Fighting deforestation “one loo at a time”
There are about 3 trillion trees left on earth, which is about 400 trees per person. Seems like a lot, but what if we told you that since human civilisation, half of all trees have been cut down? How about the fact that 15 billion trees are lost each year? If that does not scare you, perhaps the yearly haze that covers Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia does. The haze we all loathe is a direct result of deforestation, where vegetation is cleared via the slash-and-burn method for resources like palm oil, paper and pulp.
27 thousand trees are cut down every day just to make toilet paper. One man is on a mission to change that “one loo at a time”. David Ward is the founder and GM of NooTrees, a subsidiary of The FJ Benjamin Group in Singapore, and which uses bamboo instead of wood. We caught up with him earlier this month to chat about the company, the environment, and how alternative supply chains will increasingly become a key priority for businesses.
Green supply chains – a better alternative for the environment
Unlike wood from trees, bamboo is a much more efficient way of producing paper. “It takes 30 years to grow a tree, but it only takes three years for bamboo to reach maturity,” says David. In the same time frame, bamboo is able to produce 5 to 6 times more raw material than a tree.
The beauty of the bamboo plant also stems from the fact that it can be grown on degenerated land spaces, and does not require the grade A arable land that trees need to grow on. “We can then keep that grade A arable land free for animals, crops, and for mankind’s other uses,” he says.
With one amazing innovation, NooTrees checks off 3 out of the 17 United Nation’s goals for sustainable development!
When asked why he began this journey into bamboo, David’s answer was simple. Such a product did not exist in the market.
“I knew the technology to create these things existed, so I decided to use my 25 years of experience building brands, and create a sustainable brand that could push Singapore’s image forward,” he says.
What you might not know about David is that he studied engineering before moving into building various world wide known brands. It re-affirmed our belief that engineering can be one of the most important professions creating and driving sustainable product innovations!
Alternative resources and supply chain management driving business
This technology to use bamboo as an alternative to wood and timber was started by the Chinese government in the 1980s, because the nation was facing a lack of timber. Turning this into a business opportunity, the bamboo export industry in China is now worth approximately $9 billion.
Also innovating for good business, is Caboo from Canada and Nimbus Eco out of the US. Both brands are using grassy fibers from bamboo and sugarcane instead of wood from trees. Like NooTrees, their bamboo is sourced from China, where 45% of bamboo globally is grown.
David’s plans for the future are to increase the brands bamboo product range. He now has bamboo-made facial tissues and wet wipes, on top of his toilet paper range, but where we feel NooTrees is going to make a bigger positive impact on the environment is its soon to be introduced bamboo core based diaper range called BumBams. This is particularly relevant because conventional diapers and sanitary napkins are some of the most difficult types of waste to manage – made mainly of plastic, hard to segregate, and hard to biodegrade. Diapers are the 3rd biggest contributor to landfills globally! With innovations like bamboo diapers, we could yet dig our way out of this sticky situation that our planet finds itself in.
What sets NooTrees apart is not just the product itself, but also its packaging. Some toilet paper brands have plastic packaging that takes more than 200 years to decompose. It is ridiculous to think about how long it takes to use a roll of toilet paper, versus the time the plastic packaging takes to degenerate. NooTrees on the other hand uses an oxy-biodegradable packaging that takes only a remarkable three years to degenerate.
It is not just bamboo that companies are using to disrupt traditional supply chains. Ecovate is a company that uses mushroom not to cook your favourite fungus-based dishes, but to also create sustainable products that mimic the properties of wood and foam.
At the end of the day, supply chain disruption still relies much in consumers’ purchasing decisions. An online platform – Project Just, reviews brands of their supply chain ethics and sustainability, to help consumers make a more informed decision before they purchase a product.
We consume more and more products each year, and at current rates, the world’s supply of resources are dwindling rapidly. With a combination of innovations like NooTrees and their peers, as well as moving our industries into circular economies, we not only move towards net-zero impact societies but can drive thriving businesses by doing so!
This article is part of our monthly series of insights to help business leaders discover business value through a social and environmental purpose.
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