Sustainability key part of soap maker’s formula
Posted September 2021
By John A. Lahtinen for Providence Business News
Sustainability is at the very heart of Bradford Soap Works Inc.’s strategic planning.
The West Warwick-based company has been creating and promoting sustainable formulations for more than 140 years since its founding in 1876. Bradford launched its Committed to Clean program in 2010 as a basis for its green manufacturing initiatives, with a comprehensive approach to responsible manufacturing in the areas of product, packaging, supply chain, energy, waste and emissions.
“We operate under the tenet ‘people, planet and profit,’ so we consider it a core pillar of our planning and operations,” said Deb McDonough, Bradford’s marketing vice president. “Sustainability is the foundation of our decisions, from sourcing to formulation development to waste management. We understand that sustainability goes beyond the product itself to encompass the entire product life cycle.”
The commitment to making products that are good for both consumers and the environment carries over into everything Bradford does. While many soap manufacturers expand into liquid product lines, Bradford made the strategic decision to focus on solid formulations that use little to no water, including shampoo bars, solid moisturizers, cleansers and deodorants.
The company’s core products are developed using ingredients with Environmental Working Group ratings of 3 or below. Bradford continues to work with manufacturers on innovation in sustainable ingredients and multiuse and recyclable packaging.
“We see green manufacturing as a competitive advantage,” McDonough said. “Bradford knows that the brands we serve have aggressive sustainability goals, and we see ourselves as their partner to help achieve them. For example, many of our customers, including Unilever, L’Oreal, Henkel, and Colgate-Palmolive, have signed the U.S. Plastics Pact, which calls for eliminating all unnecessary packaging by 2025 and mandates that plastic packaging will be 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Many of Bradford’s products, including our shampoo bars, allow companies to eliminate plastic for that item altogether.”
Assisting local and global communities not only helps Bradford move toward zero-waste but it also serves as a morale booster for its more than 350 employees. In 2020, the company donated 547 tons of scrap soap through Eco-Soap Bank and World Vision to help fight COVID-19 in the world’s poorest communities. It also donated more than 100,000 bars of soap to local charities.
“Receiving thank-you letters and videos from the organizations we donated to makes us appreciate the value of the products we create, reminds us of our work’s importance and brings smiles to our faces,” McDonough said.
Of course, such a commitment to sustainability does not come without its share of challenges.
“Sustainable sourcing is complex and there are often not established supply chains to support specific ingredients,” said Stuart Benton, Bradford’s CEO and president who is also this year’s strategic leadership award winner. “We have learned that we often need to take the lead to help establish them.”
“A perfect example,” he said, “is palm oil. There have long been concerns around the sourcing of palm oil, a core ingredient used in soap production, due to deforestation and the destruction of orangutan habitats. With no reliable supply chain in the U.S. to source identity-preserved palm oil, Bradford worked with the Rainforest Alliance to help certify a family-owned plantation in South America that grows sustainable palm oil.”
Bradford figured out the logistics required to bring the palm oil directly to its West Warwick facility and has since launched more than 240 bar soaps using 100% traceable, Rainforest Alliance-certified sustainable palm oil, resulting in nearly 3 million pounds of sustainably sourced palm oil per year.
“Everyone has a role to play,” Benton said. “We rely on our suppliers to bring us clean, sustainable ingredient options, and brands rely on us to develop products using sustainable formulations and packaging. Consumers look to the brands to provide products they feel good about that reflect their values. If everyone contributes where they can, it is much less daunting than trying to solve the entire equation yourself.”