Shining a spotlight on the mundane

In this blog I’ll be sharing the successful communications campaign of a Australia-based start-up. The company I’ve chosen unashamedly challenges us to think more deeply about the sustainability credentials of an everyday and unremarkable product: toilet paper.

The average American uses 130 rolls of toilet paper per year

While most people in the developed world use toilet paper multiple times every day, how often do you stop to think about the impact you are having on the environment?

Statistics website The World Counts emphasise that this is a product we use a lot of: the amount of toilet paper we use could travel to the sun and back every ten days.

Shifting from new to recycled paper would have a pretty large impact globally: it’s estimated by the WWF that only 50% of the fibres used to make toilet roll currently come from recycled sources.

The company I’ve picked out for this blog, Who Gives a Crap, is a mission driven organisation producing 100% recycled toilet paper. Their communication strategy is based around their sustainability credentials.

Who Gives a Crap was launched in 2012 with a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo

The company has three stated aims, the first two of which are explicitly linked to sustainable development:

  1. Good for the world: all products made with 100% recycled paper;
  2. Good for people: 50% profits donated to charity (initially WaterAid but the roster of charities has expanded to 5);
  3. Good for your body: the product does not use any inks, dyes or scents.

The socially conscious toilet paper brand crowdfunded their first mass order of 100% recycled toilet paper with a communications strategy entitled “Help Get Simon off the Loo”. The campaign was run predominantly on social media and revolved around the CEO Simon Griffith’s live streaming video of himself sitting on a toilet constantly until he met his fund-raising target.

CEO Simon Griffith’s pitch to raise $50’000

The campaign was successful: the full target of $50’000 in donations was received in 50 hours. The campaign has also been recognised with industry awards.

The current communications strategy also uses bloggers to promote their product – for example this feature blog by Kathryn Kellogg on her site Going Zero Waste and this sponsored post by Kate Arnell on her site Eco Boost. Both sponsored blogs were posted in December 2017 and focus on three core areas:

  • sustainability credentials of the product;
  • quality/usability of the product;
  • value for money vs traditional brands.

The blogs claim that Who Gives a Crap’s toilet paper checks out on all three criteria.

As well as a catchy name a key part of this social media-based communications strategy is the product packing. The product is packaged in a way that makes it both a discussion point and attractive to a social media audience – see this photograph from another sponsored blog – this time from the lifestyle website Reading my Tealeaves in May 2018:

So far the company has donated £1m to charity. Proving their concept and supported by a very successful communications strategy based around the sustainability credentials of their product.

Read their impact report to find out more.


2 thoughts on “Shining a spotlight on the mundane

  1. Thanks for sharing this campaign. This is one of the wittiest sustainability campaigns I have seen lately! I find this campaign fascinating both as a business idea and a sustainability initiative. It is incredible, how one of the most trivial products of the world can be reinvented anew. From the sustainability perspective, it is great to see a refreshingly fun way of raising awareness. I believe that sustainability has been painted “black” for so long that it has become almost synonymous with sad, angry people talking about the imminent end of the universe. Young, sticky language is needed to make sustainability stay in people’s minds and become attractive and fun. This campaign is a great example of an easy and unexpected way of spreading awareness about the problems of poverty, while making people support a business with a purpose.

    What I find slightly off-putting though is the exaggerated use of half-naked men sitting on a toilet. This is not the most attractive thing to see, so I think that some of the public with more serious characters or an extremely vivid imagination might have stopped watching the video at some point, because it was simply unpleasant. Moreover, seeing someone sitting on a loo and talking about diseases and hospital beds can make some shudder… All in all, I cannot say whether it is a successful sustainability campaign or not. On the one hand, it has certainly achieved its aim through humour and a surprise effect. On the other hand, the campaign may have missed some potential buyers, who would fancy buying this product, but would be shocked by the extent of toilet humour. I would probably buy a box of this paper though 🙂

    Thanks again for sharing this refreshing perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Honor,

    Thank you very much for remembering me this campaign. I enjoyed very much reading your post and watching this funny video.

    I like the idea of buying a basic product in a way that contributes to good causes for the environment and for the society, especially if it is under the premises stated in the video: same price as other brands and great quality. Thus, I expected a similar price (he says “it costs the same as other brands” at 0:48). However, if I compare their prices with that of other 100% recycled paper rolls I can’t see this being true:

    Brand Features Units/pack Price/pack Price/Unit

    Who Gives a Crap 100% recycled 24 £24 £1
    400 sheets per roll

    Waitrose 100% recycled 9 £3 £0,33
    480 sheets per roll

    Undoubtedly the crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo was a massive success as they raised $50,000 in only 50 hours. However, I don’t understand why their product is three times as expensive as that of other brands. In the table above you can see how a different 100% recycled toilet paper with a similar quality has a significantly lower price (it depends on the amount ordered though).

    What would justify such a difference? Is their supply chain much more sustainable? Do they expend a considerable part of their benefits in certifications? Even donating a 50% of their profits to a charity it seems that their net profit could be higher than that of other brands. However, I see several factors that would make Who Gives a Crap’s business model ‘more expensive’ than Waitrose’s one:

    1) For sure Waitrose have cheaper prices from its providers as they have a stronger negotiation power due to the enormous amount of units they order per year.

    2) Who Gives a Crap’s packaging is certainly more expensive as they pack every single roll on a different shiny coloured paper sheet, and all of them in a strong cardboard box. Personally I don’t think this packaging format is environmentally friendly even if all this packaging was 100% recycled (because its manufacture and transport has a carbon footprint too).

    3) I imagine that the transport costs are lower for Waitrose as they move big amounts of paper rolls together to specific supermarkets whereas in the case of Who Gives a Crap they send a small amount of rolls to their customers’ addresses. In that sense I also think that in terms of transport Who Gives a Crap’s products have a higher carbon footprint than that of those available in supermarkets.

    Personally I wouldn’t mind to pay more for their product given the social impact they achieve (do they share specific KPI’s of social impact?). However, I’m not sure if this is a long-term sustainable business model as probably some people will buy this toilet paper during a limited period of time but they might not be willing to pay the triple forever.
    In any case, the fact that the company has donated £1m to a charity is awesome!

    Thank you for sharing this inspiring example Honor,


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