Sustainable Condoms from Soil to Sale

This post was written by Leah Perkinson, MPH and SEMBA ’17, and originally appeared in Impakter. It has been adapted for the SEMBA Review

In The Photo: Sustain Condoms Photo Credit: Sustain Natural

Are you looking for a sustainably produced, non-toxic, GMO-free, Fair Trade certified condom? Sustain Natural, the natural sexual health and wellness product supplier, has you covered (literally). In addition to selling condoms, this Vermont-based startup manufactures water-based, organic personal lubricants and chemical-free post-play wipes.

Sustain’s condoms are also nitrosamine-free. Nitrosamines are a class of carcinogenic chemicals that are in products like cosmetics, tobacco, fish, beer, fried foods, meats and rubber. During sex, condoms can leach these chemicals which can be absorbed into the body. Although nitrosamines from condoms contribute to a small percentage of our overall exposure, there’s no reason for them to exist in condoms. In fact, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund recommended that condom manufacturers minimize the presence of nitrosamines.

Although 40 percent of condoms in the U.S. are purchased by women, condoms are largely marketed towards men. Jeffrey and Meika Hollender, the father-daughter co-founders of Sustain, made it their mission to change that. Branded with names like “Rough Rider”, “Kyng”, and “Performax”, condoms can be associated with promiscuous, hyper-sexual behaviors. And while men can choose to embrace or overlook these associations, in a world of double standards some women can feel like others think they’re “easy” or “asking for it” when they place a pack of condoms on the counter.

Jeffrey and Meika want to eliminate this stigma and increase women and girls’ comfort with buying and carrying condoms. They do this by marketing exclusively towards women, selling their products online, and in outlets geared toward health and wellness. You can find Sustain condoms in local natural food stores and in stores like Whole Foods. Jeffrey explains, “We don’t sell to the Dollar Store and wouldn’t sell to Walmart. We align how we source and manufacture our condoms, and where we sell them, with values our consumers are attracted to.” Anything that can increase the number of women who purchase and carry condoms is a good thing. A whopping 63 percent of women and 45 percent of men in the US didn’t use a condom with someone they just met.

The Hollender family has a long history of bringing sustainably produced products to market. Twenty-seven years ago, Jeffrey Hollender founded Seventh Generation, a company responsible for revolutionizing the home cleaning products industry. Now, the father-daughter duo is working to disrupt the sexual wellness industry by embedding sustainability into their business practices. Here’s how it works.

When someone purchases a pack of Sustain condoms, Jeffrey and Meika take 10 percent of the profits from that pack and donate it to organizations that provide women’s reproductive health care and family planning service. When Sustain hires staff, they’re paid living wages and equal wages regardless of sex, and get an ownership interest in the business. When Sustain orders a batch of condoms from their factory in southern India, unionized workers manufacture the condoms. These workers receive significantly higher wages than their peers. The factory also has a team that runs an AIDS awareness and prevention program for adults in hundreds of surrounding villages. When this factory orders latex, they get it from 180 workers who tap latex from rubber trees in the world’s only Forest Stewardship Council certified rubber plantation (latex flows from taps like maple flows from maple trees). This means that the land and workers benefit from limited pesticide and fertilizer use. Sustain’s Fair Trade certification also means that children don’t work on the plantation (child labor is common in the rubber industry). The plantation also provides education and healthcare to its workers and the community in which it operates. From soil to sale, this is what a sustainable supply chain looks like. Thank you, Jeffrey and Meika for giving us one more reason to feel awesome about using condoms.