The Prius of Diapers Tackles 'Green Fatigue'
ALISON STEWART, host:
Having a kid is one of the biggest decisions of a person's life. And then it cascades into a bunch of decisions after there. Do you let him eat sugar cereal? Do you make him take piano lessons? Even when they first come home from the hospital, do you use cloth diapers that are earth-friendly? Or disposable diapers that are just plain easier, but not so eco-friendly? And in full disclosure, it's a decision I'm having to struggle with myself. I don't know if a lot of people know this, it was on a couple of blogs, that probably a month from today, might be my last day on the show for a little while, because my husband and I are expecting a kid.
So we're sort of trying to answer all these questions. And the diaper one has got me all twisted up in knots. I'm not sure what I could do, so I went online, I thought, is there something else out there? What if I could find a hybrid? A combo? Like a disposable eco-friendly diaper? Sort of the Prius of nappies? Well, there is one company out there trying to stake a claim in the market. They're called gDiapers. I have one here. You can hear it.
The outer shell is fabric and Velcro. It's got a reusable inner part here, and that's the part that gets all the goodies. It's flushable and biodegradable within 90 days, as opposed to hundreds of years that the plastic ones hang around in landfills. Now, I'm looking at it and I'm thinking, is this too good to be true? Well, I wanted to ask a mom whose baby is sporting a set of gDiapers right now. Michelle Engel is a busy mom raising a seven-month-old and a seven-year-old. Hi, Michelle.
Ms. MICHELLE ENGEL (Mom, gDiapers User): Hi, Alison.
STEWART: So, did you use - what kind of diapers did you use with your first child?
Ms. ENGEL: I used regular disposable diapers, probably Pampers.
STEWART: Now, did you have to - did you go through the struggle of wow, where are these things going?
Ms. ENGEL: Oh, every single time I threw one away, I was like, what a waste.
STEWART: Because I'm going to go through a lot of them, aren't I?
Ms. ENGEL: You are. Tons. It's going to seem endless.
STEWART: So, when did you start going to look for some sort of alternative?
Ms. ENGEL: Well, when I got pregnant again, I - you know, it was more on my mind. I became more eco-conscious. And you know, so I started doing my homework. My friend just had a baby, and she was doing the cloth diapers. It piqued my interest, but it wasn't really for me. I knew that it was going to be too challenging for my lifestyle.
STEWART: So, when you stumbled on these gDiapers, what did you see as the benefit? Why did they appeal to you?
Ms. ENGEL: Well, there's no plastic involved. I mean, no disposable plastic. The liner is plastic, but you reuse it over and over.
STEWART: Yeah, explain to people how these things work. I'll try to do a little demo in here while you talk.
Ms. ENGEL: All right, well, the outer shell is a cotton pant sort of a thing. It's a Velcro pant.
STEWART: Yeah. This one I have is bright orange.
Ms. ENGEL: Yup, they come in a lot of fun colors. And then, inside of that, there's a small plastic liner that snaps in and that kind of contains any wetness. And then, the thing that really does the job is the pad.
STEWART: The insert, kind of.
Ms. ENGEL: It's like a - it looks like a Maxi pad almost.
STEWART: It does look like the world's giant-est, biggest Maxi pad. Every woman in here is laughing.
Ms. ENGEL: Yeah. No, it's really, it's like, well, this is interesting. But, um, it works. It's got like a - I'm not 100 percent certain on the content, but it's a wood-pulp fiber. So it's a renewable source, and it has no bad stuff for the environment in there. It all breaks down.
STEWART: So here's a question. What's the leakage issue? Because one of the things when you look at those super absorbent plastic numbers, you think nothing's getting out of here.
Ms. ENGEL: Yeah, and nothing does of out of those, because they have all sorts of chemicals and things in those disposable diapers that hold in the moisture. With these pads, they need to be changed more regularly. You know, leaking does happen, but it's not something that you can't control if you're on top of things. It's just one of those things. I don't have too many issues with it. You know, if you let it go a little bit too long it will leak, but it kind of stays around the bands of the diaper.
STEWART: OK, oh, who's that?
Ms. ENGEL: Oh, that's my baby.
STEWART: What's her name?
Ms. ENGEL: His name is Bruno.
STEWART: Hi, Bruno. So here's the big question that my husband wanted to know. One of the things with these diapers is you can supposedly flush them, but you got to take them out, you got to take them over to the toilet, and drop all the goodies and the pad itself in there. How disgusting is this?
Ms. ENGEL: Well, it's like I say like about every new mom, you kind of get over all that stuff. I mean you kind of just have to do what you have to do. You're going to see things that are not pleasant, and, you know, a dirty diaper is one of them, and you just kind of go about your business. You know, it's like you've got to get rid of it. You know you could easily throw it away. You can throw them away. They're still biodegradable. But flushing them, you know you just - I don't know. If you follow the process, it happens to work out.
STEWART: Now, am I going to have dig extra deep in my pocket for these? Do they cost a little more?
Ms. ENGEL: They're a little more expensive. I mean there's the initial investment of the diapers themselves. You can get starter kits, which are much less expensive than buying them individually, but they only come in a certain color combination, which, if you want the nicer colors, you have to buy them individually. But then you get the pads. They're comparable to a disposable diaper. It's 40 pads, I think, for like $11.99 - anywhere from $9.99 to $11.99.
STEWART: All right, one last piece of advice. As someone who's going to try this, since I don't have any children, this is my first kid, I don't know any better - one piece of advice about my gDiaper, because I'm going to give it a shot...
Ms. ENGEL: Caught me off guard. I just - I don't know. They're great. I think you should change them regularly.
STEWART: OK, change them regularly seems to be the big answer. All right, well, Michelle and Bruno, thanks for letting us drop into your life for a little bit. I'll let you know how it works out.
Ms. ENGEL: All right. Good luck and congratulations.
STEWART: Thanks a lot.
Ms. ENGEL: OK. Take care.
STEWART: So you heard that. The gDiaper's main selling point is look you don't have to hurt the environment. There are options. It's a marketing pitch embraced by so many people with so many things to sell. I mean, I can buy green dish detergent, green counter wipes, recycled paper, and sometimes it's a genuine pitch, but I swear I get the feeling that the label "green" or "eco" is maybe turning into the new "low-fat," "trans-fat," "low sodium," a label just kind of slapped on a product to make it fly off the shelf. With that in mind, I want to throw a couple questions to Jacquelyn Ottman, a green marketing consultant for Fortune 500 companies and author of "Green Marketing: Opportunity For Innovation." Jacquelyn, thanks for being with us.
Ms. JACQUELYN OTTMAN (Green Marketing Consultant; Author, "Green Marketing: Opportunity For Innovation"): Good morning.
STEWART: So is there something known as "green fatigue," or "green marketing myopia," as you describe it?
Ms. OTTMAN: I think there isn't a thing called "green fatigue," as far as consumers are concerned. If you look at the market share collectively of green products, it's still, like, under two percent right now. I think you may see a lot of green products in the press that are new and get the sense that they really represent a larger percentage of products out there, and I also think that consumers really like trying new things in general and green products always have some kind of really important benefit to consumers - I mean outside of kind of the trendy things. But important benefits to consumers, like they may help them save money, or they may be better for their health, so consumers are always interested in trying new green products.
STEWART: So what does a company need to beware of so that they can maintain the use of a green marketing strategy without turning people off?
Ms. OTTMAN: Well, that's what we call "green marketing myopia." And green marketing myopia says marketers don't get so caught up in the environmental benefits of your product that you lead with those in your marketing communications and forget the fact that the reason why consumers buy products is to meet real needs. So, for example, if a product like a compact fluorescent light bulb saves money, then highlight that in your advertising.
STEWART: Don't necessarily highlight the green component because people are really buying something because they need it for a reason.
Ms. OTTMAN: Right. And also it's like the gDiapers that were just previously discussed. They have a lot of great benefits for all consumers, however, at least initially, they're going to be used by people who are looking for products that are kinder to the environment.
STEWART: So your advice, for example, for the gDiapers people, is start to concentrate on the hey, they don't leak. At some point they're going to need to shift their strategy to wow, look how cute they are on your kid, and they don't leak, and by the way, they also don't hurt the environment.
Ms. OTTMAN: Exactly, because by doing that you're going to appeal to the broadest section of the consumers. You're going to get like the real mainstream consumers coming on board. And one thing that's incredible about gDiapers is that they really do have benefits and advantages versus both disposable diapers and cloth diapers. So you can really go against the broad consumer, and so there's a lot of upside potential to that product.
STEWART: We're talking to Jacquelyn Ottman, a green marketing consultant to Fortune 500 companies. She's also the author of "Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation." So I have to ask a little bit of a sticky question about Fortune 500 companies. Sometimes you see somebody marketing something as green and you know that company, the rest of their business practices maybe don't add up to being the most environmentally friendly. Or, for example, there was a rock star who went on this college tour to promote awareness about climate change, but was taking three giant busses during her tour to get there. How important is it for a company to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk?
Ms. OTTMAN: They have to do both or they will be found out. One strategy of activists who are looking to affect change in society is to target the biggest, best, well-known brands in order to get traction for their issue. So it's why McDonald's was targeted for the Styrofoam and Coke is being targeted for obesity issues and now water issues.
STEWART: Jacquelyn Ottman is a green marketing consultant and author of "Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation." Jacquelyn, thank you so much for being with us here on the Bryant Park Project.
Ms. OTTMAN: You're welcome. Have a great day.
STEWART: You, too.
Ms. OTTMAN: Thanks. Bye bye.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.