By Beth Greer
Entrepreneur, innovator, mother of three, and inspiring business visionary Laura Roberts is a woman of contrasts. She was an avid “tree hugger” environmentalist in college, graduated summa cum laude, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She spent 10 years as an elementary school teacher, and then, upon her father’s untimely death in 1997, she stepped into a much different role: running the nontoxic industrial cleaning company he and her mother had started. At first she just wanted to help save the family business, but that morphed into something much bigger. Immersing herself in learning about the chemical industry, she became acutely aware of just how much it needed to change, especially since it was an industry not generally focused on putting sustainability ahead of profits. Becoming the company’s new CEO, Laura set her sights on scaling Pantheon Enterprises into a major chemical company that worked toward changing the way the world thought about toxic chemicals.
All the products made by this deeply purpose-driven, conscious company are designed to do a job and then break apart without causing harm. They are used by governments, major commercial enterprises, and consumers around the world. Pantheon was recognized by Ethisphere in 2012 and 2013 as being among the World’s Most Ethical Companies. It was also honored by the EPA’s Design for the Environment program. We spoke with Laura from her headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, about how she’s transforming the chemical industry and saving lives in the process.
What was the chemical industry like when you became head of Pantheon in 1997?
Laura Roberts: There wasn’t a lot of innovation or public awareness about the negative impact of petrochemicals in our ecosystems. Even though it was a male-dominated industry, I never felt powerless being a woman; I felt it brought a different perspective to the table. I became very committed to having Pantheon develop alternative solutions to the way chemicals were being formulated, so that they did not harm people or the planet. It was difficult to do the research necessary to understand how the whole industry operated and what short- and long-term effects chemicals were having on the environment and health. There wasn’t even Google to help!
When we first started to grow the business, we were concerned that there were few systems in place to measure the negative effects on people’s health and the environment from chemicals and manufacturing. But big strides have been made around corporate commitments to social responsibility and the need to create more sustainable chemical practices.
How challenging is it to be a conscious, environmental, and health-focused chemical company?
LR: It’s pretty challenging, but exciting! We not only want to produce better chemistry to help the world, we also want to influence a shift in the way all chemical companies do business. As we have grown, consciousness has been rapidly growing around safer chemicals. We are also talking to universities about how important it is to teach toxicology to students studying to be scientists so they enter the workforce understanding the health ramifications of creating new molecules. That’s why we developed the Principles of Conscious Chemistry to help educate chemists before they get jobs in industry.
What are you most proud of and what’s next for Pantheon?
LR: With our flagship product, PreKote, we’ve eliminated millions of pounds of a highly toxic material from the workplace and the environment. PreKote is a nontoxic surface pretreatment replacement for hexavalent chromium used in prepping aircrafts for painting. You may remember this toxin from the Erin Brockovich story - it causes cancer. As a small company, we went up against large chemical companies with our technology to change this industry, and now the majority of US airlines and the US Air Force and Army have adopted PreKote and had better productivity and economic outcomes. Additionally, the workers on this fleet are significantly safer and healthier.
We’re also very proud of one of our newest products, ProKure V, which kills germs safely in seconds and prevents microbial resistance because of the way it kills. The current way of using disinfectants leaves bacteria behind that mutate, multiply, and create superbugs - strains of bacteria resistant to being destroyed by antibiotic drugs, as seen in new strains of MRSA, Enterococcus, and Pseudomonas. Another exciting aspect of this disinfectant is that it breaks down into benign elements whereas other disinfectants leave harmful residues and create carcinogenic byproducts.
We would like to see this disinfectant replace standard disinfectants currently being used in every cruise ship, airline, hospital, nursing home, university, childcare, and fitness and athletic center.
As a conscious business, we are committed to the health of all our stakeholders: customers, employees, vendors, shareholders, communities, and ecosystems. We want people to see that businesses can accomplish amazing results for both the economy and society and be a force for good. Perhaps we will inspire others to do the same.
Beth Greer, aka Super Natural Mom®, is the best-selling author of "Super Natural Home," a foremost expert on toxin-free living, professional speaker, and environmental health advocate. Formerly President of The Learning Annex, she eliminated a tumor in her chest by making small but significant lifestyle shifts.