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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Fighting Deforestation 'One Loo at a Time'

There are about 3 trillion trees left on earth, or roughly 400 trees per person. Seems like a lot, but what if we told you that since the advent of human civilisation, half of all trees have been cut down, or that 15 billion trees are lost each year? Or how about the fact that the haze that covers Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia does is a direct result of deforestation, where vegetation is cleared via the slash-and-burn method for resources such as palm oil, paper and pulp?

27,000 trees are cut down every day just to make toilet paper. But 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 that uses bamboo instead of wood for its tissue and personal care products. We caught up with him recently to chat about the company, the environment, and how alternative supply chains are increasingly becoming a key priority for businesses.

Unlike wood from trees, bamboo is a much more efficient material for producing paper.

“It takes 30 years to grow a tree, but it only takes three years for bamboo to reach maturity,” he says; bamboo is able to produce 5 to 6 times more raw material than a tree during that time.

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,” Ward says.

By simply choosing a more sustainable raw material, NooTrees checks off three of the 17 SDGs:

When asked why he began this journey into bamboo, Ward’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.

Ward studied engineering before moving into building various globally known brands, re-affirming our belief that engineering can be one of the most important professions creating and driving many sustainable product innovations.

Alternative resources and supply chain management driving business

The 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 timber shortage. Turning this into a business opportunity, the bamboo export industry in China is now worth approximately $9 billion.

Other brands utilizing bamboo include Canada’s Caboo 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 percent of bamboo globally is grown.

Ward plans to increase the brand’s bamboo product range. The company now has bamboo-made facial tissues and wet wipes, on top of its toilet paper range, but where we feel NooTrees is going to make a bigger impact on the environment is its forthcoming bamboo core-based diaper range called BumBams, which will be over 90 percent compostable and biodegradable in managed landfill. Conventional diapers and sanitary napkins – made mainly of plastic, hard to segregate, and hard to biodegrade – are some of the most difficult types of waste to manage (diapers alone are the 3rd-largest contributor to landfills globally).

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 degrades in only three years.

We consume more and more products each year, and at current rates, the world’s supply of certain resources is dwindling rapidly. With continued innovation from 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 post first appeared on the Gone Adventurin’ blog on Sep 27, 2016.


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