Ellen Lyle was like a lot of people who want to help the environment, live a sustainable life and reduce her carbon footprint – she found it hard to trust products or services that claimed to be environmentally friendly or eco-aware.
Rather than focus on the problems, Lyle decided to come up with a solution. The result is Pink Elephant Products and Events, a Detroit-based store. Pink Elephant manufactures and sells products from cleaning suppliers to household products to cosmetics online as well at its storefront in Detroit’s North End.
Pink Elephant is what is known as a triple-bottom line social company, focusing on People, Planet and Profit all at the same time. Lyle emphasizes that Pink Elephant practices 100% ingredient disclosure, meaning everything it sells and promotes is not “Greenwashed.” Rather, people can trust these ingredients are truly safe for the environment.
“I have a vision – I see how everything is connected,” Lyle said. “It’s all part of a larger vision of closing the loop” between what people say they’re going to do and what they actually can do when it comes to reduce, reuse and recycling.
Along with its retail products, Pink Elephant also runs a recycling program that takes in materials that don’t go into curbside municipal bins (‘unrecyclable’ items) in partnership with Terracycle, The Carton Council and other commercial recyclers.
Lyle also supplies products to small businesses around Metro Detroit that want to be eco-friendly in real and substantial ways. One example is The Commons Laundromat, which uses Pink Elephant’s laundry products. Lyle also has a partnership with Midtown Composting to offer both in-store drop off of compostable products and pick up of finished compost.
She even has a refilling station in her store so customers can bring back their bottles (made of Amber glass) and refill them with cleaning products.
“Partnerships are critical to what we do,” Lyle said.
Local and friendly
Her inspiration for the business came after attending various social and business events around Metro Detroit. It was there that she noticed some events weren’t recycling, and there would be trash cans overflowing with plastic bottles or lunch containers. She wanted to provide some way to avoid this outcome, and the rest of the business grew up around that goal of creating a business that could be full circle when it came to environmental products and services.
Lyle, a former science teacher, makes her merchandise at a 200-square-foot space located in Midtown’s Green Garage. She also is founder of Everyday Science for Kids, an educational program in collaboration with Wayne State University’s Department of Chemistry that focuses on consumer product chemistry and the scientific principles at work in our daily lives.
Her interest in that area, as well as packaging, waste management and resource recovery, led to her starting Pink Elephant. She said she chose the name because elephants are playful, strong, matriarchal and form strong bonds socially. Green was a natural choice for the mammal’s body, but it didn’t look right. When she tried pink, Lyle said, it fit because the color is soft and gentle, much like an elephant and her products.
Ultimately, Lyle said her goal is to make recycling or finding sustainable ways to use and reuse products both financially smart and perfectly normal.
“It is still at the point where it feels like something ‘extra’ for a business – we don’t want it to feel like it is discretionary,” Lyle said. “You don’t have to be green or a sustainable company to do this. That’s why we’re here to help you figure it all out.”