As the pandemic first swept the world in March 2020, Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, president and CEO of leading sustainable cleaning products company ECOS, received word that orders had skyrocketed to eight times the normal rate. With cleaning products being considered the number one weapon in the war on Covid-19 at the time, it was clear to Vlahakis-Hanks that it was time to prepare.
From protecting the health of her team to ensuring that consumer demand was met, ECOS was able to rapidly scale its operations and respond to the crisis. Not only that, but the company was able to continue pursuing its sustainability goals. This success led Entrepreneur Magazine to name Vlahakis-Hanks in their annual 2020 “100 Most Powerful Women in Business” list.
Female-led, manufactured in the U.S., family-owned and operated for over 50 years, ECOS is a pioneer in the plant-based green chemistry industry. Products are free from dyes, formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, parabens, phalates and optical brighteners. ECOS is the first company in the world to have achieved the trifecta of sustainable manufacturing in its industry: carbon neutral, water neutral, and Platinum Zero Waste certified. The brand’s newest achievement is that it has become 100% climate positive as of April 2021.
Furthermore, Vlahakis-Hanks is one of the only female leaders of color in the cleaning industry. On a mission to do everything she can to protect consumer health and the health of the planet, she has advocated for cleaner ingredients and label transparency. This is why ECOS is proud to have the U.S. EPA Safer Choice certification for its laundry detergents and cleaning products, meaning they are free from known carcinogens.
“At ECOS, we believe that everyone has a right to a healthy home and that cleaning products should be accessible and affordable for everyone,” says Vlahakis-Hanks. “We also believe that everyone has a right to know what’s in the cleaning products they bring into their home, which is why we list our ingredients on our labels.”
When Vlahakis-Hanks was young, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She did what she could throughout her teenage years trying to protect her mom and help her recover. She feels grateful for the additional 15 years she got to spend with her mother before losing her to cancer in 2007. Yet her mother’s illness also created a deep desire within Vlahakis-Hanks to work in a field where she could prevent others from experiencing the same suffering. After graduating from UCLA, Vlahakis-Hanks joined the family business, committing to create even safer cleaning products and also to educate consumers about the importance of green products in the prevention of disease.
“Each and every day, I get to make a positive difference in the world,” says Vlahakis-Hanks. “It’s a privilege to sit at the helm of an environmentally and socially responsible company. I’m also incredibly proud of our diversity. Over 50% of our C-suite and managers are women, and 36% of our leaders are people of color. Additionally, as one of the only African American female leaders in our industry, I realize that championing change and representing diverse leadership are very important.”
In addition, ECOS pays its employees a living minimum wage of $17 an hour, offers benefits like health insurance and paid family leave, and provides financial incentives for green choices like buying low-emission vehicles and solar panels and relocating closer to work to reduce the carbon footprint from commuting. “Investing in your employees pays huge long-term dividends. So many companies underestimate the long-term savings from lower turnover costs, higher productivity and retained corporate memory,” says Vlahakis-Hanks.
To young people looking to tap into their life purpose, Vlahakis-Hanks says, “It’s extremely important to pursue your passions, whether that’s through internships, study abroad programs, college coursework, or working with a mentor who can help guide you. So often people are driven by money and material things, but if you’re really passionate and love what you do, you can create wealth along the way.”