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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Green as a Baby’s Bum: gDiapers

Anyone's who's cared for an infant at some point knows they're cute, lovable, and… messy. While diapering a baby is a given, the environmentally-conscious parent or caregiver finds him/herself faced with two unpalatable options for accomplishing the task: cloth diapers, which can be reused, but require massive amounts of water and energy for laundering, and disposable diapers, which are more convenient, and perhaps more energy efficient, but create tons of waste that takes centuries to decompose. Jason and Kim Graham-Nye, the husband and wife co-founders of the recently launched gDiapers, hope their third option catches on with the sustainability crowd: a flushable, compostable diapering product.

For both of the Graham-Nyes, gDiapers is the culmination of "searching high and low for a business that made meaning and money," according to Jason. He started out as a stockbroker in Tokyo, and then returned to his native Australia to teach Japanese. Kim spent her twenties in the developing world, both as a volunteer in Mexican orphanages and as a UN AIDS researcher in Zanzibar. On her return to Australia, she founded a telecommunications company that she eventually sold to Sprint. After meeting, dating and marrying, the couple even wrote a book together (Great Dates: A Romantic's Guide to Sydney), and launched a boutique event management company. Despite the Graham-Nyes' success in making both money and meaning, they continued to find that having one seemed to mean sacrificing the other. After discovering a company in Tasmania that made flushable diapers, and using them on their own child for six months, it occurred to both Jason and Kim that they may have found their dream business opportunity. In a period of two and a half years, the couple bought the international rights to the product, moved to the United States to start up, and officially launched the company on November 29 : "940 days from finding the product in Sydney to selling it in the US," said Jason.

That 940 days contained plenty of ups and downs as the couple built their business in a new country and business culture. Without a US network, funding proved difficult. The Graham-Nyes approached angel investors, but discovered that both consumer goods and sustainability didn't match the tech-heavy objectives of this group. Despite these challenges, the couple succeeded in attracting investors from Australia, recruiting a top-notch team to the fledgling company, and even striking a deal with Whole Foods to sell gDiapers in an entire region. The new business has attracted press attention from local media in the company's home city of Portland, Oregon, and even a Portland city councilman has blogged about the company and the environmental advantages of its product.

The company's whirlwind startup period hasn't deterred the Graham-Nyes from staying true to the Australian expression "fair dinkum": "…being genuine and real with everyone you encounter." For gDiapers, this demands, first and foremost, "staying true" to children and their needs. The company has established a child-friendly culture by encouraging employees to both bring their kids to work and to take time off to care for them, and by establishing a child development center onsite. The company keeps to its mission of social responsibility by working with China Labor Watch to ensure fair treatment of workers at the Nanjing, China, mill that creates the "g Pants" portion of the gDiapers product (the "flushables" are made in Ohio). The company has submitted its product to the National Sanitation Foundation for testing the product's flushability, and is halfway though "cradle to cradle" certification by MBDC. The company's website contains a wealth of material on their product's environmental impact, as well as more general information on waste disposal, composting and "the Great Debate" over disposables vs. cloth diapers. In a business that's definitely "messy," gDiapers is working to create a product and company that "lighten the load" of child-rearing.

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg
Guest Columnist -- Greener Magazine

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