trends

A Look at the Movement Towards Eco-Friendly Pleasure Products

A Look at the Movement Towards Eco-Friendly Pleasure Products

The year: 2020. The topic: climate change. The response: becoming more environmentally aware in all aspects of consumerism — and yes, that includes the pleasure products industry. Today’s consumers are more frequently questioning the environmental impact of products they purchase across the spectrum.

In this age of awareness of what we put into our bodies while searching out gluten-free foods, sustainably sourced meats, free-range eggs, plant-based ingredients and handcrafted breads and beer, it was only a matter of time until there was a demand for pleasure products to be gentler on the Earth and to be more environmentally friendly than in decades past. Encompassing everything from plastic-free packaging to manufacturing toys from recyclable material, the eco movement has arrived.

But what exactly defines “eco-friendly” products in our industry? Is it just the material that products are made of? The packaging? The dyes used to print on the labels? And is it a trend we should be paying attention to? The levels of participation in this latest trend vary significantly among retailers, manufacturers, consumers and many others in the pleasure products supply chain.

Many in the pleasure products industry believe that it is everyone’s responsibility to become more eco-friendly, and should be addressed by both manufacturers and retailers — particularly to cater to the growing demand from consumers. As the pleasure products industry grows rapidly with retailers reporting vast sales, more manufacturers are becoming more conscious about how they are producing.

“It’s our responsibility as our industry expands,” said Johanna Rief, Womanizer’s head of sexual empowerment. “Now more than ever, more people are interacting with our industry than before, as they are becoming more comfortable with discussing masturbation and seeking out pleasure products, which is sparking this larger demand.”

Among the qualities that consumers are looking for in their eco-friendly products is the use of sustainable materials and packaging. Some consumers are even looking into the manufacturing practices of the companies they are buying from.

“Consumers have absolutely become more concerned about purchasing sustainable products and supporting eco-friendly brands,” shared Eric Lee, owner of Blush Novelties. “Given the recent studies about climate change, but also the very real consequences we are facing around the world with natural disasters, it’s hard for this to not be top of mind for consumers.”

Kim Faubel, COTR Inc. sales director, also enthusiastically endorses the trend, as the scientific evidence of global warming is undeniable.

“The more this is at the forefront of our conversations and media, we are hopeful that more people will take our effect on the planet seriously,” she said.

Elsa Viegas, of Bijoux Indiscrets, thinks the eco-friendly trend in sex toys goes deeper than just what is mentioned on the packaging.

“The consumer wants to know who is behind the brand, not only the visible faces but where you get your labor, the materials you use, the impact on the planet and so on,” she said. “Consumers are more aware than ever that we are killing the planet by over-exploiting it. It is not something from sci-fi or faraway future. It is an emergency!”

Putting a finger on what is considered “eco-friendly” varies in as many ways as there are sex toys. For many consumers and retailers, it can be the images of green plants on a package — which may suggest the product is green when, in reality, it may not be. It may take a while to decipher the symbols on the back of the package to figure out if the product is biodegradable, if the ingredients are water-soluble, or if the package itself is biodegradable.

Besides products that are made from recycled materials, Rocha also endorses the use of various other durable materials, including steel and silicone.

Björn Radcke, Orion Wholesale head of sales and marketing, feels the movement is simplified by looking at three related segments of the adult products industry. “The eco-friendliness of a sex toy starts with the product itself when the majority of it is made out of recyclable materials. This also extends to its packaging and shipping.”

GENERATION GREEN

Today’s Gen Z and millennial shoppers are raising awareness surrounding global climate change, and their demand for greener products is being met by up-and-coming brands that are fully dedicating themselves to the eco-conscious movement.

“Gen Z, which has also been dubbed the ‘green generation,’ are increasingly making changes to their daily lives in order to be more sustainable,” said Will Ranscombe, founder of British sustainable sex toy brand Love Not War. “With this in mind, we felt that when it came to the sex toy industry, consumers’ needs for sustainability were not actually being met by the current market. We believe that consumers are actively looking for products and services that use recycled materials and that in itself was actually one of the main driving forces behind launching Love Not War. We look forward to listening to our consumers on ‘green matters’ as we continue to grow and evolve as an organization.”

Agreeing with the generational demand for eco-friendly products, Fun Factory head of global marketing Kristen Tribby refers to today’s conscious consumers as “Generation Green,” noting that they demonstrate environmental and socially conscious consumer behavior.

“Generation Green can research products online before purchasing, and they have money to spend,” Tribby said. “They look for organic, environmentally friendly products, driven by forward-thinking philosophies. Certifications, like the B Corp symbol, carry weight with this group. This conscientious approach to shopping applies to all industries, from beauty to fashion to cars, and now to sex toys.”

RETHINKING PACKAGING

When a consumer makes a conscious decision to purchase an adult product that’s eco-friendly and in keeping with their desire to be kinder to the Earth, what exactly are they looking for? As with the label “natural,” which is used frequently for food and cosmetic items, will the buying public trust what manufacturers in our industry state on their packages or simply let the products speak for themselves?

There are several certification programs for forward-facing companies that want to prove to their consumers they are certifiably green. One of the programs addressing the issue of eco-friendly packaging, the Forest Stewardship Council, uses a graphic blending a silhouette of a tree with a check mark. The FSC logo represents the move to sustainable forests. The organization is a nonprofit aiming to protect the world’s forests; its motto is “Making sure we all have forests for all forever.”

For several manufacturers, embracing eco-friendly packaging is the first way to convey their seriousness around the issue and attract consumers looking for a product they believe will support the movement. While the brown, cardboard color of kraft paper has yet to permeate and make an impact among the thousands of boxes in the adult industry, several manufacturers point to this non-glamorous yet eco-friendly range of colors and materials to make a point: their product is eco-friendly.

Addressing the need for more eco-friendly packaging, Womanizer’s Johanna Rief shared, “Although the concept of ‘going green’ has been around for quite some time, there are still not many established standards for product labeling that consumers are familiar with. Ultimately, the best thing that consumers can do is research the companies that they are buying from to better understand their commitments to sustainability and eco-friendly practices. As for packaging, the obvious step is to use recyclable materials (for example, paper versus plastic) but you can also go a step further by working with ethical, sustainable paper vendors as well. The box, sleeve, inlays, parchment bag and cable fixation for the [Womanizer] Premium Eco are made of FSC paper.”

The Womanizer’s new Premium Eco is completely packaged in non-glossy paper and kraft-colored cardboard.

“The FSC has a set of standards they adhere to when creating their paper products, such as making sure that no more wood is felled in an FSC forest than the forest can reproduce,” Rief said. “They also ensure that areas with endangered animals and plants are protected in the areas they source from.”

According to Rief, WOW Tech is making it a goal to be as eco-friendly as possible company-wide.

“We have made sustainability and environmental responsibility a core principle, and we are working towards that goal every day. Premium Eco is the first major step but we already made a few other ones, e.g. by reducing plastic in new packaging or transporting our products via ship instead of plane.”

Noting that the green packaging also includes using limited dyes, Rief also shared that the company has partnered with One Tree Planted, a nonprofit that will plant one tree for each Premium Eco that is sold.

A longtime adherent to primarily cardboard packaging is the German-based company Fun Factory. Eliminating or significantly reducing plastics in their product packaging, Kristen Tribby stated that when consumers get a new Fun Factory toy, they could recycle all of the cardboard and some of the plastic packaging as well.

“Choosing products packaged in cardboard is always preferable, as that’s easier to break down,” she said.

Lola Games brand manager Anna Sobirova expressed the company’s philosophy regarding the importance of recycling: “We want to make our customers’ lives easier. We are switching to packages that are completely recyclable, and many of them are already made of recycled material, and at the same time they’re 100% carton, without mixing plastic and other materials.”

As brands compete for space on adult retail store shelves, packaging plays a major role in appealing to shoppers — which has led to manufacturers outdoing one another with flamboyant, eye-catching packaging.

“Another thing to watch out for is high-end packaging,” Tribby said. “Oftentimes, the embellishments that make something look luxurious on the shelf require plastic coatings or other plastic components. Even if a brand markets its products as green, its packaging may not meet any kind of standard for sustainability.”

Evolved Novelties’ box packaging has eliminated the need for a plastic tab for hanging on retail slatwall displays. Incorporating a built-in, folded cardboard tab, the brand’s boxes allow its products to be displayed on a shelf or hanging. The size of the inner clamshell holding the actual product is kept to a minimum, thereby decreasing the amount of plastic used in the packaging.

Input regarding some sort of adult industry, eco-friendly standards may be percolating amongst retailers and perhaps this will become more popular as the trend catches on. Consumers often drive new developments in the business of sex toys, so can Earth-friendly packaging be that far behind?

Naughty Dreams CEO Crystal Gilbert thinks the consumer needs to be aware of the messaging on the packaging. Often, the recycling logo is not specific to any one component of the product, so does it apply to the packaging, the material the toy is made of or the batteries?

“Honestly, the boxes can be hard to read because they have a recycle symbol and crossed-out trash can,” Gilbert said. “Unless a sales rep explains, the consumer would think the toy is recyclable. Consumers should look for an FSC symbol and green leaf on the box.”

Packaging may be the easiest way to incorporate recyclability in the adult products world. Nevertheless, Love Not War’s Will Ranscombe notes the lengths that his company has gone to in order to make its packaging truly eco-friendly.

“When it comes to our packaging, we use only recycled cardboard and our packaging proudly carries the FSC logo,” he said. “The FSC logo shows that our products comply with the highest social and environmental standards on the market and shows customers that they won’t be harming the world’s forests when they choose to buy a Love Not War toy. We came to realize that dyeing recycled card uses a lot of energy and water, so we opted to forgo that step and all our packaging now is a natural and eco-friendly brown cardboard and we use eco-friendly soy ink for the text. We even ensure the glue is eco-friendly, too!”

Thinking of the consumer experience, either walking into a brick-and-mortar store or shopping online, several adult industry pros reiterated their belief that packaging plays the most important role in directing a consumer towards an eco-friendly product.

Lola Games’ Anna Sobirova says that consumers nowadays are less impressed with excessive packaging and are becoming more aware of the waste that it produces. However, she elaborated on how less packaging can conflict with a manufacturer’s goal of delivering quality products to its customers.

“For us, packaging is crucial,” Sobirova said. “When we’re releasing a new product, we are always offered excess materials — because, as we all understand, packaging with a high amount of plastic will preserve the product better, because it won't crumple or break really fast. For example, you can often see some items in stores that correspond to the principle of eco-friendly consumption and have a long life cycle, but the goods themselves are in plastic-containing packaging. This can be confusing for a customer who is determined to make positive changes and cares about the environment. Details are extremely important, so we carefully think everything over to the smallest details, refusing printed manuals, and packing toys right into satin bags, which do not just look beautiful, but also have a key role in the further storage of toys.”

For many buyers, a fabric bag is a simple statement to acknowledge that no plastics were used in the packaging for that particular product. Although fabric bags often pose challenges for traditional brick-and-mortar stores because of storage issues or keeping the bags clean and dust-free while on display, they can certainly add to the plastics-free statement the products make.

COTR’s Kim Faubel also believes that the use of less plastic in packaging is an eco-friendly move, among various other ways that can contribute to a greener future for the pleasure products industry.

“There is a lot to consider when it comes to manufacturing and production, including the materials used, the sourcing of said materials, factory operations, and sustainability of the products created,” she said. “Rechargeable items mean less battery waste and, in most cases, improved longevity for the product too.”

ECO-FRIENDLY MANUFACTURING

Being environmentally aware from the manufacturing angle begins at various stages of product development. In looking at ingredients in the crowded field of personal lubricants, many consumers believe “less is more” since fewer ingredients may mean a more environmentally favorable product both on and in the body, and in the environment. Many lubricant companies offer lubes with as few as four ingredients, often containing certified organic and naturally sourced ingredients and displaying the symbols for these statements on their packaging.

But the sex toy segment of the industry is facing a subtle disruption in how companies are making their products in order to be more environmentally friendly. The reach goes beyond the materials of which toys are made and filters down to the actual manufacturing process. These improvements are not necessarily visible to the consumer and many of the companies don’t share this information publicly — not because they don’t want to but because, ultimately, the consumer doesn’t need to know.

Brent Aldon, the director of sales and marketing for Aneros, shared some behind-the-scenes facts about the company’s manufacturing process, none of which are obvious to the consumers of their high-quality products.

“For our line of anal massagers, both vibrating and non-vibrating, we redesigned our molds to use less space and be more compact,” he said. “We decreased the negative space in the injection molds so we, in turn, are using less raw material in the process. Our Aneros Wipes are made of bamboo, which we all know is sustainable and flushable. Many commercially available wipes take weeks to disintegrate in common plumbing and ours break up over five to seven days.” He was happy to share that the company is being as eco-friendly as it can.

Bijoux Indiscrets co-founder Elsa Viegas believes that eco-friendliness starts at the beginning of manufacturing. She reflected on everything that companies must take into consideration in deciding to go green, including how and where materials used are sourced.

“How much energy do the processes use to produce it: amount of water, energy? And how far are the products coming from: the carbon footprint of said product due to its shipping? And lastly, how much waste and what kind will it generate?”

Manufacturers such as Blush Novelties and WOW Tech, home of the Womanizer and other brands, have been hard at work creating materials for sex toys that not only provide steady and reliable consumer pleasure, but also raise the bar in the eco-friendly world.

According to the company, “the Womanizer Premium Eco is made of Biolene, a bioplastic made from renewable resources that can be recycled. Bioplastics save on the extraction and refinement of fossil fuels that are typically used in the production of traditional plastics. The biomass used [makes] bioplastics regenerate and offset their carbon footprint, making them sustainable. Biolene is a polymer, consisting of 70% polylactic acid (PLA) which is derived from renewable and biodegradable resources, like corn starch. Biolene is also biodegradable. Compared to petroleum-based plastics, Biolene will not release any toxic residues or inorganic compounds when it biodegrades or enters the waste stream. It’s also worth noting that Biolene is available to everyone. As we are actively encouraging other manufacturers to adopt a sustainable approach, we didn’t want to enforce any exclusivity on the materials when creating the Premium Eco.”

To complete the environmental circle, the entire Womanizer Premium Eco disassembles for recycling, with an illustration of how to pull it apart to turn it into recyclable components on the company’s website, as well as included in the package.

Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, authors of “Assuming the Eco-Sexual Position,” are enthusiastic over the development of non-plastic sex toys. “If this is the direction manufacturers are moving towards, then they are definitely going in the right direction,” they shared in a joint statement. “We can’t wait to see what else the industry is going to come out with! The Earth will be happy about that because there will be more pleasure and orgasms in the world!”

Blush Novelties is beginning to manufacture products made with its proprietary material, Biofeel. The material is the company’s version of PLA, also known as polylactic acid or polylactide, which the trend-setting Womanizer Premium Eco is also made of. PLA is a thermoplastic made from renewable resources such as corn starch, tapioca roots or sugar cane, unlike other industrial materials such as silicone, which is made primarily from petroleum. Products made of Biolene are fully compostable, and can break down in the trash after the motors in the toys are removed. Blush Novelties’ Eric Lee also touts that his manufacturing process using Biofeel uses less energy than any other sex toy manufacturer on the market. He added, “We also print on recycled paper using soy-based inks and have minimal packaging. In addition, we don’t even add a sealed pouch in the box to cut back on unnecessary materials.”

Eric also touched upon another aspect of decreasing the size of packaging: “Minimal waste packaging also allows for more space in stores.”

Taking into consideration the best aspects of being environmentally aware, German-based Fun Factory’s Kristen Tribby looks at the big picture of what a manufacturing company should embrace in its business practices.

“The elements that make a sex toy eco-friendly span the toy’s entire lifespan, beginning with its conception, to its manufacture, to its life with the consumer,” she said. “A best-case scenario would mean low-emissions manufacturing, packaging with little to no plastic, and a years-long life. That is exactly what we have at Fun Factory. In the manufacturing process, Fun Factory recycles their silicone scraps and limits their use of dyes and plastics.”

Citing another aspect that is not immediately obvious to the consumer, Fun Factory has also reduced the need for water in its manufacturing process.

Orion Wholesale‘s head of sales and marketing, Björn Radcke, stated that his company is embracing new, resource-efficient materials.

“For example, we have saved up to 80% of plastic with the packaging for our new sex toy range, ‘Emerald Love,’” he said. “We are also trying to use more renewable resources for the ‘Just Glide Bio’ lubricants. They are in a tube that is made of polyethylene — it’s based on sugar cane which binds Co2 in an eco-friendly way.”

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE

Any electronic device, regardless of whether it’s battery-operated or rechargeable, eventually reaches a point where it’s rendered useless and will need to be disposed of.

Womanizer’s Johanna Rief notes that there are electronic waste disposal facilities and electronics stores that may offer collection services at no cost; however it’s typically required that batteries, often lithium-ion, be removed, which can be difficult to do.

Rief elaborated: “You are immediately creating less waste by using a product that doesn’t require the constant changing of batteries. That being said, even rechargeable products can die, rendering the toy useless. To help make the Womanizer Premium Eco even more sustainable, it comes with an exchangeable lithium-ion 14500, 3.7 V battery that can be replaced by disassembling the toy, so you don’t have to toss the product once its battery reaches end of life.”

Love Not War founder Will Ranscombe said that in addition to creating products that are made to last, the toys are designed with interchangeable heads that can be paired with a compatible battery component.

Continuing on the “reduce, reuse, recycle" theme, he continued noted that the company only uses materials that are either recycled or recyclable.

"We put a great amount of thought into every area of our business model to ensure that nothing is wasted," Ranscombe said. "And of course, we happily accept Love Not War products back for recycling. It’s a learning process and we rely on feedback from our customers and sustainability experts to continually find ways to innovate and improve our eco-friendly products.”

Many manufacturers shared what they do after their products are manufactured, including utilizing more environmentally-friendly shipping options and smaller efforts they are applying in their manufacturing facilities.

Blush Novelties’ Eric Lee shared, “Gradually, we are converting more of our product ranges to recycled paper packaging in addition to reusing shipping cartons. Aside from recycling, we personally ask people to take the steps in becoming ‘greener.’ We retrofitted our entire facilities in the U.S. and China with LED lighting, encourage our employees to shut down their computers at the end of each day, as well as promoting a program I implemented in 2019 allowing the company to contribute $1,000 for our staff members to purchase any EV or hybrid.”

German-based Fun Factory encompasses an eco-friendly attitude throughout the entire process, including at the staff level. Kristen Tribby shared, “We assess our systems qualitatively on an ongoing basis. When and where are we using energy and water? What type of waste are we producing and where? With that information, we make improvements wherever we can.”

She continued, “Everyone on our team contributes to our sustainability goals, not just leadership. Most of our employees ride their bikes to work! We invest in team training that promotes small, positive changes, like turning equipment on only when it’s needed, turning off lights in unused rooms or setting heating systems on timers. These simple changes can potentially save thousands of euros and keep our planet cooler.”

Every company and person in the adult pleasure products business has the capability to make more eco-friendly choices. Lovely Planet Sales Director Anne Meunier offered more simple solutions that the company has taken to reduce emissions.

“In our office, we replaced old light bulbs with LED lighting; during the design stage, we minimize the sampling and paper printing,” she said. “We try to avoid unnecessary business trips and replace them with online meetings … daily little things count!”

On the retail front, online retailer AdultLuxe.com last month announced its newly-formed partnership with Cloverly.com to offset the carbon footprint generated for the transportation of AdultLuxe’s products. AdultLuxe reported that it will be purchasing renewable energy credits or carbon credits on every transaction made through its website by its customers, which Cloverly will invest in green offset projects around the world.

“We are excited to have partnered with Cloverly and we are hoping that we will be able to deliver what we have in mind,” said Jason Wilcox, the founder of AdultLuxe.com. “If we could make even just a 1% contribution in making the world a better and a healthier place then it would be our honor and our pleasure to do that. With Cloverly’s Transparent Reporting system, our customers can request a receipt of the carbon offset and see how they have helped in taking a small step towards bettering the environment.”

Tami Rose of Romantic Adventures reflected on the bigger picture of the environment and sustainability, noting that, “Perhaps the best thing a consumer can do is use the pleasure product to bring more joy to themselves and perhaps their partner while they are enjoying it. And then direct some of that amazing joyful energy out into the world to heal and energize the environment and all the living things it affects.”

With that, the world might indeed be a better — and greener — place.

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