Last week, our friends at Grove Collaborative and method invited us down to Chicago’s Pullman Historic District for a tour of method’s South Side Soap Box, which included a stop through Gotham Greens, their rooftop neighbor’s greenhouse! Kim and I were both fascinated throughout the entire day, and we learned so much about sustainability, green manufacturing and even some Chicago history for good measure. Also salad. Delicious, delicious salad.
Follow along as we work our way through this colorful portion of Chicago’s South Side!
method South Side Soap Box
Our day began with a quick stroll around the 22 acre native Illinois prairie that has been restored by method to act as a natural wildlife habitat. The factory itself only occupies 3.5 acres of the site, and the remaining acreage is home to bee colonies maintained by local beekeepers, coyotes (who left their footprints in the freshly poured concrete when the factory was built!), and other diverse native plants and wildlife. The three solar tracking trees in the parking lot and the giant wind turbine combine to provide over 50% of the building’s annual electrical consumption. How cool is that?
Once inside the factory doors, we were greeted not only by members of the method team, but by a giant wall of method hand wash bottles fashioned into a giant colorful light display. Kim audibly gasped when she realized that each color in the spectrum was an actual bottle of method soap! Like me, she’s easily amused.
From there, we donned our glasses, hair nets, beard nets (only for me) and safety vests (to keep us looking our most attractive,) and we made our way into the production area of the factory. Throughout my career, my work has taken me through dozens of manufacturing facilities, and the South Side Soap Box is by far the brightest, most cheerful I’ve visited. Floor to ceiling windows, fork lifts in rainbow colors and method-blue walls had us smiling non-stop! Everyone we met from the method team was incredibly passionate about their work and seemed to be having a great time doing it. I think we’d feel the same way if we got to come to work here everyday!
The entire hand wash bottling process takes place under this one (green) roof; bottles are manufactured on site and travel only 100 feet to the filling lines before they’re ready to make their way out the door. This process has eliminated thousands of miles of travel time from the production process and helps to keep things as earth-friendly as possible. Genius.
In addition to all of the measures taken to reduce environmental impact, method took extra steps to ensure that the Soap Box had a positive impact on the local community. The factory was the first to open in the area in 30 years, and method has created 130 new jobs in Chicago since opening in 2015, with almost 50% of hourly employees residing in the five surrounding zip codes. The thoughtfulness and investment in the community is pretty incredible.
Before heading up to the Gotham Greens greenhouse to see where our lunch was grown, we had one more quick stop – a contest! A soap-making contest. We were challenged to use the provided method hand wash base along with saline solution, blue dye and yellow dye to see who could come closest to replicating actual soap right off of the production floor. I made a special request for our contest judge to compare my soap directly with Kim’s in order to name the winner of the Vargo family title, but talk about your all time backfires. Kim was named the victor, and I was shamed mercilessly. (Not really. I did totally lose, though.)
Gotham Greens Greenhouse
Before lunch, we were given a tour of the Gotham Greens greenhouse that lives on the roof of the method Soap Box! Both method and Gotham Greens have a strong relationship with various arms of the City of Chicago. Legend has it that method was looking for an environmentally-conscious company to occupy their rooftop and Gotham Greens was in search of a rooftop that could contain a greenhouse. A city official introduced the two companies and history was made when Gotham Greens became the world’s largest(!) rooftop farm.
Nerd alert! We received a quick lesson in hydroponic farming and it was fascinating because, alas, I am a nerd. Gotham Greens uses 100% renewable energy and their process allows their 2 acre footprint to produce the same amount of greens and herbs as a soil farm 50 times their size! We literally asked the Gotham Greens team to repeat this fact several times because it was so hard to comprehend.
From seed to harvest, the entire growing process takes about 30 days, and because all produce is shipped locally, Gotham Greens produce has a shelf life of up to two weeks! Even without knowing their backstory, we’ve been happy customers of Gotham Greens for years. We always purchased their products simply because their leafy greens look great and taste fresher than anything else on the shelves at our local grocery stores. We had no idea that the lettuce we were buying was harvested as early as the day before! Currently, Gotham Greens products are available in and around NYC and Chicago, but we have a sneaking suspicion that they’ll be popping up in more cites sooner than later. (Btw, doesn’t Kim look mega-cute in her lil’ hat?)
A huge thanks to the teams from Grove Collaborative, method and Gotham Greens for showing us around. The passion that each of these companies shares for making everyday products more sustainable, environmentally friendly, beautiful and/or delicious is truly inspiring – and they’ve all found ways to keep things fun along the way. Because, really, making the planet (and the neighborhood) a better place doesn’t have to be boring!
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PS! See how we organized a whole home, family-friendly cleaning system using Grove Co. products.