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Success Stories

Finding New Markets with USDA BioPreferred: Small Town Biobased Company has Outsized Impact on the Slopes and Ziplines of America

Leigh Hallett
Made in Rural America
A bearded man poses in front of a backdrop that says "GORiLLA LUBE" with industrial products on a table in front of him with orange labels.
A man and woman pose for a portrait wearing baseball caps and outdoor apparel.
Scott and Kathie Lee are the founders of Gorilla Lube, based in Brownville, Maine.

Scott Lee found his mission while still in college. At the time he worked for the Connecticut Department of Health inspecting public water supplies and tracing the source of pollutants. Through his studies and work he realized the extent to which petroleum-based lubricants from industrial uses seep into the natural environment. He also worried about potential health risks for people exposed to traditional lubricants while going about their lives. These concerns stayed with him after he and his wife, Kathie, later joined the family manufacturing business in Maine and Scott pursued a marketing career in the ski industry. In 2006 they formed their own company, S&K Unlimited LLC.

After years with the family business and a continued focus on creating safe, high-performing products, the Lees wanted to create a specialized nontoxic lubricant. They developed a biobased formula to be used in and around water sources and in situations catering to families, children, and animals. They also wanted the new product to work even better than petroleum-based products. Having pursued a marketing career that included many years in the ski industry, Scott Lee knew that resorts, amusement parks, zoos, and similar sites are regularly exposed to harsh weather and hard use that can increase pollution risks. Therefore, they tailored the new product to meet the needs of this sector and Gorilla Lube™ was born.

The photo shows three containers of Gorilla Lube, an industrial lubricant. The labels are bright orange, and the bucket, spray can, and jug are set on granite outdoors.
Gorilla Lube products are labeled "USDA Certified," to signal to consumers that they have been lab-tested and confirmed as biobased.

The Lees launched the Gorilla Lube brand in 2011 with a commitment to manufacturing non-toxic industrial lubricants using all-natural, USA-sourced, biobased, biodegradable, and sustainable raw ingredients. They hoped that amusement parks, zoos, and other outdoor recreation sites would embrace their vision of creating safer, less polluting entertainment for people to enjoy. It took a while to build a following in the sector, but today heavy-hitting customers rely on the unique, nontoxic product. Gorilla Lube now is used at nationally recognized sites such as Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, Six Flaggs, Silver Dollar City, Snowbasin Resort, the Space Needle, and Maine’s own Sunday River Resort.

An important part of gaining national recognition for Gorilla Lube was the founders’ decision to seek the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “BioPreferred” certification for their new product. Biobased certification was a natural fit for Gorilla Lube from the start since it aligned with the company’s mission and helped market the product. The program certifies products as biobased through an application process and lab testing. It is one way that customers, whether homeowners, amusement park operators, or federal agency procurement offices, can determine whether a product is truly made from plants and other renewable materials exclusively. “We do believe that the certification has helped customers find us, especially in the past couple of years as more companies are trying to become more ‘green’ and sustainable,” says Scott Lee.

A woman sits at a desk in a sunny office.
Kathie Lee is Creative Director for Gorilla Lube. She notes, "When I worked with my parents in the manufacturing world, many long hours were spent incorporating historical methods into our product development. This became a ‘natural’ blend and ethos that Scott and I share to this day.”   

Each year, Americans become more aware of the importance of using renewable agricultural resources rather than petroleum-based products. However, it can be hard to evaluate whether products are made from renewable, sustainable materials. USDA created the BioPreferred Program in 2002 to address this problem. Through the voluntary program, companies submit their products to a testing laboratory for evaluation. When consumers see the USDA Certified Biobased Product label on a product, they know that it has been independently tested and proven to be biobased. Federal agencies and contractors also rely on the BioPreferred program to help them select products that meet federal purchasing standards.

A casually dressed man stands on a walkway before a large tree with a sign reading, "Gorilla and Company Viewing Experience." The scene is at the Jacksonville Zoo.
Scott Lee created Gorilla Lube with zoos as one of the target users. The product is ideal for use around animals because it is nontoxic.

The Lees first sought BioPreferred classification for Gorilla Lube in 2010 while developing the product and have maintained the certification ever since. At the time they believed it would help them market the product, which proved true - their product is now utilized widely at high-profile locations. Perhaps more importantly, creating a certified, biobased product that is not harmful to the environment is at the heart of the Gorilla Lube business ethos. “As a USDA program, BioPreferred is a relevant and meaningful certification that made sense for our company,” says Scott Lee. “Our products speak for themselves in terms of efficacy. But it is just as important to our company that we do our best for the planet and the people on it.” 

Gorilla Lube products are shown lined up on a shelf. The labels are bright orange. There are jugs, buckets, and spray cans.
Says Scott Lee, "When I became involved in the manufacturing world, there was no question that my goal would be to formulate top quality, biobased products that would outperform the standard petroleum products. I wanted to offer an environmentally friendly alternative that would pave the way for new standards.”
Obligation Amount:
Year(s) of Obligation:
Congressional District:
  • Maine: District 2