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When Jason and Kim Graham-Nye traveled from Portland to San Francisco for the Green Festival in November of 2010 to collect their People's Choice Award for Green Business of the Year, it wasn't their first visit to the Green Festival.
While attending previous Festivals in Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, Jason says, "We were able to meet new customers face-to-face and show them our product. It was absolutely critical to the success of the company. In addition to this, there was one particular Green Business Conference in Chicago in 2007 where I met 8 people in the space of 20 minutes -- during the ice-breaker activity -- and we have all stayed friends ever since. It's not all business!"
We asked Jason to tell us more about the world of diapers, and in the process we learned about his and Kim's romantic past in Australia...
Green America: What does your business do?
Jason Graham-Nye: gDiapers manufactures the world’s first hybrid diaper, essentially the best of cloth and disposable. The product consists of a fashionable reusable outer pant and a choice of either a washable cloth insert or a certified 100-percent biodegradable, flushable insert.
My wife (and co-founder/President) and I are from Sydney, Australia and moved 10,000 miles pregnant and with our 2 year old son and dog to Portland, Oregon to launch the business 6 years ago. We have been members of Green America since we landed here.
What makes your business green?
Jason: Every day in America, 50 million plastic disposable diapers are put into landfill where they stay for up to 500 years. Half a cup of oil is needed to make a diaper.
gDiapers are the only 100-percent certified biodegradable, flushable diaper. Mums and Dads can home-compost the wet–only diapers. They can also be commercially composted where available. By using gDiapers, parents can avoid contributing to the significant burden on landfills that plastic disposable diapers create.
gDiapers was the first Consumer Packaged Good to receive MBDC’s Cradle-to-Cradle certification. This means that everything that goes into the biodegradable gRefill is returned to the earth in a neutral or beneficial way. One of the great things about Cradle-to-Cradle is that it has forced our manufacturing partners to get more sustainable. One of our partners is a very large business and through the certification process, they shifted to 100-percent renewable energy.
Because gDiapers are plastic –free, parents now have a diaper option that keeps plastic away from baby’s skin. Also, the majority of our product is made in the USA with the textile component made responsibly in China. We use soy-based inks and post-consumer board wherever we can.
What did you do before you started your own green business?
Jason: Prior to starting gDiapers, I worked in Tokyo as a stockbroker. I left that role and pursued a degree in education, becoming a high school teacher of Japanese in Sydney. I then worked for a time as a Japanese interpreter/translator with the Japanese Olympic Committee leading up to and during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
During the teaching/interpreting part of my life I met my wife-to-be Kim who was originally from Canada. In an effort to woo her, I took her on a date in Sydney and showed her the best of the city. We then proceeded to go dating 200 times and wrote a book about it: Great Dates: A Romantic Guide to Sydney. That then morphed into a boutique event management business, organizing once-in-a-lifetime dates for couples. Then we got married; we kind of had to after dating so much! Then we got a puppy to see if we could come close to qualifying as parents which we did, (that pup is still with us, 13 years later). (And can I just say that I am in no way suggesting that having a dog is anything like parenting. It just forces you to care for someone other than yourself). Then we had a child and needed diapers and that is when we discovered the diaper system that became gDiapers. So... a non-linear career path shall we say.
What have been some of the biggest challenges of maintaining high standards of social and environmental responsibility?
Jason: Since we launched we have always offered onsite daycare. It is a great benefit to our team and it is also a great place to test new products. In 2009 with the recession starting to bite, we reviewed all of our benefits. It would have been quite easy to cut that benefit but we made the tough choice to keep it and sacrifice elsewhere. Today, our facility offers care for 18 of our kids and 60 kids from the local community.
What has been your proudest moment as a green business owner?
Jason: I think there are three things. The first is looking at the sheer number of diapers we have kept out of landfill. The second is the company culture we have here at gDiapers. We have nearly zero attrition and have a team that works so well together to problem-solve and grow. And lastly, getting profitable was a major achievement. So many businesses talk of the importance of being triple-bottom-line but unless a business is profitable it is irrelevant. As my friends at B Corp say, ‘No margin, no mission”. When I reflect on these three things, Kim and I definitely think it has all been worth it.
What's the most hopeful sign you have seen recently from the green economy?
Jason: I think having more mass retail partners really getting behind green brands has been very encouraging. When we first moved to the US in 2005, specialty supermarkets like Whole Foods Market was a core target for us. Today the landscape has changed significantly and there are much broader distribution opportunities.
What green product or service could you not live without?
Jason: We love Tegu! They are so clever and have such a great back story!