Five minutes with Living Green's Nigel McLisky

We spoke with Living Green biochemist Nigel McLisky about the company's natural home cleaning product range, and what makes it unique.

Words Lara Wyatt

Good: How and when did the concept of creating a natural home cleaning product range right here in New Zealand come about?

Nigel McLisky: Like many good things it took its time, starting in 2011 almost eight years ago. My daughter and I were discussing how we wanted to change the face and acceptance of natural products in New Zealand. We have family members that suffer from asthma and other skin ailments and [they] couldn't use most of the products on the market ... We couldn't find any home cleaning products that were certified natural and held accountable to a global standard. It was around our kitchen table, with cups of tea where the original idea was generated.

I’m a biological chemist and thought it was possible to challenge the current idea that you couldn’t get natural products for a home at an affordable price and Sigrid [McLisky (creative director of Living Green)] reviewed the market growth of green products globally to see if it could be a financially viable opportunity, and, to be honest, convinced me that there was a hugely developing trend and that this business could be both a financial success and personal one to help other families that had similar concerns.

The result was that we decided to start researching and investigating into natural/green chemistry and certifications globally. Over time we were able to develop a wide range of brands and products, the best of those home cleaning formulations were bundled together into the Living Green brand, which launched late last year, and the launch has been great. But what's been the most rewarding and humbling thing for me is when we get feedback from Kiwis across New Zealand with eczema and other skin conditions saying how it has made their lives so much better and easier, because we know it’s done the same for our family too.

You’ve got a United States Natural Products Certification. What is involved with getting this and what criteria do you have to meet?

A lot of analytical paperwork and trips to America. It’s an incredibly difficult certification to achieve and that's why we are so proud of it. In order to achieve the US Natural Products Association, Natural Homecare Standard each product must be made up of at least 95 per cent truly natural ingredients or ingredients that are derived from natural sources (excluding any water) and can't contain any ingredients with any suspected human health risks.

The Natural Homecare Standard is designed to be focused on four key areas:

  • Natural ingredients: "natural" products should be made up of only, or at least almost only, natural ingredients and in order to be deemed “natural” ingredients must come from or be made from a renewable resource found in nature (flora, fauna, mineral).
  • Safety: "natural" products should avoid any ingredient that has peer-reviewed, scientific research showing human health or environmental risk.
  • Responsibility: "natural" products should use no animal testing in development except where required by law.
  • Sustainability: "natural" products should use biodegradable ingredients and the environmentally sensitive packaging.

Not only does this guide the formulation process but it also requires us to provide a complete chain of custody documentation from each one of our suppliers of raw materials, including manufacturing processes and source documentation. All this information is compiled and sent to America for review by some of what we believe to be the most well-educated people in the field of natural.

Can you give us some examples of the natural products you use and what synthetic products they replace?

There’s a lot of ingredients in the market that seem “natural” or say they are. Often an ingredient in its original source is natural but it undergoes so much processing that by the time it’s actually used in a product it does not meet the criteria of natural that we work to. And it's amazing how many companies use ingredients ... that say they are natural but are manufactured in ways to create a cheaper product by using synthetic or harsh chemicals, which can significantly or adversely alter the natural ingredient itself.

That’s the great thing about the Living Green products, because when you develop products to such a high certification standard (United States Natural Products Association) we are required to provide chain of custody documentation for every one of our ingredients for their review to make sure that the ingredients are not manufactured by processes that significantly or adversely alter the natural ingredients, are not manufactured using petroleum compounds and that the manufacturing processes are minimal and avoid using synthetic/harsh chemicals.

An example would be that we use natural plant glucoside detergent ingredients, which are produced from glucose extracts from coconut and soya beans to replace traditional low-cost detergents that are potentially irritating such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) and sodium coco sulphate.

Another example would be that [we] don’t use any synthetic fragrances, which [is] a big difference between us and most other products [on the market] is every scent you smell is directly from natural organic essential oils. It's more expensive to use these than synthetic fragrances but once again it’s about being true to our ethos of providing the highest standard of safe and natural products, which is supported and resonated in the certification process we have achieved, which also does not allow them.

Are all of Living Green’s products made in New Zealand? What was the importance to you in making sure Living Green products were locally made?

All the formulations are designed here in New Zealand and all the products except for the dish tablets are made here. It's important to us to support New Zealand businesses as much as possible. We believe in our country and providing jobs to as many people as we can. It’s also good for our carbon footprint.

The Living Green bottles are also recyclable! Are there any special steps people need to do before recycling?

Yes, we are proud that all our bottles are recyclable and being made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) it means they are accepted for recycling in every council district in New Zealand. As far as steps you should take when recycling bottles, it's important that you rinse the containers before you dispose of them. Some of our products have PETG recyclable shrink wrap sleeves, and you do need to remove these from the containers to enable recycling for both parts, we have designed these with easy-to-tear perforation lines with black dots so it’s easy to see where to remove it. We recommend with any plastic products to always try to remove the labels or wraps for recycling and then of course to drop it in the correct recycling bin.

Can you tell us a bit about the new products? What’s the best way to use them, and what are they best used on?

Living Green is proud to be a home cleaning range, so we have a wide selection of products available. The best thing is that each product goes through a certification process, so you are guaranteed safe, and the best quality, products. We have multipurpose cleaners that are great for the whole home, bathroom cleaners help lift soap scum and glass cleaners that leave a streak-free finish, and the great thing is they all smell amazing. When it comes to your laundry room our powders and laundry liquids are concentrated so a little goes a long way.

And with dishwashing, ours isn't super bubbly, but for good reason, we do not add low cost synthetic ingredients that have bubbles as side effects. Bubbles or suds do not equal cleaning power, often there's an assumption that there is a correlation, but actually when you see a bubble all you’re seeing is spherical pockets of air with soap molecules trapped in them and these don't clean anything. It's what’s in the water that's cleaning, and our dishwashing liquid is designed to really work well with the water in order to get the best result with your dishes.