An interview with the toilet paper company that builds toilets for the developing world.
1. I didn’t know that there are more people in the world with mobile phones than toilets until I saw your website. Is there another fun fact that might shock readers?
Did you know that 2.3 billion people across the world don't have access to a toilet?
2. When you first launched Who Gives A Crap, did you expect to be where you are today? What surprise(s) did you experience along the way?
Who Gives A Crap was founded in Melbourne by Simon Griffiths, Danny Alexander, and Jehan Ratnatunga after they learned 2.5 billion people in the world don’t have access to a toilet (it’s 2.3 billion now – yay for progress!). Our trio launched the company in 2012 with a crowdfunding campaign that streamed Simon sitting on a toilet in our drafty warehouse until we had raised enough pre-orders to start production. Fifty hours and a sore bum later, we'd raised over $50,000. We delivered our first product in March 2013 and we’ve been on a roll ever since. Get it? Roll? Hehe. The fact that we already donated over $2.6 million dollars to charity to date is already a surprise itself! Who would have known, right?
3. You say trees are for hugging and I agree. Your toilet paper also saves water and energy. What is it made of, and how does that process ultimately benefit the buyer in the end?
If you're looking for the product with the absolute lowest footprint, go with the recycled - it's a lower energy conversion process as there is no step to convert bamboo (or wood!) into pulp first. Instead, we use mostly post-consumer recycled paper, plus a small amount of post-industrial paper and convert that to tissue paper at the point of manufacturing, which means less work to transform fibers. Our 100% recycled tissue paper is our core product and the most popular. We introduced the premium bamboo alternative at a later stage, and as a response to customers who felt the quality of recycled tissue was lacking in comparison to virgin fiber alternatives.
Having said that, bamboo is still a great sustainable option as it's naturally fast-growing and rapidly renewable. It also uses far less land than trees and produces less particulate matter and CO2 emissions per ton of paper produced. It requires no tending, irrigation or fertilization and only needs to be harvested once a year (it grows back very quickly after harvesting, as it's technically a grass).
Our bamboo is predominantly grown in remote areas of Sichuan Province, China by local farmers who plant bamboo on the borders of their small family farms to supplement their income. Unlike industrial agriculture (like special plantation forests created for toilet paper and other paper products) no vast areas of land are cleared. On top of this, the bamboo process is all very localized. Each village has its own bamboo co-op and after it has been harvested, it gets chipped and then goes to a local pulp factory. Sourcing bamboo this way means there are no adverse effects on natural forestry or wildlife.
What's the benefit? Like what we say, it's not only good for your bum, it's great for our planet! You get to help save trees and give toilet access to people who don't have any. You save trees, you help momma earth which in turn benefits humankind in all sorts of ways, we live here after all. ;)
4. How do you come up with your fun packaging designs?
We got a super awesome creative team of talented individuals that come up with these crazy and fun ideas every time.
5. You have donated half your profits to organizations like WaterAid Australia. How do you choose your partners? What should readers know about them and their efforts to do good?
To date, Who Gives A Crap has donated over 1.8 million Aussie dollars to our charity partners, WaterAid Australia and WaterAid America, Sanergy, Lwala Community Alliance and Shining Hope For Communities and WaterSHED. They all have deep experience and skill when it comes to implementing high impact sanitation projects throughout the developing world. The more innovative the solutions, the quicker we can help build toilets for the 2.3 billion people who don’t have them. You can check out their websites for more detailed info.
6. What playlists, podcasts, or books do you keep around the office to stay motivated?
We can recommend some amazing books! If you're looking for some entry-level guidance on starting a social business, you should check out 'Start Something That Matters' by Blake Mycoskie. If you want some more traditional small business advice, you should check out 'The E-Myth Revisited' by Michael Gerber. And if you're looking for some stronger, more structured, approaches to running startups dealing with innovative ideas then 'The Lean Startup' by Eric Ries is the way to go - almost every time we've caught up with someone looking to get something new off the ground we've told them to read The Lean Startup. It's the gospel!
7. What advice do you have for readers who want to make a difference but don’t know where to start?
Nothing's too small or too impossible. Just do it. We got your bum. ;)
8. Your pricing seems like a great value to me, especially when considering 50% becomes donated. What would you say to someone who is used to buying paper products for a lower cost from a store like Target?
We totally get that our product can seem more expensive than the store-bought ones. Especially, when prices for toilet paper in the major supermarkets are constantly changing with sales and "special offers". A good way to directly compare cost is by using the price per 100 sheets figure. Our core recycled product is the best value for money, with the bamboo being slightly higher per 100 sheets (we also include this detail in our website for comparison). But, we understand the upfront box price can feel a little off-putting. I've put the values below for you to compare (this is when buying a box of 48 rolls).
Sometimes the fact that our rolls are double the length is overlooked. We offer 370-400 3-ply sheets, whereas the usual pack from the supermarket may only be 180 sheets per roll!
US Recycled = $0.25 per sheet
Premium Bamboo = $0.31 per sheet
9. You’ve donated ~$2M so far. What’s next for Who Gives A Crap?
The reason we exist is to help build toilets for the 2.3 billion people in need. Our short term goal is to maximize our donation while growing the business (which will help us to provide more toilets in the years to come). In the long term, we want to make sure everyone in the world has access to a toilet by 2050!
Additional good news can be found on WGAC's blog: Talking Crap.
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