Get Fired

To Go Green

Get Fired. Healthy Living Magazine

Get Fired. Healthy Living Magazine

It can be done. You can get fired—and become a success. A sales executive in the late 1980s at a chemical cleaning supply company, Jim Rimer became disturbed by the harmful side effects from skin rashes to respiratory diseases that he witnessed among janitorial staff and customers using their products.

He attempted to implement a company safety and educational training program on the safe use of these products but his novel ideas were met with extreme resistance, his employer responding that to do so would make customers think their products were not safe. He was told to keep quiet, do his job and sell the product.

workers protected from product, consumers not

The mindset bothered Rimer. The products were compliant with all laws. If they were legal, they had to be okay. But they weren’t and he knew it. In a factory, workers used respirators and had government-regulated exposure limits, but no rules or regulations existed for homemakers; yet their exposures and levels of chemicals in the air could be just as intensive. Long-term health problems for homemakers and women of childbearing age concerned him. He told himself the day he was fired he could do better—and he would.

Read: Early Exposure To Dirt

green garage

An American success story born out of a garage, Jim Rimer in his own way joined the founders of Amazon, Apple, Disney and Google whose disruptive businesses all began in garages. Until a few prescient pioneers of the green cleaning category began thinking alike in the late 1980s, nobody had thought of making nontoxic products; the mindset was that one couldn’t clean without these toxic chemicals. No premarket safety studies were required. Chemicals that caused cancer were in products but not disclosed, nor were allergens that might be present.

Read: Guilty of Polluting Nature

Shampooing carpets by day, Jim spent his nights learning chemistry and botany and searching for nontoxic ingredients that could break down tough stains and odors. In his Portland, Oregon garage, with just a drum and wooden oar, he mixed formulations by hand—and sometimes by candlelight when bills weren’t paid—to invent his first professional surfactant, All Purpose Cleaner II (because All Purpose Cleaner I wasn’t good enough for him). The problem, as he saw it, was fundamental: cleaning formulas themselves needed to shift away from the most toxic chemicals to those that were least toxic but still performed well. He knew his inventory was greater than what his former employers used but not that much greater, not yet. He had to go farther into technology, relying on enzymes produced by bacteria and minerals; choosing citric acid when another brand used more toxic phosphoric acid; he designed a line of cleaners that didn’t need chemicals to accomplish their mission and began using them in his own cleaning business, attracting further attention.

In March 1989 Jim made his first sale to a janitorial supply store in Portland; yet, although his formulas were for the commercial industry that he knew, word caught on about the man who sold “non-chemical” cleaners; families began requesting bottles for their homes.

As the concept became crystallized into the company that would become Biokleen, Jim came to see he was developing products for a category that didn’t exist yet. Well, it does now. He’d be called one of the pioneers of the green cleaning movement.

Read: Canaries In The Coal Mine

cleaning up the industry

Thanks to reporting and investigative work by the Chemical Toxin Working Group and the HealthyLivinG Foundation that exposed the chemical contamination in mainstream cleaning products, combined with a growing body of scientific studies showing these chemicals to cause asthma, birth defects and possibly cancer, shoppers have increasingly looked for less toxic products and the green cleaning product category was born in late 1998. It hasn’t been easy. Some brands have fallen by the wayside or haven’t grown; shoppers, although liking safer products, actually often choose the cheapest for budget reasons. A brand has to offer a distinct difference with performance and value. Biokleen Bac-Out Multi-Surface Floor Cleaner and Bac-Out Fresh Lavender Natural Fabric Refresher, along with the Bac-Out Stain+Odor product, all using bacterial enzymes, gave them a distinct market edge, it would seem that has fostered marketing partnerships with Whole Foods, Sprouts, Earthfare, Central Markets and other retailers. Bac-Out Stain+Odor Remover has been named “No. 1 Natural Household Cleaner” six straight years (2008-13) by SPINSscan Natural. Biokleen Laundry Powder has been ranked No.1 “Natural Laundry Powder” three straight years (2011-13) by SPINSscanNatural.

Despite the recession that began in 2008, the Portland Journal recognized Biokleen in 2011 as one of the top 100 Fastest Growing Private Companies for the Portland and SW Washington area. “I started out working with my dad in my early 20s and it is very surreal,” recalls Cindy Rimer, vice-president of sales and marketing. “Back then you did not see green cleaning products in the local market or drugstore and now they are integrated everywhere, and we’ve done this staying true to our roots and my dad’s vision on product quality and being able to manufacture in the US.”

Read: Clean Home

eco rating

Get Fired. Healthy Living Magazine

Get Fired. Healthy Living Magazine

One of the biggest changes in the green cleaning product category is the Whole Foods Market Eco-Scale Rating System whose genesis came at a time of crisis for the natural products industry following a series of press conferences by the Chemical Toxin Working Group that exposed the high rates of chemical contamination among so-called “organic” or “natural” cosmetics, personal care brands and cleaners—along with lack of information on ingredients. No government rules or regulations governed the green cleaning products industry so private industry in the form of Whole Foods Markets stepped in to create standards. Cindy says the Eco-Scale Rating System “is a good thing because there had never been any standards or packaging requirements. Whole Foods moved us all along.”

Read: Distillation Removes Heavy Metals From Water

Working with Whole Foods Market, the Eco-Scale requires complete ingredient disclosure and avoiding ones found in conventional cleaners that are considered to be toxic, using third party certification organizations such as Green Seal to guarantee the integrity of the program. Whole Foods Market has made Biokleen a member of its “Partnerships with an Impact” program for the “Greenest Cleaners.”

“Green chemistry is evolving and today there are so many more options than when we began,” says Cindy. “We’re able to find ingredients made entirely from plants and that cause no harm to the environment that give us more sustainable options than ever.”

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