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New Zealand Innovation Awards: Excellence in Social Innovation, Innovation in Sustainability & Renewable Energy, Organic Initiative (Oi)

And the 2017 winner of the Excellence in Social Innovation,  Innovation in Sustainability & Renewable Energy is... Organic Initiative!

Most people are unaware that conventional sanitary and hygiene products are actually made from plastic, and full of chemicals and toxins that are bad for their health and terrible for the environment. In a single woman’s lifetime, she uses enough sanitary product to cover the length of New Zealand and these products are not biodegradable. Every sanitary pad has the same amount of plastic as four grocery bags. That's where Organic Initiative – or Oi – comes in. It makes organic sanitary products, with the goal of being not just the best in the world, but the best for the world. 

Led by a team that aims to make big changes to consumption, the social enterprise produces organic, biodegradable and ethically-sourced tampons, pads, cups and more. And all at a similar price point to competing plastic sanitary products. 

As the company’s own literature says: “By choosing Oi you are saying ‘no’ to chemicals and toxins, ‘no’ to the use of crude oil plastics, ‘no’ to perfumes, dyes and synthetics in and next to your body. You are saying ‘no’ to environmental pollution and ‘no’ to nondisclosure of ingredients."

The world is groaning under the weight of toxins, plastics and chemicals. And yet the majority of the two billion menstruating women in the world continue to use plastic sanitary products, mostly because they are unaware of the impacts. And those impacts are not just environmental. In the decades since these products were changed to man-made plastic there has been an increase in all forms of women’s health problems. 

Co-founder and executive chair Helen Robinson (see Most Inspiring Individual interview page six) says being environmentally-friendly isn’t just important for individual health, but for the health of the planet. 

“The environment will play a far more impactful role in the next decade. New Zealand will need to think and act quickly on how to mitigate emissions. This will be increasingly apparent as people better understand the enormous impact that how we live now has on our future survival.”

Oi is doing its bit and it has invested heavily in marketing and branding to try and change consumer behaviour. It is now ranged at almost all supermarkets in New Zealand; its products are recommended by gynaecologists to reduce the risk of allergies, rashes, infections and worse that are caused by exposure to synthetic materials and chemicals; and it is now entering its internationalisation strategy, requiring an investment into organisational governance. It also celebrates women doing amazing things and bases all significant policies and procedures on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which extends to everyone, including customers, suppliers, employees, communities and shareholders.

Evaluator comments:

Solving the problem of plastic in sanitary products by providing a healthy alternative while celebrating women and their health and wellbeing. This is a multifaceted, compelling approach delivered with passion, humour and purpose. Very hard to fault this.

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