Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Bum Boosa Bamboo Products Saves Trees & Water

Bum Boosa® Bamboo Products was launched in 2009 by two moms interested in making a difference in the world by creating products to replace commonly used disposable products. Co-founder and President Sonja Sheasley had been researching the idea of creating baby wipes from a sustainable, biodegradable material which led her to learn of all of the wonderful properties of bamboo. Armed with this knowledge and her experience studying aromatherapy and herbalism, she set out to create a formula that would be natural and safe for the planet and infants’ sensitive skin. She worked with an organic chemist to get the formula just right including a natural preservative system. After three years of research and development, Sonja, a stay-at-home mom of two young boys and a former teacher, sought a partner with complementary skills to help launch the business. Sonja met soon-to-be Co-founder and Vice President Polly Goddard who had recently been laid off from her position operating an environmentally-focused non-profit. Although neither had any formal training or experience in starting a business or bringing products to market, they relied on their instincts and research. Together the women formed a partnership and officially launched Bum Boosa® Bamboo Products in March 2009.

The first product, Bum Boosa® Bamboo Baby Wipes, was released in July 2009. The wipes are made with the renewable, sustainable material of bamboo and have a natural solution which includes pure grade essential oils of Lavender and Sweet Orange. The solution doesn’t have harsh chemicals or alcohol, unlike many other wipes on the market. Because the wipes are made from bamboo, they biodegrade beautifully in landfills and other natural environments – If used for hands and faces, the wipes may be composted in a back yard composter. If used for diaper changes and the like, the wipes may be composted in a commercial composting facility (because it reaches much higher temperatures).

With the wipes gaining popularity quickly across the country and beyond, Sonja and Polly began thinking about a complementary product to the wipes and in September 2009, they released Bum Boosa® Bamboo Diaper Rash Ointment. Again it employs the natural properties of bamboo (anti-oxidant) by including bamboo silk powder in the ingredients. It also includes a variety of herbs and essential oils known for their healing and soothing properties. Customers soon found that if they consistently used Bum Boosa® Bamboo Baby Wipes, they really only needed the ointment for really stubborn rashes and many reported an immediate relief from the painful rash.

Although the partners had intended from the start to only launch one or two products per year as they built the business, a new study soon spurred them into action to launch their third product in January 2010. Studies from Dresden University were showing that toilet paper made with recycled content was leaching BPAs (Bisphenol-A – an endocrine disruptor) into the groundwater – http://rcswww.urz.tu-dresden.de/~gehring/deutsch/dt/vortr/040929ge.pdf. With this new research, Bum Boosa® partners Sonja and Polly quickly worked with a new manufacturer and brought the world’s first bamboo bathroom tissue to market just two months later. They furthered their commitment to a more responsible product by not packaging the new bathroom tissue in plastic but rather in a cardboard box made from recycled materials that is recyclable.

A commonly asked question is why they chose bamboo for their products. Bamboo is a renewable, sustainable material. The bamboo that Bum Boosa® uses is grown on family farms in areas where other agricultural crops will not grow. It has a regenerative root system which means that after harvesting, it does not need to be replanted – unlike trees. Bamboo is the fastest growing grass on the planet and shoot up a yard or more a day and can be harvested in 2-4 years – unlike trees which require replanting and then often decades until the next harvest. It doesn’t require pesticides or insecticides and it thrives on rainwater – no irrigation is needed. Bamboo is also biodegradable and with more than 90% of the wipes on the market being made with synthetics or a combination of materials including synthetics which are not biodegradable, it was essential to choose a material that would not contribute to the growing problems in landfills.

Part of their desire to make a difference meant taking a different tact on some standard business practices. Though it cuts into the profits, Bum Boosa® plants a tree for each item sold, a worthwhile investment in the earth’s future. In the first year of business they have planted more than 26,000 trees through Trees for the Future. To date they have planted 10,000 trees in Brazil and 16,000 trees in Ghana and Burundi. They have chosen to plant in these countries for two reasons: rainforest depletion is as high as 90% due to things like widespread logging in the past and overgrazing. And in Burundi, where 57% of children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, they are planting Moringa, “the miracle tree” which boasts twice the calcium as milk and four times as much Vitamin A as in carrots.

Additionally, because two of their three products were made at manufacturing facilities in China (no USA facilities were available when they launched the business), Bum Boosa® committed to offsetting more than 100% of the calculated carbon emissions resulting from shipping to the US, shipping to customers throughout the US, and daily operations of their office. However, Bum Boosa® is pleased that the next run of wipes will be manufactured at facility in the US which is 100% wind-powered.

Wanting to take its commitment to the environment to the next level, Bum Boosa® launched a reclaimed packaging program for its baby wipes. Because the plastic package is not recyclable in most places and they had yet to find an affordable, effective, biodegradable plastic that would work, they encourage wipes users to return empty packaging to the Bum Boosa® office and receive 10% off their next order of wipes. After months of collecting empty packages, a local crafter developed a means of up-cycling the empty packages into useable items such as diaper bags etc which will soon be available to customers through the website – www.bumboosa.com.

With more than 18 months of business under their belts, former teacher Sonja and former non-profit director Polly have both used innate skills and developed a stable of new skills necessary to grow and maintain their business. With popularity continuing to grow (Bum Boosa® products are now distributed in Canada, Australia, and Colombia), the partners continue to look towards a bright future of making a difference in the world on many levels.

As a small, growing business, Bum Boosa® appreciates the assistance of other like-minded companies and people to help spread the word about their products. They engage in cooperative marketing with many companies via their website and social networking media and welcome new contacts.

When asked what one thing they did right, the partners agree that finding a partner similar enough to get along well with but with differing strengths and skills has been the key to their success. Also, they realize that if they had been told in advance of all of the many things they would need to learn, figure out, fail and succeed at in the first year of business, they might have been intimidated to dive into the project. Putting one foot in front of the other and letting next steps reveal themselves at the right time has been a formula that has kept them on track and motivated.

For more information about their business philosophy and practices or about the products, please visit: www.bumboosa.com or email info [at] bumboosa.com.

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