The Greek-American dream has lost its best ambassador, Dr. Eftichios “Van” Vlahakis, who passed away at his Florida residence on April 6, 2014. He died at age 79 after suffering a heart-attack, leaving behind his rich legacy of generosity, compassion, and dedication to protecting our precious planet. One of the most successful Greek immigrants in the United States, Vlahakis was the founder and CEO of Earth Friendly Products, the largest green cleaning products manufacturer in the world.
Born in Crete on January 14, 1935, Van Vlahakis came to the US as a young man ready to change his life and the world; and he did. He left Greece in 1953 to escape poverty after World War II had torn apart Europe, and went to Chicago, IL to study chemistry at Roosevelt University. He was going to school in the morning and straight to work after his classes in order to make a living. The man who was forced to live in homeless shelters when he arrived in the States, ten years later founded the green giant known today as Earth Friendly Products.
Van Vlahakis did not join the green movement when it became “cool,” he created it. When a historian will investigate the origins of the green movement and green products he will stumble upon the young man from Greece living in Chicago who was struggling with English but knew he could master the symbol-intensive subject of chemistry. After graduating, Vlahakis worked in the cleaning products industry exposed to harsh chemicals that gave him headaches and caused co-workers to suffer from rashes and other irritations.
Remembering that his mother used natural substances such as water, vinegar and olive oil for cleaning, Vlahakis decided to start his own business to make better cleaning products. In 1967 Venus Laboratories was founded in his home’s garage. Due to Vlahakis ‘ environmentally-friendly formulas and patents, the company quickly moved out of his garage and into the public eye. In 1978, Vlahakis created the formula for Pet Stain & Odor Remover as well as the famous Nature’ s Miracle line. In 1989, Vlahakis ‘ concern to provide non-toxic cleaning products to the public caused him to create an eco-friendly household and commercial cleaning products line, and change his company’s name to Earth Friendly Products.
“I wanted to make something that was better for people, safer for the environment,” he told LA Times last year.
Today, Earth Friendly Products is the manufacturer of the #1 selling ‘green’ laundry detergent in the world, ECOS; the first to manufacture a pH neutral auto-dishwashing gel, Wave; and has won awards for progressive business practices, including its use of renewable energy and offering employees financial incentives for buying hybrid or other green vehicles. The green giant has also been recognized as one of California’s best employers providing the highest in the nation min. wage of at least $17 an hour, among other benefits. With over 300 employees, five geographically diverse manufacturing facilities in the United States, more than 150 products and worldwide distribution, Earth Friendly Products topped $100 million in sales last year. The legacy of its founder Van Vlahakis, closely involved family members, capable management, chemists, and production employees have produced a success formula and a strong foundation that guarantees further growth.
Bigger than life: A Green Story
Vlahakis ‘ life was the epitome of the “American Dream”. His story, which is not just about transforming his life but also the lives of the ones around him, became the basis for a motion picture titled “A Green Story.” The 2013 feature film has a cast that includes Malcolm McDowell as a villain who tries to force Vlahakis to sell his company.
Love for Greece
Dr. Van Vlahakis was one of the first businessmen of diaspora to open a sister company in Greece and show his support to the country’s recovering economy. Earth Friendly Products Hellas, which paves the way for a production facility that will service Europe, the Middle East and Africa, was inaugurated in Summer of 2013.
“Greece has fallen on hard times, and I feel it’s my duty as a Greek-American to take some of my success back to Greece. We hope we can lead by example and encourage other Greek American businesses to consider getting involved in restoring the Greek economy,” said Vlahakis to Greek Reporter last year.
In addition, the love for his homeland kept him committed to supporting numerous organizations benefiting Greece.
Life to the fullest
Van Vlahakis was a committed father, grandfather and mentor to the larger Earth Friendly Products family and the environmental community. Among his joys in life was traveling and spending time by the the sea. A captain, Van was often sailing in the Atlantic or the Pacific in one of his boats. He resided in Southern California and used to split the balance of his time in Florida, Turks & Caicos, and Greece.
Earth Friendly Products made the following announcement:
“It is with heavy hearts that we announce our beloved founder and CEO, Dr. Eftichios “Van” Vlahakis passed away on April 6, 2014. Van was an extraordinary visionary that dedicated his life to creating a better world with Earth Friendly Products. He fulfilled the quintessential American dream; he came to this country from Greece with nothing but a dream in his heart and inspired everyone he touched to dream bigger.”
“He was loved by all his employees who he considered family. Van created a workplace for all that felt like home. While he left us too soon, he lived every second to the fullest and left us all with.”
“Van’s dream lives on within Earth Friendly Products, where we will work everyday to carry on his vision”.
Van Vlahakis is survived by his son John Vlahakis, daughters Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks and Elli Manolas, and by his grandchildren Alexandra Vlahakis, Ian Vlahakis, Zachary Vlahakis, Nicole Manolas, Stacy Manolas, Kasia Manolas and Alexsia Hanks.