The MADE SAFE® certification is on the verge of certifying its 1,000th product. Three years ago, this program didn’t even exist.
How did MADE SAFE become so dominant in the “eco” label space? And what does its success mean for companies looking to profit from consumers’ growing demand for products free from hazardous ingredients and toxic chemicals? MADE SAFE founder Amy Ziff explains in this exclusive interview.
With over 400 eco labels in the market already, what inspired you to create yet another one? What vacuum does the MADE SAFE label fill?
Amy Ziff: I already had a two-year-old when I gave birth to twins. Before long, they seemed to be allergic to everything! I started looking around for safe baby products for them, but it was almost impossible to figure out what was healthy and what wasn’t. Plus, I’m the daughter of a cancer survivor. I wanted safer products for myself but had a hard time finding them. I realized there was a real need to create a certification program based on health and safety that would take the guesswork out of choosing for all consumers, but especially for moms.
That said, at Made Safe, we do a lot more than merely certify products. We are ingredient experts who help brands find and/or develop safe and sustainable ingredient solutions. The way that a woman giving birth may use a midwife as an advocate for her birth plan, companies turn to MADE SAFE to help them reformulate their products and maintain the level of purity they intended at the outset. It ensures additional control and gives brands someone “in their corner” to help make sure their ingredients reflect their values.
Also, and this is important: MADE SAFE is not an “eco” label, per se. MADE SAFE is a health-oriented label first. It’s about integrity of ingredients that won’t harm human health, the environment, animals, aquatic life or anything we can predict in the ecosystem.
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As for what vacuum we fill, we are aimed, largely, at the “mom market.” Beyond MADE SAFE, there is no other label focusing on what moms really want to know, which is: Is this safe for use on my children, with my family, in my home and in my community?
What qualified you to create an eco label that is so science-based? Are you a scientist yourself?
AZ: Like a lot of moms, I did a lot of research to identify what was safe to use on my children and in my home because my kids were having allergies to things I didn’t know you could even be allergic to! But because I’m also a trained journalist and a successful entrepreneur, as the idea for a MADE SAFE label started percolating, I knew I’d need a team of experts who could dig deeper on the evaluations of ingredients and materials. I pulled together a group of highly qualified scientists who could do the “heavy lifting” to design the framework for the MADE SAFE Screening Process. Those scientists, and other experts, continue to help ensure we remain in step with the latest thinking and research in their respective areas.
What does it take to create a meaningful label? How did you decide what companies to target as prospects for using your label? Once you got the idea, how long did it take to actually launch?
AZ: I worked on the concept for three years before getting serious about launching MADE SAFE. I was afraid to “quit my day job,” as they say, because it was such a big idea. But I knew there was an opportunity to establish the highest bar in the industry for what it means to make a safe and sustainable product. I wanted to define the term “MADE SAFE” before it could be corrupted the way “natural,” “eco” and “green” have been because of a lack of defined terminology.
Image credit: Good Clean Love
Our core team of scientists helped me think through the process and refine how it would work. They also helped me establish the technical parts of the process and decide what we needed to include in our evaluations. I asked other scientists and experts to “kick the tires” until we had a really solid process to advance. After the screening process was ready, it was time to take our approach to the lawyers and make sure we were delivering on our premise and promise. It took about a year from devoting myself fully to the project to getting our first brands committed to launching in March of 2016, with about two dozen products from brands like Alaffia, AnnMarie Skincare, Good Clean Love, Rejuva, Sustain, True Botanicals and Pura Stainless.
Early on, it was clear that manufacturers feel the pain of having an outside organization saying there are issues with the ingredients they may use. But we believe that needs to happen even more. Until now, too many companies have been able to declare what is acceptable in their products without any external guidance or independent, third-party validation. We think it’s imperative that there are some guidelines about what is acceptable in “clean” products, which is part of why we created MADE SAFE.
How many years has the label been available? At this point, how many products are displaying the label, in what major categories?
AZ: At nearly three years since our launch, we are about to announce our 1000th product certified. We certify in several categories, including baby, beauty, bedding, feminine care and sexual health, cosmetics, oral care and household.
And brands pay a fee to go through the process of getting certified as MADE SAFE, like other eco labels?
AZ: Yes, and yes. Our certification process is described briefly on our website. We sit down with every company we work with to ensure their certification process is as helpful to them as possible.
Since Sustainable Brands features businesses trying to be more sustainable, what's the business case for brands adopting a label such as MADE SAFE?
AZ: There are so many reasons to adopt sustainability practices for any business. Here are three. First, it’s the fastest-growing segment of consumer goods. In fact, I can’t name a brand that doesn’t want to be in the sustainability space. However, not all of them know how to get there. That’s where Made Safe comes into play — we help brands make the sustainability transition by working with them to create a multi-year plan and ingredient declaration. Second, being seen as sustainable is good for employee retention and can be a significant tool in providing meaning and purpose for employees. Third, sustainable business practices are good for the bottom line. No matter how you measure it, it’s a win/win.
It’s important to note that the work we do with brands exceeds certification. We often put brands on a plan with an ingredient declaration to help them move more deeply into the sustainability arena with their products. Consumers see the MADE SAFE label; brands experience a formulation revolution that puts them on a whole new path to profitability and performance.
How have consumers responded to MADE SAFE? Do you see "label fatigue" among shoppers? How do you reach shoppers to encourage them to look for MADE SAFE? Is it a requirement of companies that are awarded the label to help promote it?
AZ: Brands whose products have achieved MADE SAFE certification display the label as a true badge of pride. It’s a testament to how hard they work to make clean formulations and to craft products without harmful ingredients for humans, animals, aquatic life, or anything in the ecosystem. We find that brands want to promote their certification because it clarifies what they stand for. Consumers who find us always express enormous gratitude, as well, since it makes it so much easier to make healthy choices when they shop. So, no label fatigue here. And as the growth in demand for MADE SAFE certification shows, consumers want more certified products, not less!
Image credit: Happsy
What are the biggest challenges to maintaining a meaningful label? Do you need to update the criteria frequently? Is marketing a major obstacle? Does competition with all the other labels create a challenge?
AZ: There is always work to do, as science isn’t static. But, we have built in processes to stay current. That said, we are a nonprofit 501(c)(3) and rely on foundations and donations for funding the advocacy and awareness work we do, as well as increased consumer outreach.
Also, we’re passionate about working with brands beyond certification, so they can see where they are in the journey to making better products. We want to see them big, conventional brands use their R&D budgets to develop green chemistry solutions with us, and avoid regrettable ingredient substitutions that may help them cut corners in the short term but also undermine their product’s safety and longevity in the marketplace.
Where do you see the biggest growth opportunities for the MADE SAFE label? Are there any new brands or product categories on the horizon?
AZ: There is a lot ahead. Some of it I can’t talk about yet … But 2019 will be a very big year for us. You can expect more growth and expansion with new brands, products and categories, for sure!