Who Gives A Crap’s business model helps fund sustainable sanitation solutions in developing countries

- March 2, 2016 5 MIN READ
Who Gives A Crap

Sanitation and water safety are huge issues globally, with roughly 2.5 billion people living without access to clean water or toilets. As a result, patients suffering from water-related diseases fill the hospital beds around the world, with related conditions killing 900 children under the age of five every day.

While water safety is one of the biggest issues facing the world, it isn’t the best dinner conversation starter because, let’s face it, no one wants to talk about what comes out of their other end while eating. While providing a community with access to clean water can be made sexy and sellable for middle class audiences, the reality of providing a community access to clean toilets is far from the pretty images of kids surrounding a water fountain.

Who Gives A Crap is an organisation founded by Simon Griffiths, Danny Alexander and Jehan Ratnatunga, where they saw amazing opportunities to engage with people in a conversation around sanitation and water issues in a way that’s a little less icky. Cofounder Simon Griffiths started the organisation to sell environmentally friendly toilet paper, using half the profits to help build toilets in the developing world.

“It was one of those epiphany moments where we had been thinking about this concept of how can you create a product that uses its profit to do good. We really wanted to create something that could help every single person in Australia or potentially the entire developed world,” explained Griffiths.

“After doing a lot of thinking about it one day, I walked into the bathroom in 2010 and saw a 6-pack of toilet paper sitting there, and thought ‘oh my god,’ that’s it, we use environmentally friendly toilet paper, and we use half of our profits to build toilets and we call it, give a crap,” he said.

So, like all great ideas, Who Gives A Crap was conceived on the toilet. Griffiths’ idea was transformed into a reality in 2012 when he decided to crowdfund his product, which just so happened to be plain and simple toilet paper.

“We didn’t have this crazy, sexy innovative product. We didn’t have something that was tech-based that has awesome networks through Reddit, so we had to do something kind of special to get people’s attention. As a result I got roped into sitting on a toilet on a live web feed until we pre-sold the first $50 000 of product,” said Griffiths.

Since launch Who Gives A Crap has been on a great uphill climb in terms of sales and growth, particularly since its main product is toilet paper. The company realised early on that its products would be sold online and not in Woolies or Coles, which would give it advantages in terms of sales, design and style.

Griffiths saw that customers were happy to order in bulk and have their toilet paper delivered, rather than lugging around mountains of rolls from supermarkets. Instead of selling toilet paper in plastic packs of six, 12, or 24, the team decided to wrap each roll individually in a unique well-designed wrapper. Three emergency red rolls are also placed in the bottom of every box so users know when it’s time to re-fill, to help solve the age old toilet paper problem. The designs are colourful and quirky, sparking an interest in consumers who like to put their toilet paper packaging on display, while at the same time feeling good about donating to a cause.

“People were proud to have these in their bathroom on display, as opposed to just shoved away in the back of a product like it traditionally had been. So we also thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could work with designers and illustrators and artists to create limited edition wrappers, and so now twice a year, we do a limited edition wrapper as well. So last year we worked with Beci Orpin for the media release, and we created five wrappers that were all different designs, with the fifth wrapper as an instructional wrapper that told you how to turn the other 4 into craft projects,” said Griffiths.

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All Who Gives A Crap products are environmentally friendly. To maintain sustainability and increase product range Who Gives A Crap last year launched tissues and has now launched forest friendly paper towels mixed with bamboo and sugarcane, ensuring tits products are sustainably grown, strong, and of course, absorbent. Products are shipped around Australia and can be purchased in bulk through the online store, staring at $30 for a box of 24 double length rolls.

While toilet paper is not techy, 50 percent of the profits made by Who Gives A Crap are given to organisations like WaterAid, who look into the development of technologies that can provide sustainable water solutions to some of the world’s poorest communities. WaterAid uses technologies that are low-cost, appropriate to the local area, and can be easily maintained by the communities who use them.

“These include gravity flow systems where water flows downhill into storage tanks that feed tap stands in the heart of the community. Rainwater harvesting is also used, as well as borehole drilling where there is hard rock or water needs to be collected from a greater depth,” explained WaterAid chief executive Paul Nichols.

Nichols confirms that WaterAid selects the right technology for the local situation, understanding that there is no point in installing a water pump in a remote rural village if the pump requires a lot of spare parts which are most likely produced in another country.

“As soon as something breaks, it is likely to fall into disrepair. To ensure the most appropriate technology is used, we work with local partners and local people to carry out an assessment of the area and then agree on the best ways to meet the water and sanitation needs of the community,” said Nichols.

“We also make sure we build the skills and capability of local governments, service providers and our local partners so they can carry on the work in the longer term. WaterAid continually monitors and evaluates its projects to ensure they are sustainable.”

By 2030 WaterAid is aiming for a world where everyone everywhere has safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. The organisation believes this goal is achievable through political and public commitment and harnessing local, sustainable resources.

Partnerships with organisation such as Who Gives A Crap are an essential contribution to WaterAid’s global initiative and help solve the water and sanitation crisis in developing countries. Currently WaterAid is the sole beneficiary of Who Gives A Crap, with 50 percent of the startup’s profits helping to fund the global initiative.

“We fund that approach with them and work with them in Papua New Guinea and East Timor. This last year we also directed $10,000 towards Nepal, where after the earthquake we wanted to be involved in some of the disaster relief as well as some of the more traditional relief we have done to date,” said Griffiths.

The startup has achieved a huge amount of organic growth, averaging around 12 percent month-on-month growth since launch, tripling in size every year. It have received investment from philanthropist and stockbroker Mark Cubit, along with Melbourne-based Impact Investment Group.

Who Gives A Crap has sold enough toilet paper to provide 120,000 people with access to a toilet for a year. Breaking that down, every roll it sells provides someone with access to a toilet for a week.

In the next 12 months the organisation is looking to bring on board new supporters and add new products. Griffiths said his team will be testing products in the US and UK in the next six months.

Image:Simon Griffiths, Danny Alexander and Jehan Ratnatunga. Source: Supplied