Movie Review: The American Dream for Environmentalists

From left: Producers Dimitris Birbilis and John Edward Lee, Actor Ed O’Ross, Earth Friendly Products President Van Vlahakis, Earth Friendly Products Vice President Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, Actress Shannon Elizabeth, and Director Nika Agiashvili

Last week on the opening night of this year’s Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, I attended the premier of  “A Green Story,” an independent film from first time writer and director Nick Agiashvili that tells the true story of Van Vlahakis, an original green entrepreneur. Vlahakis is a Greek immigrant who came to the United States in the early 1950s with $22 dollars and no place to live and eventually founded Earth Friendly Products, a green cleaning products company that is now a multi-million dollar business.

For a small film from a new writer and director, “A Green Story” boasts an impressive cast of well-known actors who were all walking the red carpet at the premier. The stars of the film include Hollywood veteran Ed O’Ross who portrays Vlahakis and Shannon Elizabeth of American Pie fame who plays his daughter, Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks. The film also stars Billy Zane (Titanic) as the antagonist of the film, a corporate representative trying to convince Vlahakis to sell out to the competition; and the lovely Annabella Sciorra (The Sopranos) who plays Vlahakis’ love interest.

At it’s core, “A Green Story” is the inspiring tale of the American Dream coming true, but with a powerful green twist. Once he arrived in America, Vlahakis put himself through school to become a chemist, the language of which was understandable to him as a new immigrant struggling to learn English. After working in research and development for several manufacturers of industrial cleaners in the 1960s, Vlahakis was fired for refusing to use toxic chemicals in the products he was formulating. Instead of caving to the pressure to use cheaper, petroleum-based ingredients, Vlahakis struck out on his own and started what would later become Earth Friendly Products, a company that makes plant-based, environmentally-friendly cleaners that are never tested on animals.

Some forty years later, after successfully fighting a buyout by the company’s main competitor, Procter & Gamble (which is referred to by a different name in the film), and overcoming the threat of a brain tumor, Van’s conviction about the importance of taking care of both people and the environment couldn’t be stronger. At a press conference before the event, he discussed his vision for how to move forward in an environmentally responsible way: “We need to direct ourselves away from a life that’s dependent on oil to better forms of energy like wind and solar and think about both our health and profit.”

Van’s strategy for Earth Friendly Products is a reflection of this viewpoint. The company has five sustainably furnished, energy efficient facilities that run on 100 percent renewable energy sources. Its manufacturing operations, which it has complete control over, are strategically positioned around the country to minimize the carbon footprint associated with transporting the company’s products. Vlahakis’ hard work and determination have paid off for the company whose ECOS laundry detergent is the number one selling green laundry detergent in the United States today.

During the press conference, Shannon Elizabeth said that her motivation for doing the film stemmed from a desire to do projects that “meant something.” When she read the script she immediately knew she wanted to be in the film. Elizabeth also talked about getting educated on the potentially carcinogenic contents of some “natural” products as a result of working with the Vlahakis’s on the film. Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks discussed the dangers of 1-4 Dioxane, a petrochemical carcinogen that one study found to be in nearly half of the so called “natural” or “organic” products tested but are not in the those made by Earth Friendly Products, which she now runs as Vice President.

In addition to sending a strong message about the power of staying true to your convictions, “A Green Story” also presents an interesting viewpoint on what it means to be a socially conscious business owner that I think will resonate with a lot of the green entrepreneurs out there. Watch the trailer below.

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Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional and marketing consultant. She recently received her MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.

Kara is a corporate social responsibility professional and marketing consultant with expertise in consumer research and environmental science. Currently, Kara is working as a Graduate Associate on the Corporate Citizenship team at the Walt Disney Company. She is also a founding partner of BeSui Consulting, a boutique marketing consulting firm specializing in consumer insights and marketing communications.Kara graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in Environmental Policy, Institutions and Behaviors. She is currently pursuing her M.B.A. in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School where she is exploring the impact investing space and working to identify new ways to increase access to capital for start-ups and social ventures. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.