Green America’s Green Business Network Director Fran Teplitz spoke with Andy Mebert, CEO of Yaya Maria’s soap company, a Green Business Network member, about his sustainability journey that includes using a credit union:
Fran: For starters, please tell us about your business – the range of goods you offer and what motivated you to create these soap products.
Andy: Yaya Maria’s makes the most natural soap there is, from ingredients everyone understands. We make liquid hand soap, body wash, and dish soap. We’ll be launching a face wash later this year.
What I love about Yaya Maria’s is there’s no other soap like it on the market. Almost all soaps contain toxic chemicals like phthalates, parabens, SLS, and petrochemicals. Those ingredients are sometimes hidden in ingredient lists under vague, catchall terms like "surfactant," "cleaning agent," "preservative", or “fragrance”. "Fragrance" alone can mean any of 3,000 undisclosed chemicals, many of which are toxic.
Fran: I read on your website about the compelling connection between your earlier health challenges and your sustainability journey. Would you please share that with our readers?
Andy: A few years ago, I had cancer that had metastasized, so I had two surgeries and three rounds of chemotherapy. Fortunately, the chemo worked—I’ve been cancer-free for eight years, and I’m grateful to be alive—but it has a lasting effect. Cancer survivors live with an elevated risk of recurrence, so I still have to do regular checkups. Also, years later, I can still feel the impact of the therapy on my body.
The experience made me rethink my lifestyle—from how frequently I exercise, to what I eat and to what I put on my body. In fact, when I got sick, I was shocked by how hard it was to find soap made from ingredients that I could truly trust. Many brands that claim on the front of the label to be “natural” actually contain the same harsh chemicals found in conventional products. Once my wife and I realized that toxic chemicals could even be found in brands that have a good image, we decided to make our own.
Fran: What does being a green business mean to you?
Andy: As a consumer, I’m constantly thinking about how my decisions about what to buy impact the environment. I’m also constantly looking for ways I can reduce, reuse, and recycle more.
I apply that same way of thinking to running a green business:
- Yaya Maria’s soap is manufactured using 100% wind-powered electricity.
- The manufacturing process sends zero waste to the landfill, and discharges zero pollutants into the air or water.
- All shipping materials are made of cardboard or kraft paper or upcycled from incoming packages.
- Wind power charges the electric car that drives the soap on the first leg of its journey to the customer, and for the rest of the way, shipping is CO2 neutral.
- We give customers the option to order soap in glass bottles instead of plastic.
- We work with brick-and-mortar refill stores that sell Yaya Maria’s in bulk to people who bring their own containers.
- For the refill stores, we offer them a free closed-loop program: they hang on to their packaging, we give them a return label, and when their container of soap is empty, they collapse it and send it back to us for refilling—and the cycle continues with no waste.
Fran: Yaya Maria’s has earned Green America’s Green Business Network certification, which includes attention to both social and environmental issues. One question we ask certification applicants is What kind of bank or credit union do you use? Businesses are sometimes perplexed by this, but you address this on your website. Thank you! Why do you discuss your business banking choice?
Andy: Large banks have a massively outsized impact on society. How a bank invests its money matters a lot. Most big banks invest in whatever companies or projects they think will give them the biggest return -- even if it’s drilling for more fossil fuel or building a palm oil plantation that destroys a rainforest. They’re investing in global financial markets instead of in local communities.
Credit unions, on the other hand, are member-owned institutions, and they respond to local concerns. Instead of investing in (say) Exxon, they give local homeowners and small businesses the loans they need to thrive. They also often give their accountholders fairer terms, like fewer hidden fees. I think it’s pretty amazing that by closing your account with a big bank and moving it to your local credit union, you can put your money to work for something good.
That’s why Yaya Maria’s has an account at the local credit union, not at a big bank. This credit union was started in the 1940s by the local autoworkers’ union, and it’s served the working people of my community ever since.
Fran: What encouragement would you give a business that hasn’t yet switched to a better banking option?
Andy: In general, it’s in your own interest to work with a bank that reinvests in your community because if your community does well economically, you’ll probably get more business from customers in your area. There are most specific advantages though. At a local credit union, you can get a business loan on more favorable terms compared to large banks. Lower interest rates on loans, flexible terms, and less bureaucracy when it comes to considering factors beyond your credit score. All of those things can make a real difference when you need money to grow your company. Credit unions offer the same banking services that multinational banks do, such as online banking, credit and debit cards, and access to ATM networks and reciprocity agreements between credit unions. For a business there are lots of positives, and in my experience, no negatives.
Fran: What next steps do you have for Yaya Maria’s continuing green journey?
Andy: Yaya Maria’s will be launching several new products this fall. There will be an all-natural face wash coming soon in several scents. We’ll also be introducing a series of organic anti-aging serums in glass bottles.
This year I’m going to fine tune my closed-loop program. Yaya Maria’s will soon offer returnable packaging to not only to stores, but also end consumers. Stay tuned!
And now one of our next steps is encouraging more businesses to open their bank accounts in a credit union. Just saying...