking toxic chemicals in our environment to allergies, respiratory illness, cancers and chronic diseases. He cites American Cancer Society statistics that cancer is the number one killer of children and that 80 percent of cancers are triggered by environmental factors. “No one talks about this,” Gavigan said.
He wrote a best-selling book on the subject, titled “Healthy Child Healthy World – Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home” and became a recognized expert and voice on reversing the status quo. His work brought him to Alba’s attention. When she began building a family, she searched for products without harsh or toxic chemicals for her home and children and found a huge gap in what was available on the market.
Like-minded, Gavigan and Alba joined forces to create The Honest Company and to begin filling the void. After a couple of years of intense planning and brand building – during which, amazingly, they were able to acquire the url honest.com at a reasonable cost – they launched in January of 2012. They started with 17 products, ranging from diapers to lotions to household cleaners, and the company has now developed more than 125 products.
Though the majority of The Honest Company’s revenues come from ecommerce, they’ve partnered with such national retailers as Target, Costco, Whole Foods, and Nordstrom to reach their expanding consumer base through the convenience of local retailers.
Following is our Q & A with Christopher:
Q. What challenges have you had to overcome to make your products safe, sustainable and effective?
A. It’s tough to go formulators and say, “We want to make this product, but we can’t use this ingredient or that one to get it done – since it’s a balancing act of efficacy, innovation, and safety.” Because we’re fanatical about our chemical purity and integrity, fair trade and social justice standards, we absolutely won’t compromise. So we’ve had to choose our innovation and manufacturer partners wisely. We do everything but batching and filling here. And those are done with trusted resources where there are deeply controlled and entrenched partner relationships.
As a small company with a rapid growth plan, we also had to look at a partner’s ability to meet our precautionary and quality standards now and to scale with us going forward. We have to assure operational fulfillment and rigor around planning and supply chain management as well.
Because we went to market first as an e-commerce company, we created the fortuitous reality of our continuity program. Of course customers can buy one item, but many of our consumers have adopted our bundling option, where they receive regular deliveries of our everyday, lifestyle products they can get on an ongoing basis – like diapers and wipes, shampoos, or our cleaning products.
This predictability allows us to right size production and manufacture in small batches, which assures product freshness – important even in products like shampoos. So it’s a win-win-win for us, our suppliers and most importantly our customers.
Q. In packaging today, there’s a growing movement toward sustainability and ‘green’ packaging. What role does sustainability play in The Honest Company’s packaging, and how would you assess progress so far – both your own and the industry’s? Also please comment on your recycling and reuse initiatives.
A. As a brand that’s highly focused on human health and the integrity of our products, of course we focus first on what goes inside the package. And yes, packaging is also critically important to us. We look at it from the perspectives of form, function, ecological impact, recyclability, and customer experience.
When it comes to packaging sustainability, we’re doing a pretty good job. But like the rest of the industry, we have room for improvement. We think we can do more and do better, and we have a team focused on great innovations here as well.
Currently, we’re paying a lot of attention to sustainability in sourcing plastics and paper packaging. We’re committed to transparency and validation in our materials sourcing, and keep it localized domestically as much as possible.
Another area where we’re reducing the environmental footprint of packaging is in our concentrates program, which we launched last Earth Day. One of our 26-ounce spray cleaners, for example, is about 85 percent water. If the customer opts for a concentrated refill instead of a full-sized spray cleaner, they are saving much more than just 77 percent in plastic; there’s more than a 74 percent savings each of water, fossil fuel consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions.Encouraging consumers to use concentrates requires some education and our e-commerce site gives us the opportunity to engage, inspire, and teach our customers. It takes education for retailers, too, where there can be some resistance. We’re working to a leadership role in this entire area of product development and marketing.
(An Editor’s note to our readers: Ironically Christopher Gavigan knows Jason Foster, inventor of the Replenish bottle, another pioneer of concentrates and our first “Meet the Innovators” subject. They’ve been exploring how they might work together now that Foster is licensing his technology to other manufacturers. You can read our Meet the Innovators with Jason right here.)
Regarding recycling and reuse, we’re working on a number of areas, especially those that will get us more localized connection with our consumers. We’re exploring allowing them to send back certain packaging for us to recycle since they may not have access to local programs.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about your retail strategy?
A. The most interesting thing about our retail strategy is that it was all organic. We originally believed our Honest portfolio of products would be distributed through our own e-commerce channel where we can communicate directly with moms and families to provide them with the evidence and alternatives that empower them to make good product choices. And it’s working.
But our brand developed such a powerful voice and experienced such rapid growth that retailers took note and simply reached out. We want to be accessible and available to everyone, and it was a natural evolution to extend to where people shop – since almost 90% of transactions still happen at retail stores. We are so appreciative of these partners for listening to our vision and taking the leap with us as we empower a new generation of smarter, healthier, mindful consumers.
Q. Would you comment on your motivation for becoming a B-Corp and what you envision for the future of the movement?
A. We’ve been so thoroughly excited, impressed and humbled by the B-Corp movement. We are a purpose-driven social enterprise wanting to create deep cultural change. This self-assessment tool ensures that business processes and intentions of “doing good” are met with appropriate actions. As a business, you have to step up and say, “We want to be judged with a critical eye.” The more we’re judged, the better we can meet higher standards of transparency, performance, and accountability.
The B-Corp platform is a resource that fosters great partnership. It’s hard to start a business, let alone one focused on a higher mission. The B-Corp group gives us guideposts for all areas of our business, including human resources and board engagement. It’s about aligning ourselves with people and companies who are as credible or have been doing this longer than us.
It requires six months of business activity before you can become B-Corp certified. We’re happy to say that The Honest Company was one of the fastest – maybe THE fastest – to become certified: six months and a week! We absolutely will continue supporting the B-Corp movement and encourage this business and cultural shift in the coming years.
When we look at both our products and people (and our packaging!) for those elements that are ‘unique’, ‘innovative’, and ‘responsible’ assets, I will always continue to strive for something MORE, as we evolve the vision of what a responsible company is. Accountability is a powerful motivator. As I always say, “We aren’t a perfect company; we are the Honest Company”.
Christopher Gavigan is a champion for children’s health, acclaimed author and speaker, social entrepreneur, and Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of The Honest Company. In his position, Gavigan ensures that everything Honest creates expresses the core values of this mission-based business and creates a social, ecological, and philanthropic impact that inspires genuine change. His commitment and consciousness have been instrumental in spreading awareness about children’s environmental health, providing actionable information to millions of homes worldwide, and helping families choose a healthy, non-toxic lifestyle.