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Brad Liski, CEO and co-founder of Tru Earth.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Each year, at least eight million tons of plastic leaks into the ocean, the equivalent of dumping one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. Unless we dramatically reduce our plastic consumption, researchers believe that the amount of plastic flowing into our oceans will nearly triple by 2040, to 29 million metric tons per year.

These sobering numbers are what drives Brad Liski as the co-founder and chief executive officer of Tru Earth, a zero-waste, eco-friendly household cleaning products company based in Port Moody, B.C. The company was 71st on the list of The Globe and Mail’s Top Growing Companies in 2021, its second year on the list.

Cleaning product waste may not stand out as a typical environmental offender, but Mr. Liski is quick to illuminate how the seemingly small toss-away packages add up astronomically.

“Over 30 billion loads of laundry are done in North America each year and over 700 million jugs are discarded every year,” he says. As an alternative to these single-use plastic containers, Tru Earth makes highly-concentrated, pre-measured detergent strips in compact, compostable cardboard packaging. “In the last two years, we’ve kept over five million jugs out of the landfills. We’re going after the 700 million. That’s our target.”

Tru Earth products at the Tru Earth retail store in Port Moody, B.C.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Tru Earth launched with the detergent strips in 2019, when an extended family member of Mr. Liski’s reached out about a new product he had invested in that would change how we do laundry, but the owners were struggling with how to get the product to market. Mr. Liski is a serial entrepreneur, who has founded 25 companies, including Recycle Regina, a private recycling company that preceded the city’s own program. To see if the product lived up to the hype, Mr. Liski and his two partners, Ryan McKenzie and Kevin Hinton, tried the product at home. “All three of our families concluded: this stuff actually works.”

Mr. Liski, Mr. McKenzie and Mr. Hinton worked out an agreement with the patent holder for exclusivity of the product and started planning the company’s launch strategy. With 25 years’ experience in subscription services, they decided to set a goal of signing up at least 150 people in 30 days. Instead, they signed up 1,500. “That’s when we knew we had something more than just a cool product,” Mr. Liski says.

Tru Earth continued to sign up new subscribers and expand to retail stores across North America throughout 2019 and early 2020. But during the pandemic, the company’s growth exploded. In the previous fiscal year, the company’s revenue was $36-million and this fiscal year, they’re on track to hit $55-million.

Since launching, Tru Earth has expanded from seven employees to 230. All the detergent strips are produced in Moncton, New Brunswick, and then sent to distribution centres located in British Columbia, Ontario, Washington, Tennessee and Utah. They have customers in 65 countries, with their biggest markets in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

During the pandemic, Tru Earth's growth exploded. In the previous fiscal year, the company’s revenue was $36-million and this fiscal year, they’re on track to hit $55-million.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Mr. Liski believes there’s a few reasons why the company has grown so much in past 18 months. Supply chain issues prevented consumers from buying their go-to detergent at their local grocery store, forcing them to look for locally produced alternatives. In addition, more people turned to online shopping for household items, which benefited Tru Earth as a direct-to-consumer company. Finally, the past 18 months has highlighted the effects of the climate crisis, causing more people to consider the impact of their everyday choices.

Another big reason? The detergent strips are fool proof. Each strip, about 10 centimetres long, 5 cms wide and a few millimetres thick, equals one load of laundry, dissolves completely in both hot and cold water, and works in all types of washing machines. “Before this product, I’ve been fired from doing the laundry in my house for putting too much soap in and having to re-rinse it,” Mr. Liski says. The strips are also paraben- and phosphate-free, hypoallergenic, free of animal-based ingredients and biodegradable.

“We’re disrupting a very big industry with some very large players in it,” Mr. Liski says. “We hope to disrupt the whole consumer packaged goods market.” The company has already scooped up some of those people: the current chief operating officer is from Keurig and Gillette, the company’s vice-president is from Dow Chemical, and its marketing and sales directors are from Johnson & Johnson. Tru Earth is currently working on expanding its product line to include cleaning products for the bathroom and kitchen. While their products are already available worldwide, Mr. Liski hopes to grow in the southern Europe and southeast Asia markets.

The company is also focusing on expanding the charitable sides of their business. Tru Earth has donated over 10 million loads worth of laundry detergent to people in need, which is the equivalent of $5-million. This past spring, the company teamed up with the conservation non-profit Ocean Wise to develop The Great American Shoreline Cleanup, an expansion of the Canadian version first started in 1994. “Our growth is not stopping, and I believe that’s because the key performance indicators that drive our company are not necessarily profits and revenues. They’re jugs and donations. How many jugs can we save from landfills and oceans? And how many have we donated to those in need? Being social-driven has allowed us to grow.”

In this series, we ask some of Canada’s Top Growing companies to share advice on finding new and innovative routes to success in an unpredictable business environment.

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