Do buggies on skateboards hold the secret to greener parenting?

European car seat and buggy manufacturer Dorel-Juvenile aims to encourage reuse of materials and less car-centric lifestyles.

For most brands, the launch of a sustainability strategy would see the publication of ambitious targets to cut carbon emissions, often accompanied by great swathes of data demonstrating exactly how many lights will be turned off per square metre of office space.

Dorel-Juvenile, the product manufacturer behind childcare brands such as Maxi-Cosi, Bébé Confort and Quinny, is taking a markedly different approach in its latest sustainability strategy, launched last month.

Instead of focusing on the carbon impact of its business operations, it has adopted a more holistic view of its role in its consumer’s carbon-intensive lifestyles. The result is a sustainability strategy that aims to encourage greener, more socially conscious lifestyles through a radical rethink of the products and services Dorel-Juvenile offers.

By 2020, the firm has pledged that more than 20 per cent of its sales will come from new sustainability solutions, which fall under two main categories: second life services and sustainable innovations. “Second life services” include new models to rent, repair and recycle goods, while “sustainable innovations” refers to new products that promote greener, less car-centric lifestyles. The firm has also pledged to reduce its “footprint” – a combined measure of carbon emissions, virgin material use and waste material generation – by 20 per cent.

This novel approach comes after the company spent years pushing sustainability to the sidelines, according to Mark Schrooten, director of innovation at Dorel-Juvenile Europe. “We’ve had sustainability as one of our five big values of the company for many years, but somehow it was difficult to make it as relevant for the business as some of the other values,” he tells BusinessGreen. “Sustainability was important for us but we failed to really get it out of the sphere of ‘Green Week’ type sidebar activities.”

So two years ago the company launched an internal project to reconsider the future of the company and how sustainability could play a part. Since then it has been developing internal systems to support the new strategy, going public with its pledges only last month.

One of the focal points of the new strategy is new product designs, Schrooten says. “A lot of the products we make are actually supporting a car-centric lifestyle, where your car is your main form of mobility,” says Schrooten. “We want to enable people to move a bit more quickly through cities or be mobile with their children without having to resort to the car all the time. Cars are not much fun in the city.”

This has led to the launch of the Quinny Longboard Stroller – essentially a pushchair attached to a super-sized skateboard, to allow young parents to snake their way through city streets under their own steam. Although the product may seem slightly off the wall, Schrooten insists it has had a great response from customers since its launch in July.

Schrooten says he is noticing more young parents using a wider range of transport options to get around. “People are living more and more in city centres, so there is a need for solutions that enable the use of public transport,” he says. “This is really difficult with small children and the type of prams that are generally sold in the market today.”

Creating street-friendly products is part of something more important than Dorel-Juvenile’s sustainability strategy, he says. “It’s not just about us and our products. If we make products that enable parents to make less use of their cars, that’s not going to show up on our sustainability strategy, but it’s a really big benefit.”

Once customers have invested in new products, Dorel-Juvenile also wants to make it easier for customers to repair and recycle them. Since the start of the year it has been trialling a small-scale rental scheme of specially designed car seats for children with hip dysplasia, a medical condition where the pelvis is malformed and needs to be reshaped in a brace. The brace doesn’t fit normal car seats, so Dorel-Juvenile is allowing parents to rent a car seat that fits for the few months while their child wears the brace, allowing them to return the seat for use by another child once the brace is removed.

The firm also launched a service website earlier this year, where customers can access repair manuals and buy spare parts for their Quinny strollers. Schrooten hopes this will encourage customers to refurbish and pass on their old buggies and car seats. “We feel that the circular economy is very important for our future,” he says. “We make so many products that are very durable, but just because of the nature of our business people use them for a very limited amount of time. People should be able to hand down their products to friends, family or sell them second-hand and keep them alive.”

The scheme echoes the work of initiatives such as From A Mother to Another, a campaign launched in the UK earlier this year and backed by boutique mother and baby brand JoJo Maman Bébé, which encourages families to pass on good-quality children’s clothing to other mothers.

Although the pilots are small steps compared with some rental, reuse and repair schemes launched by consumer brands, Schrooten insists it is the beginning of a series of brand experiments. “These are obviously small pilots but they are helping us to understand what kind of systems we need, what kind of service level we need, to really make this happen,” he says. “Gradually you will see that we will start to do larger-scale pilots – probably initially with existing products but in the longer term to really be efficient with this circular model you will probably need very specific products.”

The success or failure of Dorel-Juvenile’s new strategy will be much harder to measure than that of a more conventional set of targets – something Schrooten freely admits. But perhaps sustainable business should be about more than just meeting data-driven goals. After all, if the strategy succeeds, Dorel-Juvenile will have helped drive lifestyle changes that are worth far more than the impact of a single manufacturer.




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