Diapers and The Bottom Line


The Triple Bottom Line is a standard used to measure a company in terms of its total cost of doing business. There are three standards that comprise the Triple Bottom Line: profit, people, and planet. The first standard is the traditional business one of overall profitability, or how financially responsible is a business; The second standard relates to people, or how socially responsible is a business; and, finally, the third standard refers to the planet, or how environmentally responsible is a business.

It is an awareness of this total cost of doing business that, in recent years, has made the public increasingly critical of companies and individuals who only value the bottom line of profit. It is this awareness that fuels critics of offshore oil drilling, fracking, and other technologies that take large environmental risks. And, it is this awareness that has many of us buying local food, shopping at Farmer’s Markets and thinking about backyard chickens.


Cloth diaper manufacturers are also concerned about the Triple Bottom Line. In fact, The Real Diaper Industry Association, includes it in its mission. Betsy Thomas of Bummis is exemplary among cloth diaper manufacturers for producing most of her products in her own factory in Montreal using mostly North American components. When products and components are unavailable in North America, Betsy and her team work with long-time reputable partners in the UK and Pakistan. Everything is tested for non-toxicity and biodegradability and cloth diapers are made of Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton.

According to Betsy Thomas, founder of Bummis, “We also believe that the bottom line is not only about money and profit – but that it is also about the well being of our company and the people who work in it, our suppliers, our clients, and our community – both our local community and our industry. We believe that the way we do business matters, and that business can be an important vehicle for social change.”


The Triple Bottom Line is especially relevant to diapers because there is so much controversy about the environmental impacts of diapers. Small cloth diaper manufactures were the original advertisers in Mothering magazine and as the industry grew rapidly in the late eighties and early nineties, Proctor and Gamble retaliated with false advertising and Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) that virtually decimated the burgeoning cloth diaper industry. Today we are still victims of the misinformation from this era.

It doesn’t seem to take any sophisticated skills of analysis to determine that something that is reused is more environmentally responsible than something thrown away. In fact, at the height of the cloth diaper renaissance, Landbank Consultancy, a London-based independent environmental agency, concluded that, compared to cloth diapers, throwaway diapers use 20 times more raw materials, three times more energy, twice as much water, and generate 60 times more waste.


The waters are again muddied in regards to diapers. New products, like throwaway inserts recommended for cloth diaper systems, confuse the consumer. They appear to be innocuous because they are advertised as biodegradable and easily compostable in your own compost pile, but these claims are misleading.

The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI),  for example, only certifies products that will biodegrade in municipal and commercial facilities that meet the requirements of the USCC’s Field Operator’s Guide. Regarding  home composting, the BPI says, “…home composters, their pilles or composting units typically do not generate the temperatures needed to assure rapid biodegradation…”

And, claims that these so-called biodegradable inserts are flushable has been questioned by the city of Vancouver, Washington, which recommends that they be treated as solid waste and not flushed down the toilet.


Choosing cloth diapers is an environmentally responsible decision. Taking that choice a bit further and looking for cloth diaper companies that also share your values is a logical next step. Just as we want to know where our food comes from, we also want to know where our diapers come from, how the workers are treated and where the materials are sourced. This is the evolution of business, especially in post-Occupy society: Money cannot be the only bottom line.

More soon on The Great Cloth Diaper Change, coming up April 21st. Help us break the world’s record!


Peggy O’Mara  (101 Posts)

Peggy O’Mara founded Mothering.com in 1995 and is currently its editor-in chief. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.

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3 thoughts on “Diapers and The Bottom Line”

  1. I agree and somewhat disagree. While it would be nice for us to question the origins of EVERYTHING we buy (not just food and diapers), it is not possible or reasonable.

    To expect mothers to choose cloth diapers only from small WAHM business would put a financial burden on many families. While it is always nice to support local or women-run or organic operations, sometimes the larger upfront expense forces parents turn to disposable.

    Cloth diapers don’t need any elite airs about them – as long as a mama is using cloth, I don’t feel the need to judge where they came from or how she got them. At this point, I think we just need to encourage more people to consider and choose cloth. Period.

  2. Good food for thought. I have my first, 13 months in cloth diapers and will need to get a few more for my 2nd, due in July. I think for something that, to me, is a substantial cost I would prefer to put my money towards a company that shares my values. Oddly, I hadn’t really thought about it before though, thank you for this.

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