It all started seven years ago when Kate MacEachern and Brent Pederson decided to switch the youngest of their four babies to cloth diapers for environmental reasons. They couldn’t find a diaper service in their small community of Sherwood Park (just north of Edmonton, Canada), so they started their own.
From the beginning, Happy Nappy was a business with a conscience. In addition to using fitted cotton diapers (for parents’ convenience) and washing with water at temperatures too high to attain at home (required by public health agencies), MacEachern and Pederson used detergents free of surfactants and phosphates, only chlorine bleach (the best kind, environmentally), and as little of that as possible. For three years, Happy Nappy was a small but happy local business.
Turning Babies’ Diapers into an Environmental Business Opportunity
Then, four years ago, Sherwood Park introduced a new waste management program, which included fees for residents who exceeded municipally set limits for their waste. “Our business numbers increased by 60 percent as soon as this initiative came out,” says MacEachern.
With global concern growing about climate change, and babies comprising 22 percent of the Canadian population, the couple saw an opportunity to build a business idea that would be kind to the environment, economical for parents and communities, and healthy for babies. That’s when Happy Nappy began growing into a franchise operation with current locations in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario, and inquiries from the US. It’s also when Pederson started experimenting with materials that would allow cloth diapers to mimic disposables in every way, except the negative ones.
“We’re currently on generation number 15 of our diaper,” says Pederson, whom his partner describes as a “mad scientist.” “We’ve never stopped testing and we won’t until we have what’s best.” But “what’s best” has to address numerous issues.
Diapers with Advantages for Our Babies, Our Environment, and Even Our Wallets
Two problems people have with cloth diapers are the “yuck factor” and bulk, says MacEachern. They don’t want to feel the wetness of urine on their hands or soaking through their clothes, and they don’t want bulky diapers to ruin the look of cute baby outfits.
The Happy Nappy diaper has two layers. The inner one is made of microfleece, which makes it as absorbent as disposables, wicks moisture away from the skin, and is soft against tender bottoms. The outer shell is also highly absorbent but remains dry to the touch. Both materials are compact and lightweight to fit babies as snugly as disposables.
Then there’s the cost concern, Pederson notes. Most parents think disposable diapers are cheaper than diaper services because they only change disposables every six to eight hours, when they get heavy. But it’s no coincidence that diaper rash has only become widespread since disposables were introduced. Actually, health experts recommend changing diapers hourly for newborns and every three to four hours for older babies. If these instructions are followed, diaper services cost about the same amount as disposables. Where disposables begin to cost more is when they become waste.
“Twenty-two percent of our population is children,” says Pederson, “and disposable diapers are the third-biggest source of waste for that population.” It costs communities a lot of taxpayer dollars to collect garbage and haul it to landfills. And, as the recent climate change talks in Copenhagen have highlighted, it costs a lot nationally and internationally to deal with emissions of methane — a greenhouse gas that’s 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide — from landfills that are already bursting at the seams.
The couple are so convinced that cloth diapers have serious money-saving potential that they have launched a petition to all levels of government to provide tax breaks to families that make the switch. With many communities becoming desperate for locals to curb what they put at the curb, tax credits may be an idea whose time has come.
To MacEachern and Pederson, that’s not a “may be” but a “for sure.” In fact, the only “may be” could be how long it takes for parents, governments, environmentalists, and other entrepreneurs to realize that Happy Nappy “may be” the most innovative product-and-service-for-parents business of the decade.