August 17, 2009

Wooden Dildos: Nob Essence Pioneers Eco-Friendly Material for Sex Toys.

by Sarah Sloane

Let’s face it—sex toys are easy to make fun of—the ubiquitous rabbit vibrators, the beige plastic “personal massager” shaped like a torpedo—and let’s not even talk about male masturbators. These devices don’t exactly make people think of the Four Seasons or the Russian Tea Room. So where’s the actual sexiness in the toy industry? Certainly not in the gaping maw of a “realistic” love glove.

Sustainable Wood

NobEssence uses exotic woods from the world over—particularly from equatorial areas, such as Central America and Asia. While this might actually seem to be a non-sustainable move, and it may bring to mind visions of rainforests being razed by bulldozers just to meet our orgasmic needs, the fact is that the wood is harvested is from their own trees, directly from local farms, or certified suppliers (when local political or economic issues prevent them from working directly with the farmers themselves).

The company isn’t able to use reclaimed wood; there’s no telling what additives it might have been contaminated with (like chemicals to prevent mold, rot, and insects). Unfortunately, they also have to cull much of the wood that they do receive to find the most suitable parts, as their experience has shown them that the average consumer is not terribly interested in the natural variations in the wood itself. Instead, their choice wood must be as uniform and free of natural knots, whorls, and minor cracks as possible in order to be acceptable to the eventual purchaser. This does leave them with a higher waste rate of their major component source, which to them is less than ideal.

What makes NobEssence’s toys safe and body-friendly is a coating that they have trademarked with the name Lubrosity™. While the process is a trade secret, it has been evaluated by the USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) as medically safe, and their website states that there are “no waxes to melt away, no salad bowl oils to leach out or maintain, and no toxic petroleum distillates” involved, so the lifespan of the coating is longer than one might initially suspect. Add to this a lifetime repair service in case of cracks, chips, dents, or anything else that may adversely affect the safety of their toys, and you have a highly eco-friendly toy—both in components and in lifespan.

As we’ve explored in other articles in our Green Project series, we know that ecological impact is far more than just what materials that the items are made from; it includes the principles of the manufacturers, their own internal office processes, the manufacturing methods, and their means of distribution. When asked about NobEssence’s overall environmental philosophy, Alicia says, “We optimize our environmental impact through consciously considering our indirect and direct footprint.

“Optimize is used purposefully in this context. We do not merely want to minimize our impact—a phrase implying a desire to do as little harm as possible; we want to achieve sustainability. Our goal…is to improve the quality of life, which includes economics, while operating within the capacity of our environment. Unlike minimizing our impact, this often means leaving an eco-system better off than how we find it.”

NobEssence plants trees and supports the local economies of their wood producers, which to them is an investment in a more sustainable future (even more so than simply buying offsets, which basically leave us with a zero-effect environmental effect from our high-polluting ways).

Green in the Office

Following this philosophy isn’t as easy as just changing the kind of paper you use, or seeking out local sources. It flows into all of your dealings—from how and where you do business, to whom you do business with, to how you invest. NobEssence starts in the office, with the principle that “it is easier to move electrons (energy/information) than atoms (matter/things).” They maintain a paperless office—you won’t find any fax machines there. They also utilize online conferencing as much as possible, and use and recycle fiber and starch packing materials to lessen the waste that they produce. They use recycled packaging, which creates less waste on the consumer end of the spectrum.

The use of sustainably harvested hardwoods is an obviously environmentally correct choice—a natural, renewable product, which can be collected and processed in ways that minimize impact on the environment. However, they also take it a step further by offering a lifetime damage warranty on their toys; and even if you choose to dispose of them, the toys won’t spend hundreds of years hunkered down in a landfill or leaching chemicals into the ground water. They create toys that are ergonomically designed, and meant to be utilized in a number of ways, both internally and externally. One NobEssence toy can take the place of a number of different toys that might normally share a toy box, and lessen both the eventual number of toys produced and disposed of, as well as the financial expense of the individual consumer.

NobEssence also looks at the ways that they distribute and advertise in their commitment to make a positive impact on the environment. For instance, they point out that “bulk shipping 10,000 units to a local reseller is much more environmentally responsible than sending 10,000 units directly to individual users,” so they invest in their ongoing relationships with a few select resellers rather than expend significant amounts of time and money toward direct sales to consumers. They have also found that by educating the staff of the stores and websites that sells their products, they are able to change the perspective of customers regarding their items. “Our retailers advise us that when purchasers are provided the personal testimony of a helpful in-store sex educator, or when they can hold and caress a NobEssence sculpture, financial considerations aside, they will buy it.”

Of course, this doesn’t come cheap. NobEssence’s toys carry a higher price tag than other similar non-wood toys; for many consumers, this means that they won’t give them a second look. Scale is part of the reason for the expense; a company that manufactures and distributes hundreds of thousands of the same item each year usually has a streamlined system which takes advantage of the fact that the per-item cost drops as the quantity of items produced rises (in other words, you can buy two rolls of paper towels at the grocery store for four dollars, or you can buy two dozen of them at the warehouse store for $15 bucks).

This puts NobEssence and other companies with similar scope at a strong disadvantage. Add to that the higher costs often associated with using more sustainable forms of energy and recycled / recyclable materials, and you have a much higher cost of production for their products than most other adult toy companies. In fact, states Alicia, “We could not meet wholesale or distribution prices for our first two years, and it is only with the support of our loyal customers and quality eco-conscious resellers like EdenFantasys that we are able to share our hand-crafted, high-quality naturally pleasing products.”

In the end, the sales of environmentally conscious toys rely on one thing—the willingness of the average consumer to purchase them. Toy companies, as a whole, need to find ways to overcome the objections of their customers; initially, they need to assure these customers that the items they’re considering will enhance their sex lives. They also need to educate consumers about the benefits of their toys—including helping them understand that the making of eco-friendly, body-safe, and ecstatically effective sex toys costs more in the short run, but saves dollars in the long run—and even more importantly, lessens the deadly impact of industry and waste on our planet.