Pantheon Enterprises Believes in Innovating Responsibly Through Conscious Chemistry™
We’ve told you stories about companies that are trying to make a difference in the world and are determined to find new ways to engage with their stakeholders. Pantheon Enterprises cares about those things too, but their story is a little different because the chemicals they produce not only have the potential to help humanity, but also eliminating chemistry and processes that can do great harm. And their stakeholders are every living thing in the world.
Most companies don’t have to worry that the choices they make could lead to environmental disaster. But chemical companies don’t have that luxury and they are the very ones that should be paying attention to the consequences (unintended or not) of producing such risky substances. Unfortunately, most of them do not.
Pantheon has made an environmentally friendly business choice and, with the leadership of their visionary co-founder and CEO, Laura Roberts, they consciously take responsibility for where their products and where they end up and the impact they have on people’s lives and our environment. Beyond that, the people at Pantheon feel a responsibility to educate the world to the dangers chemicals pose to our planet. As Laura explained, “We want to create public awareness of this gigantic uncontrolled experiment we’re conducting on Earth, where we spew out tens of thousands of new molecules every year, with not enough regard to toxicology. We just continue to hope that this huge pool of chemistry we’re concocting is not going to harm us, and that’s got to change.”
Laura knew from an early age that she wanted to make a difference in the world, but it took some time for her to figure out how to do that. Growing up in the ’80s she watched her dad try new things at the chemical company he and her mother founded. Even though her dad didn’t come from the chemical world, he was something of a mad chemist who loved experimenting with different ways of mixing things and creating environmentally safe products.
Her father’s entrepreneurial spirit and way of running a company made an impression on Laura, but when it was time for her to choose a career, she decided she wanted to be a teacher. She wanted to do good for the world and was passionate about what we now call sustainability. At the time Laura was disappointed with corporate America because she thought it was taking advantage of the ecosystem, so she chose to become a teacher and teach sustainability in the classroom.
Her life changed in 1997 when her dad unexpectedly died and she decided to step in and help her mom keep the family business going. Although Laura loved teaching and helping her students, she wanted to continue her dad’s legacy, and she realized that if she helped build a company with a higher purpose in mind, she could be a force for good on a grander scale. However, if she was going to leave a career she loved, she was determined to “go big or go home.” Laura wanted to use her a passion for the environment and not just make green products, but to conduct business in a more sustainable way. As she said, “We had an opportunity to create significant change – to show how chemical companies can take responsibility for where their chemicals ended up.” She had no idea how hard that would be.
With the help of independent investors and three other founders who believed in the company’s ideals and the expanded vision, the business transformed itself into a brand new company, and Pantheon Enterprises was born. For Laura, she finally had a chance to start a conversation about how chemistry was done in the world and how they could design chemicals that could make the world a better place to live. Back then, no one was talking about green chemistry seriously or in a serious way; Pantheon was one of the earliest. They were going green before it was cool.
With little previous experience running a chemical company, Laura saw this as a massive opportunity to learn and try new things. Those were lessons she learned well from her dad. But even though she was eager to try different ways of doing things and she believed it was important to measure the impact of their company in ways that might not show up on a financial statement, she also understood their company needed to be profitable to continue their work.
For the first few years, Laura focused on finances and attracting more investors. She sought out talented people who became her mentors and board members. It was difficult work, but Laura kept telling herself that, as soon as they got money and people in place, the rest would be easy. She hadn’t yet realized the real work was building an organization where people worked together for a common cause. Laura had a big visionary purpose, but it didn’t connect with everyone. Pantheon’s people were using their existing worldview to do their jobs, but Laura was trying to do something bigger. As she put it, “I saw that heart connection to purpose wasn’t happening.”
Over the next decade Pantheon successfully developed and manufactured a variety of high quality, consciously created and environmentally safe products. But they were stuck in an organizational hierarchy where people were expected not to rock the boat or go over people’s head. It was hurting their initiatives and that was hurting business. Laura looked for ways to improve her skills to become a more effective leader. She attended a three-year business executive program at MIT program and various other leadership programs like Stagen’s Integral Leadership Academy. These had a profound impact on her thinking and helped her see the world more holistically. She learned about Conscious Capitalism through Stagen and was attracted to the idea that the number one goal of a conscious company is to elevate its own collective consciousness. She now serves on the Conscious Capitalism Board of Directors, promoting higher purpose in business on a larger scale to elevate humanity.
Conscious Capitalism has created a significant body of work, but it’s still trying to figure out how to measure its impact. One way is to measure the number of people coming out of college who are starting conscious companies or changing unconscious companies to conscious companies. Laura is a Gen-X’er and she thinks the Millennials will be the ones who will change the conversation and modify generally accepted accounting principles so that P/E ratios and quarterly bottom lines aren’t the only things that matter.
She believes we should measure the impact on humanity: how many people are sick or how the number of toxic chemicals in the world is being reduced. One way Pantheon measures their impact is the work they’ve done with the aerospace industry. Pantheon worked for years to shift this industry to quit using surface pretreatments and processes that used a very toxic material called hexavalent chromium. Once the aerospace industry made the switch to Pantheon’s flagship product PreKote, the use has spread globally with a significant reduction of hexavalent chromium being released into the environment, reducing the threat to the health and safety of anyone exposed to it.
As Laura learned new ideas and ways of doing things, she taught them to her team at Pantheon. This led them to find their Why, which is Why are we here? It may not surprise you that a former teacher would view their Why as a chance “to teach how to better care for People, Structures and Resources so that we can all help to make a better life and a better world for a very, very long time.”
In 2013, after more than a decade of living, listening and learning, Laura and her team changed the way they ran their company. Holacracy gave them a way to create an organization that worked better for them. It helped them weed out people who didn’t want to try something un-conventional and shifted the way their teams worked together. According to Laura, it motivated people to overcome small hurdles that they saw as huge hurdles. In short, it showed them how to be brave every day.
Laura also stopped thinking that if she hired people who had the right resumé, magic would happen. She realized it was emotional intelligence, not IQ, that was needed. Pantheon decided to change the way they interviewed prospective employees and they set out to discover more about their life purposes. They started asking questions such as “What’s important to you?,” “What’s your story when you’re 80?” and “What do you care about in the world?” Laura was willing to invest more in the interview process and dig deeper because she says it’s paying off. They used to have a 50/50 success rate in hiring the right people. Now it’s much better.
Laura’s biggest challenge as a leader has been to develop people. “We’ve had successes and failures,” she said, “and I’ve licked my wounds. You think people are hearing you on the emotional intelligence side, but they aren’t actually working on it. My weakness is I stay committed to people longer than probably serves us well. I keep thinking they’ll make a breakthrough and sometimes they do.” Laura and her team have learned to focus on what stories people tell themselves, what practices they use to overcome their fears and how to help them stop living in a world of merely artificial harmony. Most importantly they have found people who they trust.
Pantheon now has a critical mass of team members who are remarkable people and are committed to their higher purpose. These are people who hear and listen and are inspired to practice new ways of thinking. To help keep everyone focused, Pantheon spends three-to-four hours every Friday on emotional intelligence, development, conscious communication and triggered state. More recently Laura has expanded her thinking beyond how people behave at work. She sees them now more holistically and wonders how what they do at work can help them get to where they want to go in life. But despite all their progress, Laura is still cautious. She would love to say they’ve cracked the code — that they’ve figure it out — but, she admits it’s a process that never ends because humans are complex and new people are always coming on board. “You never know what’s going to inspire someone,” Laura said. “It would be so awesome if everyone was inspired by work, but in any organization, some people will be inspired by money. You have to have both. We can never say, ‘the culture is good.’”
From the beginning Laura has dreamed big. That desire is reflected in Pantheon’s motto which is “we can do better.” But it’s clear she’s not about to stop there. She has her eye on changing the entire chemical manufacturing industry. But Laura doesn’t want to slay the giant chemical companies. She wants Pantheon to be the catalyst that transforms the industry’s old ways of thinking by partnering to find new ways of solving problems while protecting the world.
To that end Pantheon Enterprises has developed a set of rigorous standards to ensure chemical formulations are both safe and effective. They call their standards The Principles of Conscious Chemistry™. These principles reflect Pantheon’s purpose, which is to innovate responsibly through Conscious Chemistry™ to sustain better life for people and our planet. It’s well said, although, some might prefer a simple formula like this: Conscious Chemistry™ means do no harm.
Against enormous odds, Laura, her team at Pantheon Enterprises and committed investors are changing attitudes in the chemical industry. They measure their success by the decline in toxic materials in our environment and the increased health of people throughout the world. And despite some lean times, they have done all of this while being a for-profit company. Laura has come a long way from the young woman who had negative feelings about corporate America and she has a newfound respect for the profit model. “I feel like you can really affect some major changes, solve world problems and make money while you are doing it. “Profit is important,” Laura said. “It is like the red blood cells in a body. You have to have them, but they are not the purpose of your body.”
But it’s not just the chemical industry that’s been ignoring how and what they are mixing together. Pharmaceutical, agricultural, cosmetics and other similar industries all put toxic materials into the environment that eventually end up in in our bodies. Laura worries that the general population has to absorb the invisible cost of the world of commerce. She wants to invest in the future by changing the conversation today. “Hopefully 20 years from now we can be one of many companies that are making a real significant impact. My goal is to be part of a wave of people who continue the conversation and build upon it.”
Laura’s fierce commitment to doing good has led Forbes Magazine to name her “The Toxic Avenger.” She earned the name for her work by shattering the myth that safer chemical technologies are less effective and more expensive. But Laura would be the first to tell you that it doesn’t take a superhero to make a difference. She firmly believes that it just takes one person or one company to change the conversation to a better one.
And that’s why we think the story of Laura and Pantheon Enterprise is so compelling. We can’t all take on the task of saving humanity from toxic chemicals (although that’s a fight worth joining). But each of us can find ways for ourselves and our companies to make a positive difference. All it takes is a willingness to change and a commitment to being a force for good. Who knows, maybe there’s a little Toxic Avenger in all of us.
Kevin Bugielski is the Marketing Manager for Victory Lap, a purpose-driven startup changing the sales game. Avid Snapchatter, SoulCycle lover, newfound runner, but ultimately, a foodie.