By MAGDALENE PEREZ
Hartford Courant staff writer
December 5, 2007
But as one fast-growing company has discovered, the price of all that green air can be steep for small businesses that need "Green Seal" certification to capitalize on the change. Seaside Naturals, of North Branford, still doesn't have the certification, but is one of the few Connecticut companies manufacturing all-natural cleaning products.
Last week, Hartford joined a growing number of government entities, businesses and school districts in the state requiring — whenever feasible — the use of non-toxic cleaners.
Green cleaning products are typically biodegradable, and sold with minimum packaging. Eco-activists have been pushing for their use for years, arguing they are safer not only for the environment, but also for janitors and just about anybody who's ever used a bathroom in a public building.
Last year, Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered all state university offices and executive agencies to use cleaning products "that minimize potential impacts to human health and the environment" whenever "practicable." Several municipalities and institutions have followed suit, including the town of Berlin, Greenwich Hospital and Amity School District in southwestern Connecticut.
As demand for green cleaning products grows, companies such as Seaside Naturals, a husband-and-wife owned venture, are eager to step in.
Co-owners Linda and David Zielski saw opportunity knocking before green cleaning was popular. Four years ago they discovered Simple Pure Clean, a small line of household cleaners made from vinegar, alcohol and essential oils, in Washington state. The line was invented by a woman with lupus who avoided name-brand cleaners because they caused her immunity illness to worsen.
At the time, Linda was a massage therapist who sold homeopathic remedies. She fell in love with the products after discovering her family felt healthier when she used them at home.
"Both of my children had asthma and they no longer have to use a nebulizer," Linda said. "It just seems that we're less ill, we're healthier."
Linda started selling the cleaners soon afterward, and within a year, the Zielskis bought the company, moving supplies cross-country from Washington state. Her husband, formerly a software engineer, came on full time in November 2005.
The Zielskis quickly changed the name and redesigned the packaging to give the label a more friendly appearance, and the move paid off. Today Seaside Naturals is on shelves in Whole Foods and Big Y Supermarkets across the state and selling to more than 180 cleaning businesses nationwide.
The company, with eight employees including the Zielskis, is approaching profitability and looking for investors, David said.
At the plant, employees busily mix ingredients in 55-gallon drums as the smell of citrus wafts through the air. They produce and bottle a dozen types of cleaners in addition to baby and personal care products and homeopathic remedies — among them, peppermint glass cleaner and eucalyptus-scented floor polish.
Production has tripled in each of the past four years, David said — up to 25,000 gallons this year. Old 5-gallon buckets are a reminder of a time when the husband and wife team used to make cleaners in much smaller batches.
Now, the company is mapping out a plan to capitalize on municipalities' newfound willingness to use green products. They recently hired a consultant to pursue contracts with local school districts and universities.
"It's a great thing where we're headed," Linda said. "We're all about helping other businesses go green."
One roadblock the Zielskis have encountered is certifying their products, a process that costs thousands of dollars. The most widely recognized certifier is Green Seal, a nonprofit agency that lists environmentally safe cleaners. Both the state of Connecticut and the city of Hartford have consulted the list to choose non-toxic products.
But the price of certification is steep. For companies with annual sales revenue of less than $5 million, the nonprofit charges $2,800 per product for initial testing, and $2,300 per product for annual monitoring. That outlay "just wasn't in the cards," David said, until recently.
As the company grows, Seaside Naturals is reconsidering whether to become Green Seal certified.
Governments and other institutions going green, including the state and Hartford, often use the list to choose which products to buy. And Green Seal promotes manufacturers on the list at trade shows and on its website, said Linda Chipperfield, vice president of marketing at the agency.
Today about 300 companies are included on the Green Seal list, but few are based in Connecticut.
One exception is Simoniz, an old-line car-wax and cleaning products manufacturer in Bolton that has been quick to respond to the new demand for green cleaning supplies. In the past three years, Simoniz rolled out Green Scene, a line of about 20 Green Seal certified all-purpose cleaners, floor waxes, bathroom cleaners, and hand soaps.
Simoniz had experimented with environmentally friendly products in the past, but higher prices and an industrywide perception that green cleaners were ineffective made clients reluctant to buy. Now, with the state and municipalities driving up demand, sales of green products account for 5 percent of the company's janitorial sales. The company expects that number to be "well over 10 percent and growing" by next year, said Doug Demio, regional sales manager for Simoniz.
"Green products are just going to continue to grow," said Bill Gorra, president and CEO of Simoniz. "Not just in Connecticut but in New York and Massachusetts, more and more municipal and town governments are requiring that green products are being used."
For Linda Zielski, the newfound interest in green cleaners is not just an opportunity to grow her business, but also to change the way we live.
"It's going back to when your grandmother or great grandmother used to clean," she said. "We want to help people live a healthier lifestyle."
Courant Staff Photographer Bob MacDonnell contributed to this story.
Contact Magdalene Perez at email@example.com.