New Frontier for Sustainability: Condoms

December 17, 2019


In 2015, Philip Siefer and Waldemar Zeiler were in the middle of crowdfunding their new business venture. “We kept hearing the same question from people who were donating money,” says Siefer. “Are the condoms vegan? We didn’t even realise ourselves that condoms usually contain an animal protein to make the latex softer.”

The Berlin-based entrepreneurs were looking to capture a slice of the $8bn global condom market by appealing to eco-conscious customers. To their surprise, this group of consumers is remarkably large – and four years in, their brand of sustainable, vegan hygiene products is raking in a yearly revenue of around €5 million.

Their company, Einhorn, means unicorn in German. Imagery aside, the entrepreneurs say it’s actually a play on the term used to describe $1bn start-up giants like Airbnb and Deliveroo. While Siefer and Zeiler aren’t in the three-comma club yet, building sustainability into the core of their business has been successful, and not just because it’s popular with consumers. Rather, building sustainable values into their brand has opened doors within the business community that otherwise would have been more difficult to access.

Contains no animal products

Condoms are Germany’s second-favourite form of contraception, after the pill, but it was while shopping with his girlfriend that Siefer was struck by how outdated the branding seemed. He felt that today’s consumers might embrace a new eco-friendly alternative and, after originally dismissing the idea, Zeiler jumped on board, deeming the product ideal for ecommerce. The pair wanted to create a business that was fair and sustainable, not only for the planet but also for its workers.

After a decade in the start-up scene, they were searching for a way out of the capitalist dream. “If you’d have asked me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d have said ‘a millionaire’,” says Siefer. “But after 10 years as an entrepreneur, I was seeing colleagues and friends around me making their million, but still not being happy.”

To get started, they launched a crowd-funding campaign which raised €100,000 ($111,000, £84,400) and it was at that point veganism became part of Einhorn’s product planning.

“We wanted to create a product that was easy to sell and ship online, and something where we wouldn’t have to deal with returns, as that’s one of the biggest costs for online sales,” says Siefer. “So condoms were the perfect product. We hadn’t even considered whether they would be vegan or not.”

While the days when condoms were made from lamb intestines might be largely over, most options on today’s shelves still contain the animal protein casein. The key ingredient of condoms, of course, is latex – a natural milky sap which is extracted from rubber trees, mainly cultivated in tropical regions of Asia. Casein protein, widely found in mammals’ milk, is used to soften the latex.

Rapid expansion of large-scale natural rubber monoculture plantations over the past 30 years has led to deforestation, which has impacted the natural habitats of wildlife. To combat this, Einhorn has moved away from traditional plantations and instead works closely with a group of smallholders in Thailand.

These farmers avoid pesticides where possible, opting instead to remove weeds with a tool. The aim is to one day farm completely chemical-free. Trials on the land to determine which local plant species will promote biodiversity are also underway.

4 Responses to “New Frontier for Sustainability: Condoms”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    It is not April Fool’s Day.
    Nor is this an excerpt from The Onion.
    So we can assume this is not “fake news”?
    And I can therefore stop ROTFLMAO.
    (It is absolutely amazing what lengths humans will go to to get rich)

  2. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Buggar me dead cried Forskin Ned.

  3. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    We didn’t even realise ourselves that condoms usually contain an animal protein to make the latex softer.

    For the record, an “animal protein” does not necessarily come from an animal. Commercially useful proteins can be produced in great quantities via modified bacteria.

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